Week after week the most important worship gathering for Orthodox Christians is the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. This week is different because on Sunday evening we served the Vespers of Forgiveness which ushered us into the Holy and Great Lent. This Forgiveness Vespers indeed stands apart and it makes it the focus of that particular day and in the entire year in the liturgical cycle of our Holy Church.
One of the Compunction Hymns of the Forgiveness Vespers is: “Savior, wash me with my tears, for I have been soiled by many sins. Therefore I fall prostrate before You and implore: I have sinned; have mercy on me, O God.” The Forgiveness Vespers starts off the cycle of Lenten services in general. Additionally, it is also the first in a series of Sunday evening vespers services called the Solemn Vespers which will continue until the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt.
This particular Vespers includes a ritual of requesting and offering forgiveness to one another in a manner that involves our entire being. We prostrate before one another, kneeling and lowering the forehead all the way to the ground. Both say to one another: “Forgive me, a sinner.” and both also respond: “God forgives, and I forgive.” Rising from the prostration we embrace and kiss each other on the cheek as we have offered the cleansing of forgiveness.
St. Matthew tells us: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14). We begin our most significant season of fasting with this in mind. We are called to practice forgiveness at all times as we repeat the same teaching even in the Lord’s Prayer several times a day, but on this day we engage the entire person in a distinct action.
May we be made worthy for the Kingdom of Heaven by the mysteries of the Church through which the Holy Spirit flows!