Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
Forgiveness Sunday, the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent, has two themes: it commemorates Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise and our need for forgiveness. In word and deed, Lent is filled with the theme of our return to Paradise. During Lent we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting of the sins that deprive us of free communion with God. But Lent is also preparation to celebrate the saving events of Christ’s death and Resurrection, which have reopened Paradise to us. In this, sorrow over our exile is tempered by the hope of regaining Paradise.
The theme of forgiveness on this Sunday is emphasized in the Gospel reading that morning and in our exchange of mutual forgiveness at Vespers that night. Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. As it is said, “A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons.” We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of the Christian family. True asceticism and fasting does not separate us from others spiritually, but binds us to them even more.
The strength of sin is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, our first attack on the fortress of sin is forgiveness, that is, the return to unity, communion, and love. To forgive is to cultivate the love of Christ between ourselves and our neighbors and to be forgiven by God of our own sins. “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
When we approach Forgiveness Vespers, many times we look forward to the joy and lightness of the mutual love and forgiveness exchanged there. But sometimes there are attempts to block our path. “It’s kind of embarrassing for me. I don’t have any problems with anyone there. It’s kind of weird saying ‘please forgive me’ to people I’ve not sinned against.” Yet these temptations obscure the real impact of every sin. Sin cannot be contained or isolated. It separates us from God, and that separation affects everything and everyone around us. The world has not yet been transformed by the love of Christ, and each of us, if we look with spiritual eyes, can see our responsibility for being a part of the problem.
Therefore, we can all humbly enter into the exchange of forgiveness with joy and expectation of a great blessing. This evening is a profound witness of our faith and our desire to love. Think of how our children are blessed! In a world where prideful refusal to repent and forgive is honored, what a profound influence it is for our children to see us practicing the opposite as an entire community! May we enter into forgiveness that we also may be forgiven.