His Beatitude Onufry: How to Spend Forgiveness Sunday and Great Lent

What the Church says about Great Lent.

Your Beatitude, Cheesefare Sunday, or Forgiveness Sunday is the last day before Great Lent, when all Orthodox Christians ask each other for forgiveness to start fasting with a good soul, to focus on spiritual life, to celebrate Pascha with a pure heart. What is the proper way to spend this day and what does it mean in the life of every Orthodox Christian?

The Church reminds us of the event, when Adam lost paradise by incontinence, by breaking the fast. Thus, we understand that it is only through abstinence and keeping the fast we can regain the lost paradise. The person, who tries to live piously and wants true good for themselves, is always aware of the lost paradise. This thought yields repentance in a soul that makes everyone pure and able to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In the Lives of the Saints there is a story about a hermit, who from time to time came to a monastery, sat at its gates and cried bitterly. People looked at the crying hermit in bewilderment, they could not understand why he was crying, and one monk from this monastery came up to him and asked, “Why are you crying, father? May it be that thieves robbed you in the desert?” – “No, no one robbed me” – “Maybe, you are sick and feel bad?” – “That is also not it” – “Do you want to eat, perhaps? Are you hungry?” – “I do not need that also” – “Then why are you crying?” – “I am crying, because once my ancestors and I lived in a very rich home, I had the glory of the king, whom people served. Then, we lost all of that, and now I have to lead a pathetic, miserable, and sorrowful life”. However, the monk found out that this person was not of the rich, but of the common, and realized that the hermit did not cry for his earthly home, which he may have lost, but for the eternal home, the home of paradise that his ancestors lost by not keeping the God’s commandments, and now he, their descendant, must lead a pathetic life. Thus, the memory of the lost paradise yields the spirit of repentance in a person, and repentance leads to a life with God in His house, to receiving gifts of grace that one gets in the house of God.

Your Beatitude, would the mankind’s history have changed if Adam had been able to stay in paradise after the fall from grace?

If God had left Adam in paradise after the fall from grace, then this life would have been more painful for him than the one he found after his expulsion from paradise. If a criminal, a sinner does not repent, they feel bad about it, and if such a person is brought to a church, it becomes even harder there at first. Why? For there is a living image of living God in each of us. This image acts in a person through the voice of conscience, it speaks and constantly corrects their actions. If we do something good: the voice approves of the action; if bad: it reproaches us, makes us improve ourselves, and torments sometimes. When an unrepentant sinner is somewhere at a party or in a restaurant, they mute the voice of conscience and do not feel so much torment. When a person comes to a church, the voice of conscience strengthens and causes them more pain. For a sinner, who does not repent, being in a church becomes unbearable, therefore each of us should labor and pray a lot to activate true repentance in ourselves, without which it will be difficult for us to strive during Great Lent.

What would you wish us on the way towards Pascha? What should Great Lent become for us?

The Holy Church suggests that we refrain from meat and dairy products during Great Lent to restore the harmony in our body and the natural order that God has established in every person. When we fast, our body rebuilds. At first it may be hard for people to eat vegetable food, who have eaten meat all the time. For example, if a person addicted to cigarettes is told to quit smoking, then they might start going insane or having some unpleasant changes in their body. Yet it does not mean that they should smoke, it is just a positive reaction to healing.

Dear brothers and sisters, may God help us fast to the best of our ability without breaking or pitying ourselves unduly. We need to select the middle, royal path and to accustom ourselves to fasting, regime, and wholesome food. When a person adds spiritual fasting to the bodily one, they begin undergoing spiritual development, ascent from degree to degree, or, as the Holy Church says, spiritual perfection that begins on earth and continues forever in a heavenly life.

Interviewed by Natalya Goroshkova

Translated by Julia Frolova

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