The Sunday of Forgiveness is the last Sunday prior to the commencement of Great Lent.
On the Sunday of Forgiveness focus is placed on the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, an event that shows us how far we have fallen in sin and separated ourselves from God.
At the onset of Great Lent and a period of intense fasting, this Sunday reminds us of our need for God’s forgiveness and guides our hearts, minds, and spiritual efforts on returning to Him in repentance.
The Sunday of Forgiveness, the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent, has two themes: it commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, and it accentuates our need for forgiveness.
There are obvious reasons why these two things should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of Great Lent. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to Paradise.
Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more
Luke 23:42-44 (KJV) 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. 44 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into Paradise.
The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of the Vespers on Sunday evening.
On Cheese-Fare Sunday, we also commemorate the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, entering into the Lenten fast in remembrance of mankind’s separation from God through disobeying his commandment to fast from the fruit of the tree. Furthermore, many faithful attend Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday evening, asking forgiveness from each other in accordance with the Lord’s words:
Matthew 6:14-15 (KJV) 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Forgiveness: note the first word, “for.” This connects these verses to the Lord’s Prayer. Immediately after closing the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus explained why He had said that forgiveness is conditional
Matthew 6:12 (KJV) 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
very idea that a person must forgive others in order for God to forgive him was
totally new. It was a shocking concept, an eye-opener. It had to be explained.
2. The very idea of forgiveness is just what it says: it is forgiving. God knows that He cannot forgive an unforgiving heart. His nature of love and justice will not permit Him to indulge in sin and give license to the passions of a man’s unforgiving spirit.
He can forgive only where the mercy and tenderness of forgiveness are found. Therefore, Christ had to teach the basic principle of prayer—forgiveness
Matthew 6:14 (KJV) 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
Forgiveness of Others: there is the promise to forgive and thereby to be forgiven. The word “trespass” (paraptōma) means to stumble; to fall; to slip; to blunder; to deviate from righteousness and truth. Note three things.
1. Christ takes for granted that we know that we need forgiveness. This is seen in His words, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
We are sinners; we have transgressed God’s law and we need forgiveness. Even the most mature among us fails to keep God’s law perfectly. We all stumble, fall, blunder, and slip; and we do it much too often.
a. We are seldom doing to
the fullest degree what we should do. We come short.
b. We are always
crossing over from the path we should be following. We deviate over into the
forbidden area. Thus, we desperately need forgiveness. God promises that He
will forgive our trespasses if we will do one simple thing: forgive men their
2. The greatest thing in all the world is to be forgiven our sins: to be absolved and released from all guilt and condemnation, to be accepted and restored by God and assured of seeing Christ face to face.
Forgiveness of sins means that we are freed: set at liberty in this life to live abundantly, and set at liberty in the next life to live eternally in perfection.
3. The only way we can be
forgiven our sins is to forgive others their trespasses. Christ makes the
promise: “Forgive men their trespasses [and] your heavenly Father will
also forgive you.” Forgiving men their trespasses means several very
are not judgmental or censorious.
do not become bitter or hostile.
do not plan to take revenge.
do not hold hard feelings against another person.
do not talk about, gossip, or join in rumor; on the contrary, we correct the
do not rejoice in trouble and trials that fall upon another person.
⇒ We love and pray for the person.
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.
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 a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds.
The Sunday of Forgiveness also directs us to see that Great Lent is a journey of liberation from our enslavement to sin. The Gospel lesson sets the conditions for this liberation.
The first one is fasting—the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of the flesh and matter over the spirit. To be effective, however, our fast must not be hypocritical, a “showing off.” We must “appear not unto men to fast but to our Father who is in secret”
Matthew 6:16-18 (KJV) 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
The second condition is forgiveness—“If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you”
Matthew 6:15 (KJV) 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness—the return to unity, solidarity, love.
To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful and fallen world.