By f. Dionysios Karagiannis
The time has come, the beginning of the spiritual struggle, the victory against the demons, the abstinence in full armor, the angels’ decency, the outspokenness towards God, they all have come…
Forgiveness Sunday is the last Sunday before Great Lent.
During the pre-Lent period, Church’s prayers include hymns from the Lenten Triodion. On Forgiveness Sunday, emphasis is given to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, a fact that shows us how much we have fallen into sin and have separated ourselves from God.
Before their descent to sin because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were blessed with a beautiful communion with one another and communion with God.
However, they were tempted by the devil, who appeared in the form of a serpent, to disobey God and eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After tasting the forbidden fruit, they realized they were naked. When they heard the presence of God in the Garden of Eden that evening, they hid.
While God is searching for them, Adam and Eve try to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. They stand in shame before God.
The compendium of that day says that Adam wept in front of the luxe of Paradise, and while striking and beating his face with his hands he said; “O Merciful one, have mercy on the fallen one.” When Adam saw the Angel shutting the gate of the holy garden, he groaned “O Merciful one, have mercy on the fallen one.”
Forgiveness Sunday is also known as the Cheesefare Sunday. This is the last day that dairy products can be consumed before fasting.
Full fast begins on the following day, Clean Monday, the first day of the Great Lent. On Forgiveness Sunday, the Church celebrates the first entrance to Great Lent, which is the Forgiveness Vespers.
It is a ceremony that directs us to the path of repentance. It helps us to understand the need for forgiveness from brothers and sisters in Christ.
Fall, forgiveness and fasting are the themes of this Sunday.
It refers to two key elements: the memory of the expulsion of Adam from Paradise, and the need for forgiveness.
There are obvious reasons why these two things should draw our attention as we stand at the threshold of the Great Lent.
One of the main images of the Triodion is our return to paradise.
The Great Lent is a period of veneration, when Adam and Eve tear for the closed gate of the Garden of Eden.
We try to repent for our sins, which have deprived us of the communion with our fellowmen and God. At the same time, the Great Lent is the preparation to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ, during which again the door of Eden was opened. So the sadness of the expulsion from Paradise is tempered by the hope of re-entering the Garden of Eden.
Before joining fasting, the prayers of this Sunday remind us that there can really be no repentance and reconciliation with God if at the same time we are not reconciled with each other. A quick love without forgiveness, is crude and fake. It is demonic.
We will begin the struggle of fasting, as members of the Church, not as individuals. We will follow the path of the Great Lent as members of a spiritual family. Our exercise and fasting should not separate us from others, but they should link us much more now, with strong and spiritual ties.
Fasting and forgiveness are an attempt to liberate ourselves from the slavery of sin. The Fasting that is mentioned in the present gospel requires liberation.
Fasting is the refusal to accept the desires and rushes of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to get rid of the dynasty of flesh and matter over the spirit. In order to be effective, however, it must not be hypocritical, but profound.
This struggle bears fruit when the triumph of sin, the separation, the division and hatred interfere with the relationship between God and man.
So, forgiveness brings us back to solidarity and love. To forgive, even my enemies, who are next to me, I have to reject the unexpected deadlocks of human relationships that occure in the way we lead our everyday life.
Forgiveness is a disengagement from the sinful world that leads us to the kingdom of God, which we experience in part in the Divine Liturgy.