First Forgiveness Sunday

February 15, 2010

“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15)

I am happy to report that we were able to attend the forgiveness Vespers this afternoon. I was nervous that our toddler would not be able to hold out for that long as he usually breaks down towards the end of coffee hour. Fortunately he had a brief nap on the way to church this morning and this ensured that we were able to stay for the Vespers immediately following lunch.

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We haven’t been to a Vespers service before, so I am not sure how this compared (an abbreviated version perhaps? It didn’t seem to last long). There were several prostrations during the service and I looked at my husband and said “are we going to do this or what?” I remember thinking that starting to cross ourselves was a big deal, but now it is beginning to feel normal. Prostrations are a much bigger deal – so, so far from our conservative Protestant upbringing.

(Sidenote: as a child I remember seeing a picture of my Roman Catholic grandfather lying prostrate as part of some service – perhaps when he became a deacon in the church. I found it very, very strange and felt a great sense of unease when I saw the picture. The prostration seemed so – I don’t know – demeaning? I also felt like I had seen something that I shouldn’t have.)

My husband shrugged in reply to my question. We stood through one more prostration and then we started to get into the flow of it. I don’t know what I expected it to feel like, but I was surprised to find that it actually felt liberating. Is there really a more intense form of worship than prostrating oneself? Nothing is coming to mind. I found the experience amazing.

(Sidenote 2: my little son started getting into it after he saw us doing it. So sweet!)

From there we moved on to asking forgiveness of our fellow parishioners. Again, at first we weren’t sure about the right way to do this, but we quickly got it. It was really neat and I really appreciate this opportunity to connect individually with everyone – even people I had not met before. It was moving in that regard. Unfortunately I was pretty focused on 1) following the protocol* and 2) caring for my son whilst doing so. I expect that it will be an even greater experience next year when I 1) know what I am doing and 2) know more people in the church.

*Curious about the protocol? The archpriest begins by kneeling as he faces the parishioners. The next priest goes to him and they cross themselves and then ask forgiveness of each other: “Forgive me for any way that I have offended you” and they then bow to one another. The bows vary depending on one’s level of comfort – some people are down on their knees, head bowed and others may bow more slightly. They then stand up and hug/kiss and say “God forgives.” Priest #2 now stands next to Priest #1 and the next person then asks forgiveness of Priest #1. So it continues down the line, until everyone has asked forgiveness of everyone else.

Long story short, I was really moved today. This was such a cool experience. And oh yeah – both David and I are really sore!

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