Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Scriptures of the Triodion
Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6: 14-15
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today is known on the Orthodox liturgical calendar as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Tonight in many churches (including ours in Tampa), there will be a special service called “Forgiveness Vespers.” In this service, two special things will occur. There will be an announcement that Great Lent is beginning. The hymn reads “Turn not Your face from Your child, for I am afflicted; hear me speedily. Give heed to my soul and redeem it.” (Prokemenon, Forgiveness Vespers, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes) During this announcement, the lights of the church will be dimmed, the priest will change his vestments from light to dark, and the altar table will be covered with a dark cloth. Lent will begin.
At the end of the service, there is a forgiveness circle. This means that everyone in attendance will greet one another asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness in return.
When I was at the seminary, I lived in what you could consider both a close and a closed community. Sequestered for the most part on our campus, we saw the same people every day—in church, in class, in the dining hall. We grew close friendships. And many times we had animosity. Because in a close community, there is no way that every day is good with everyone. I remember that at the forgiveness vespers, when we went to ask forgiveness from one another, that it was a very moving thing. It was sobering to realize that we hurt even our best friends at times. It was liberating to offer one another a “clean slate”. It lightened a spiritual burden. In the middle of a busy school year, it felt like a needed new start.
We all are part of close communities. We have one in our homes. We may have one at work. We have one in our church, not only the whole church but the small groups in the church—the choir, the Philoptochos, the altar boys, the Parish Council, the Sunday school teachers. Can you imagine if each group gathered together and asked forgiveness from each other? Can you imagine doing that with members of your family?
One of my favorite verses in the Psalms comes from Psalm 130:3-4, “If You o Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You.” The same thing applies to our relationships with one another. If we total up the iniquities we have against one another, then who can stand? No marriage can stand. No close friendship can stand. No working relationship can stand. The only way any relationship can stand is with forgiveness. Sometimes this includes repentance and sometimes it is just a generous giving of forgiveness, even if it is not deserved.
Christ tells us in the Gospel lesson today that God will forgive us if we forgive one another. And if we cannot forgive one another, God will not forgive us. There is an eternal consequence to not forgiving, but an eternal reward if we forgive. But let’s look at TODAY. There is a consequence TODAY if we cannot forgive, and there is a reward TODAY is we can.
It is important that we be able to reconcile with one another, to ask for forgiveness, to forgive, to make new starts, to forget, and to be sincere. To forgive without “forgetting” is to continue to “mark iniquities.” To forgive means to move on, unencumbered by past failings but cognizant of not repeating them. It takes a lot of patience and practice to learn how to forgive. However, the “art” of forgiveness is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life.
Let us cheerfully begin the season of Lent, and undergo the spiritual struggles. Let us purity and cleanse our souls and bodies. As we fast from food, let us also abstain from giving in to any of the passions, and instead delight in the virtues of the Spirit. May we persevere in them with love, and then be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our god, and to celebrate holy Pascha with spiritual joy. (From the Forgiveness Vespers, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Intentionally forgive someone today! Ask someone for forgiveness today!
As we mark Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of Great Lent, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone reading these reflections who has been offended by anything I have written. It is never my intention to offend, but in writing these reflections, I’m sure that I write things that sometimes may be offensive or insensitive. I humbly ask your forgiveness.
Photo credit: goarch.org
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