Forgiveness Sunday

February 10, 2010

We have been warned about forgiveness Sunday that is coming up in a few days. Friends have said that it is a moving experience but also that it is physically taxing. If you’re scratching your head in confusion, here’s the explanation of forgiveness Sunday courtesy of Orthodox Wiki:

Significance of the day On this last Sunday before Great Lent, the last day that traditionally Orthodox Christians eat dairy products until Easter, the Church remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. God commanded them to fast from the fruit of a tree (Gen. 2:16), but they did not obey. In this way Adam and Eve and their descendants became heirs of death and corruption. On Forgiveness Sunday many attend Forgiveness Vespers on the eve of Great Lent. They hear on the Lord’s teaching about fasting and forgiveness and enter the season of the fast forgiving one another so that God will forgive them. If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14). The Gospel reading of the day also gives advice on fasting. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18).

The Rite of Forgiveness After the dismissal at Vespers, The priest stands beside the analogion, or before the ambon, and the faithful come up one by one and venerate the ikon, after which each makes a prostration before the priest, saying “Forgive me, a sinner.” The priest also makes a prostration before each “God forgives. Forgive me.” The person responds, “God forgives” and receives a blessing from the priest. Meanwhile the choir sings quietly the Irmoi of the Paschal Canon, or else the Paschal Stichera. After receiving the priests blessing, the faithful also ask forgiveness of each other.

As it was explained to us, the ceremony will begin with the archpriest asking for forgiveness. Each parishioner will proceed to ask forgiveness of every other parishioner. This involves kneeling in front of the person who you are asking to forgive you – see why this is taxing? You can also see why it is a moving experience. You are humbling yourself in front of every other person in the church; some people may be your friends, some you may not know, some you may not like. Forgiveness Sunday is another example of how the Orthodox Christian experience permeates one’s life; there is no lone ranger Christianity here. 

It is serious stuff to kneel in front of someone and ask their forgiveness – have you ever done this before? I sure haven’t, though there are plenty of times when I probably should have. It is even more serious to do this in the temple and as part of one’s preparation for Lent.

I am looking forward to this experience on Sunday – though I am not sure to what extent due to the fact that I have a toddler who will require a nap right about the same time I am supposed to be asking for forgiveness. (That’s a post for a later date – “The Orthodox experience with small children afoot”.)

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