“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Gregory of Nyssa tells us that these petitions function together in a unit. We need to experience forgiveness in order to give it away. He writes: “If we approach the Benefactor, we should ourselves be benefactors; if we go to Him who is good and just, we should ourselves be the same. Because He is forbearing and kind, we should also be forbearing and kind and so with all the other things.” (Sermon 5)
Not only can we not give what we do not receive, but furthermore Nyssa thinks the hard-heartedness of non-forgiveness makes us impervious to Divine Mercy. “It is absolutely necessary that a man who approaches the charity of God should rid himself of all callousness.”
The Goal of course, in this petition, is to cultivate divine likeness within us, We are refashioned by forgiveness, and softened up to be transformed into the living God, who is full of mercy.”
Nyssa says something strange about this petition. While we spend our Christian lives imitating the mercy of God, in this petition, we put forward our example of mercy and ask the Lord to imitate it. “He wants your disposition to be a good example to God! The order is somehow reversed ; just as in us the good is accomplished by imitating the Divine goodness, so we dare to hope that God will also imitate us when we accomplish anything good—so that you, too, may say to God: Do thou the same as I have done. Imitate Thy servant, O Lord, though he be only a poor beggar and thou art the King of the universe. I have forgiven debts, do not Thou demand them back.”
It is worth pausing on why Gregory of Nyssa, would ask that God imitate us? Sounds a little too bold. But, Nyssa’s confidence comes from a relationship with the incarnate God, Jesus, who, in becoming man, was like us in all ways, except sin (Cf. Heb 4:15). It is through a Christian’s familiarity with the incarnate Lord, with his pattern of living, and with his constant teaching of mercy, that Gregory can dare to say such a thing.
Byzantine Catholics do the same thing before communion when we recite the communion prayer. We place ourselves on the cross of the repentant thief asking that he “remember us, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.” Calling to mind the Lord, who suffered in the flesh for our sake, we can experience a Lord who loves us wholly unto the end. We can enjoy (but not exhaust) his mercy to the extent we acknowledge our sinfulness. If we want to be good thieves, lets seek after his infinite love, modeling in our skin the Love that he has for mankind.