Preparing for Lent: Forgiveness Sunday

Last week, Bryan (at Still an Unfinished Person) shared about his Lenten practices and asked about ours.
As most book bloggers are not familiar with Christian Orthodox practices, I left a lengthy comment there.
In case you stumble unto this site and don’t know about Orthodoxy, here it is for you, a simple explanation of what we are going to experience this Sunday and Monday in the Orthodox Church:

In Christian Orthodoxy (as a reminder, this is basically the life and faith of the very first Christians, before all the later additions and modifications), we don’t have Mardi Gras nor Ash Wednesday. Instead, we have Forgiveness Sunday and Clean Monday. Even the difference of vocabulary between ash and clean is fascinating.

So our Great Lent always begins on a Monday, March 2nd this year, Clean Monday in the sense of cleanness, purity, like starting with a clean slate with the Lord, and abstaining from most food to leave more room to the Lord. If possible, we eat very little that day, uncooked food, nuts, that type of things.
During the whole of Lent, we actually don’t eat meat, fish, eggs and dairy products (like in fact most of Wednesdays and Fridays, all year long) – which requires a lot of creative meals!
We have a preparation period to Lent, so we have already stopped eating meat a week ago.

The day before Clean Monday, we call this Sunday: Forgiveness Sunday, so tomorrow, March 1st.
After the regular Sunday Mass, which we call Divine Liturgy, we have a Forgiveness Service, where each parishioner asks forgiveness from each other. It’s a very powerful and beautiful service.
The priest starts asking forgiveness to all. Then a parishioner comes and asks forgiveness to the priest, then stands next to him. Then another parishioner asks forgiveness to the priest, then to the parishioner standing next to the priest, and then that 2nd parishioner stands next to the other parishioner, etc.

The way we ask forgiveness is powerful: if we are fit enough, we do a full prostration to the floor in front of each other (down on your knees, and your forehead touching the floor – you may have seen Muslims doing that, which obviously they originally borrowed from the Christians). Then we say, ‘my sister/brother, forgive me a sinner’, and we answer ‘God forgives’, and we hug. If we can’t physically kneel, we bow, or the younger one kneels and the older one bows. So, if there are a lot of people, you imagine the number of prostrations we do, as you do it with each parishioner. It usually takes me several days for my muscles to be back to normal. It hurts, but I think there’s an important message here about the power of asking/giving forgiveness.

And after that we have our equivalent to Mardi Gras, that is, finishing all the eggs, dairy products and fish. I’m in a Russian parish, so we do bliny (Russian crepes). A family living next to our parish invites the whole parish for the bliny. Another very communal time.

The first week of Lent, so this coming week, we have a prayer Service every evening, from Monday-Thursday. It’s called the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, a very beautiful long poem/prayer written in the 8th century made of many verses from Scripture about repentance. It’s very long, so we cut it up in 4 sections, hence the 4 days. You can find here a good introduction to it, and the text itself for each day.

After the section of the day, we read the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt (so also in 4 parts). For several years, I have been asked to be the one reading her Life, also a very powerful beautiful text about what wonders repentance can do in your life.

I wish you all a very blessed and fruitful Lent.

3 comments

  1. I have a copy of First Fruits of Prayer by Frederica Matthewes-Green, which presents the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete and the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt, with annotations. I just pulled it from my bookshelf! Very beautiful and important for inspiring repentance. It was a wonderful Lenten book when I first prayed with it (as a Protestant) and it still is (now as a Catholic). I will keep it out and read again. Thanks for sharing your Lenten preparations. Wishing you a most blessed season!

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