The Lives of the Desert Fathers contains the following story: A young monk once went to visit a spiritual elder, to whom he announced, “Some thief is stealing from the huts of the monks, and he also stole my possessions. He took my dry rusks and the other food that I had. I have decided to press charges and report him to the authorities so he can change for the better, so he can stop sinning, so he can pay for his mistakes. He needs to learn a good lesson!”
The spiritual elder, however, advised him, “No, my child. Don’t do it. Don’t take him to court or press charges. He is a human being; forgive him. Pray that God enlightens him to stop stealing.”
“No, Geronda. He will not change! He has been doing this for a long time. If he is not punished, he will continue stealing, in which case we are not helping him.”
“No, my child. You shouldn’t report him to the prosecutor. Leave this matter in God’s hands.”
The young monk, nevertheless, stubbornly continued to uphold his opinion, at which point the elder said, “Since you have made up your mind, let’s pray for things to go well.”
Once they had both kneeled, the spiritual elder started to pray, “Our Father …” When he came to the verse, “and forgive us our trespasses,” instead of saying this, he said, “Lord, do not forgive our sins, because we also do not forgive the trespasses of our brothers who have sinned against us.”
“Father, you made a mistake,” pointed out the young monk. “This isn’t how the Lord’s Prayer is said.”
“Well, since you are going to report your brother who has sinned to the authorities, this is how we will recite the Lord’s Prayer.”
The monk then realized that his way of thinking was incorrect. He asked for forgiveness, backed down, and did not report his brother who had wronged him.
This story is exceptionally instructive and beneficial. If we grasp the essence of its meaning, it will become extremely easy for us to make every effort to forgive, and thus to acquire boldness before God in our prayers. When we unconditionally forgive every person who has harmed us, we will have the courage and boldness to ask for our eternal forgiveness, and we will be numbered amongst the saved servants of God. Amen.
From Elder Ephraim: The Art of Salvation, Homily 13: Forgive Me My God, Just As I Forgive Others, pp. 163-164; © Saint Nektarios Publications