As Western Christians enter into Lent, a few thoughts are appropriate on the theme of repentance. First of all, what does forgiveness ultimately mean, and what is its foundation? For me, it is the knowledge that the other is in us and we are in the other. That is to say, when we understand and own up to the fact that sin is prevalent everywhere in this fallen world, and that even irrational creation is affected by it, we must go before the Lord in humility and ask for pardon. Sin is not just a legal problem; it is a cosmic problem.
In this way, we can understand original sin far more profoundly. We were in the Garden of Eden in a mystical way, we were present too at the Fall and it lives in us. We have no ability to overcome it by ourselves, but must implore God to shield us from its most pernicious consequences. In this way, as well, we can understand why our brother offends and hurts us, and realize that we do the same all of the time without even realizing it.
The Eastern Church has a concept of involuntary sin that is present in many of its offices. This is not a contradiction in terms, it is more that the mind of the Fathers understood that the Fall was so cataclysmic that man commits sin even without knowing it. It is a state that we are constantly in, it is this fallen world. Thus, the Byzantine monastic discipline is to pray constantly the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner") . No matter if we are in the "state of grace" (what an odd term!), everyone can say, in eschatological expectation, "Super flumina Babylonis..."
With this in mind, it is easy to pardon those who have wronged us, and beg forgiveness from those who we have offended. We do not just think of sin as something we have done, but even weep over the sins of others as if we had commited them ourselves, knowing full well that we have probably done worse. We do not judge because our love for our brother is such that we want to take his guilt on ourselves and transform it through love. We then share in the love of God, who does not want the death of the sinner, but rather that he repent and live. This in the end is the Divine mystery of the Cross.