The Sunday of Forgiveness is the last Sunday prior to the commencement of Great Lent. During the pre-Lenten period, the services of the Church include hymns from the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through Great and Holy Saturday. 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 Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; “The
Expulsion from Paradise”, Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel,
Palermo, Sicily. Mid 12th Century.
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 23:43). 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.
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
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” (vv. 16-18).
The second condition is forgiveness—“If
you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive
you” (vv. 14-15). 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.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Sunday of the Last Judgment incorporates
all of the elements of the parable from Matthew 25:31-46. Christ sits
on the throne and before him the Last Judgment takes place. He is extending
his hands in blessing upon the Theotokos on his right, and John the Baptist
on his left. Seated on smaller thrones are the Apostles, represented by
Peter and Paul, a depiction of the words of Christ in Matthew 19:28. (1.)
|1. Ashamed for the sin that they committed by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowlege of good and evil, Adam and Eve now stand before Christ.|
The icon shows Adam and Eve standing before Jesus Christ
[1.]. Prior to their descent into sin through disobedience, Adam and Eve
were blessed with a beautiful relationship of communion and fellowship
with God. However, they were tempted by the devil appearing in the form
of a serpent [2.] to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17).
|2. Adam and Eve were tempted to
sin by the devil who appeared to them as a serpent.
|3. A cherubim
with a flaming sword was appointed by God to guard the gate of Eden
and the way to the tree of life.
When they took of the fruit and sinned, they realized that they were naked.
Further, when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the
garden”…they hid themselves “from the presence of the
Lord” (3:8). The icon shows Adam and Eve attempting to cover themselves
with fig leaves as they try to hide, and yet they stand ashamed before
|4. For their disobedience, the Lord has Adam and Eve expelled from
Paradise. They leave dressed in garments prepared by God.
Because of their disobedience the Lord expelled them
from the garden. The icon shows the Archangel of the Lord directing them
out of Paradise, through the gate of Eden where God placed “the
cherubim and a sword flaming and guarding the way to the tree of life”
(3:23-24) [3.]. Adam and Eve are dressed in the garments of skins made
for them by God (3:20) [4.].
Eastern Christian Celebration of the Sunday of Forgiveness
The Sunday of Forgiveness is commemorated with the Divine
Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service.
A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening. The hymns of the Triodion
for this day are added to the usual prayers and hymns of the weekly commemoration
of the Resurrection of Christ. The naming of the Sunday is taken from
the commemoration of the Exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise and from
the Gospel reading of the Divine Liturgy.
Scripture readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgment
are: At the Orthros (Matins): The prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At
the Divine Liturgy: Romans 13:11-14:4, Matthew 6:14-21.
The Sunday of Forgiveness is also known as Cheesefare
Sunday. This is the last day that dairy products can be eaten before the
Lenten fast. The full fast begins the following day on Clean Monday, the
first day of Great Lent. On the evening of the Sunday of Forgiveness the
Church conducts the first service of Great Lent, the Vespers of Forgiveness,
a service that directs us further on the path of repentance and helps
us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness from God and to seek forgiveness
from our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the first time that the
Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim accompanied by prostrations is read. At the
end of the service all the faithful approach the priest and one another
asking for mutual forgiveness.
Eastern Christians are encouraged to enter Great Lent
in repentance and confession by attending these services, coming for the
Sacrament of Confession, and dedicating themselves to worship, prayer,
and fasting throughout the Lenten period. The first day of Lent, Clean
Monday, signifies the beginning of a period of cleansing and purification
of sins through repentance.
On the Saturday before this Sunday, the second of three
Saturdays of the Souls are held. This is a special commemoration when
the Church offers a Divine Liturgy and Memorial Service for the departed
faithful. This is considered a universal commemoration of the dead. Through
the memorial services, the Church is commending to God all who have departed
and who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. This specific Saturday is
a general commemoration of all the ascetic Saints of the Church, both
men and women. As we set out on the Lenten fast we are reminded that we
will make this journey as members of a family, supported by the intercessions
of the Saints.