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Forgiveness Sunday

We are now standing, my dear friends, at the threshold of Great Lent. This lent is like a spiritual season of spring.Just as nature is now awakening from its long winter sleep, everything is coming to life, warming up, blossoming, - so our souls must awaken from the sleep of sin, must come to life, be warmed by the rays of repentance, blossom with virtues, prepare themselves for the wondrous and joyous Resurrection of Christ. But in nature, before spring can take hold, the snow on the ground must melt and the ice covering the rivers and lakes must break. We must do the same with our frozen souls - break the ice of enmity, resentment, anger, irritation.

The Great Lent

For this purpose the Church offers us, at the threshold of Great Lent, the moving ceremony of forgiveness. On this so-called Forgiveness Sunday the first brief lenten service (a vespers) is served, at the end of which we must sincerely ask forgiveness of each other and make peace with everyone.

Why is it so necessary and important to embark upon the Great Lent in a state of reconciliation?Apostle John the Theologian explains to us in one of his epistles that whoever claims to love God, but at the same time hates his neighbor, - such a person is a liar. Why? Because whoever does not love his neighbor, whom he can see, how can he love God, Whom he cannot see? Therefore, whoever loves God sincerely, will also love other people, who are Gods creation. But how can we really love these other people, who offend us, irritate us, who are often so rude, unpleasant, downright nasty? We can resolve this problem in a practical manner in two stages. The first stage consists of a careful and totally objective examination of our own selves, of checking out our own spiritual condition. The Lord Himself tells us: Why do you look at the twig in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? You should first take out the log from your own eye, and then you will know how to deal with the twig in your brothers eye. This means that the primary source of enmity and quarreling are our own sins, mainly pride, egoism and envy. Perhaps our neighbor did not pay enough attention to us, did not praise our efforts, did not appreciate our talents? And so we start feeling resentment and animosity towards him, and all because our pride has been wounded, our ego has been offended, our envy has been stirred up. But here we must honestly concede that the fault lies within ourselves. And if we clear ourselves of vanity, and fill our hearts with humility, then our hateful neighbor will suddenly appear to us in a pleasant, kind, friendly light.

But let us suppose that we have honestly examined ourselves and exonerated ourselves of all malice, and yet our neighbor continues to appear disagreeable and hostile to us? Then we move on to the second stage, which consists of the ability to distinguish between the innate person and his sins. In this case we must try to love the individual himself, but not his sins.

It is comparable to looking at a rose, which is a most beautiful flower, but has prickly thorns. We carefully avoid the thorns and enjoy the rose. Our attitude towards people must be the same - we must look at their good characteristics and stay away from the bad ones, and even more than that - we must cover their negative side with pity and compassion.

Every person who is filled with anger, envy, etc. must be pitied, because such a person is in spiritual trouble, we must help him with our compassion and understanding, not quarrel with him.

At the end of the first Lenten vespers we hear the wonderful prayer of repentance composed by St. Ephraim the Syrian - Lord and Master of my life, - at the end of which we expressly ask God: Lord, let me see my own sins and refrain from judging my brother. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff.
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