Forgiveness Sunday is the final Sunday before Great Lent. It’s also Cheesefare, after which Orthodox Christians abstain from dairy for the length of the fast.
After the Divine Liturgy today, we ate macaroni and cheese, blintzes and various dips. It was the last gasp for all that cheesy goodness for a while, and we took full advantage.
Once our lunchtime fellowship was over, we returned to the sanctuary for Forgiveness Vespers. At the conclusion of the service, we perform a prostration before each member of the church, asking their forgiveness for any offense we had given. It is a way of humbling ourselves and beginning the Great Fast with a clean slate.
As usual, my focus was on the wrong thing.
Getting Forgiveness Sunday Right
I have been a little stressed about Great Lent this year. In the past, I was eager to begin testing myself with increased fasting, prayer and reading. But as I have said, I sometimes feel I am going through the motions. I worried this would be another Lent where I gave up too easily and failed far too often.
As we entered the pre-Lenten season, I have been trying to pray more often. I am reading The Way of a Pilgrim, a wonderfully meandering tale of a Russian pilgrim learning to pray unceasingly. The book is giving me encouragement to keep going when my prayer life suffers.
The book is showing me that distractions and trials are attempts by the Evil One to get me off track and to discourage. It is showing me that simple prayer done often is better than having a beautiful but unused prayer corner.
As Forgiveness Sunday approached, I found myself concentrating on something that has distracted me in the past.
I’ve always had a knack for trying too hard to navigate the procession around the church, during which we ask forgiveness of each parishioner in the correct manner. I’ve always flubbed the words, or the prostration, and generally been glad when it was over.
My need to get everything right gets in the way. As usual.
This year, I determined not to worry about the correct form. Instead of prostrating before each person, I crossed myself and bowed deeply. Instead of replying to each person with the mouthful, “God in heaven forgives,” I simply said an honest, “forgive me.” Instead of going through the motions of a ceremonial kiss of each cheek, I pressed my cheek against theirs warmly.
It was wonderful.
Focusing on the other person in this exchange instead of myself is something you’ve all probably figured out long before me. Better late than never, I guess.
My Great Lent is off to a good start. I hope yours is too. Let’s strive this year to focus on the forgiveness we have been given, and to offer forgiveness to everyone, every day of the fast.
And for any offense I have given you, forgive me.
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