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One of the most powerful things I ever experienced when I was in seminary was the vespers on Forgiveness Sunday each year. The Forgiveness Sunday vespers is the official start to Great Lent. It’s so appropriate that we begin Lent by asking each other for forgiveness, because that’s a great deal of what Lent is all about. During the 40 days, we are striving to be closer to God. One of the ways that we do that is by going to the Sacrament of Confession and asking God to forgive us for our sins. Before we can do that, we must first be willing to forgive those who have hurt us. That’s where forgiveness Sunday comes in.
At the end of vespers, we would all form a line and begin asking each other’s forgiveness. We even bowed and made full prostrations before each other, and exchanged the kiss of peace. Sometimes, there would be people attending the service that we, as seminarians didn’t even know, but we would still ask for their forgiveness and vice versa. By the end of the night, after having prostrated before some 75 people, you really began to feel it, physically. We used to struggle up the stairs back to our dorm rooms because the quadriceps muscles in our upper legs were so sore from bending down and standing back up. That’s what made it so memorable though. You weren’t just going through the motions, and saying “sorry” just for the sake of it. Your entire being, body and soul, was involved in the process. Many people were so moved, they had tears in their eyes.
The Fathers of the Church tell us that tears are a gift, because it is a sign of true repentance. We may not all cry, and we may not all have the opportunity to experience the service the way I did in seminary, but all of us should take the time to really reflect on the importance of forgiveness in our lives. By the time this issue of Daylight is in your hands or on your computer screen, Great Lent will only be days away from starting. If there are people in your life that you need to forgive, or that you need to ask forgiveness from, take the time to do so. It will really help you enter the Great Fast spiritually prepared, and in the right frame of mind to ask God to forgive you for your sins.
The Kondak from the Sunday of Forgiveness
O Master, Teacher of wisdom
Bestower of virtue Who teaches and protects the poor
Strengthen and enlighten my heart.
O Word of the Father, let me not restrain my mouth from crying to You:
“Have mercy on me, a transgressor, O Merciful Lord.”