Forgiveness Sunday was yesterday; today is Clean Monday. In many traditions, these next three days of the Lenten Fast are among the strictest. We try, during the first three days of Lent (in the Orthodox tradition) to take nothing before Vespers on Wednesday but water. Well, I am just not that good. My blood sugar would go all catty-wampus (as my grandma would say) and I would pass out or something. It is not that I am unwilling, but the flesh is very weak! We are trying some new ideas with fasting this year and we are excited. It is so fun to learn all of the many aspects of universality our Church has to offer. Learning new ways of doing things and new traditions from other countries. I love it – it adds immeasurably to my faith.
At Forgiveness Sunday yesterday, we had a wonderful parish experience. We had Divine Liturgy, and then a wonderful pot luck meal together, followed by Forgiveness Vespers. It is our first Byzantine experience, as we are Melkite, which is an eastern-rite Church, but with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair to it. Our parish here is Ruthenian, and culturally eastern European. During the Vespers itself, much was sung and prayed about forgiveness, and it was nice; contemplative at times, too. But the most touching aspect of it came at the end. Our Priest stood up there in front of the Holy Doors, asking us to forgive him, and through him, all the clergy. He mentioned several times that people often think clergy are angels. He laughed and said, “I am no angel!” And then he asked us to remember that none of us are angels! He then had each person in the parish approach him and asked them to forgive him, and they asked him to forgive them. They received the oil of Mirovanije and and then took their place next to him, forming a line around the inside of the church. Each person, in turn, asked each person for forgiveness. I cannot properly do justice to what a moving experience this was for both my husband and myself.
I love the tradition of mirovanije and how wonderful it feels (and it usually smells good, too!) to be blessed and to share that blessing with forgiveness. It was so very moving. Unfortunately for me, I was plagued with back problems yesterday…too much sitting on hard chairs, I guess. After sitting through Divine Liturgy, then having the pot luck and then Vespers, my back had just had it (it was my second attempt at going outside the house since I hurt my back two weeks ago). So I received the oil and blessing, exchanged forgiveness with Fr. Michael, and promptly went back to my spot. By this time, I was actually weeping. It was a combination of forgiveness, pain, and the fear my back was as bad as it was two weeks ago. But as I sort of laid on my side in the pew, so many people came to me, wanting to exchange forgiveness. They got out of line and came to me, hugging me and asking for forgiveness. I cannot even tell you how humbling and beautifully freeing it was. Of course, being the mushy person I am, I cried all the more!
As we take this journey together during Lent, I wanted to share once again how beautiful and freeing forgiveness can be. And that we truly make no progress with the fasting, the praying, the attendance at prayers, if we have rancor, hatred, anger…any of those ugly, festering, emotions…deep in our soul. Lent becomes meaningless, really, if we do not approach it with a clean heart; a heart ready and willing to be open to God working in our lives.
As Orthowiki defines it: Liturgically, Clean Monday—and thus Great Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night,at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Great Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly (or to have it clean before the beginning of the Fast).
The theme of Clean Monday is set by the Old Testament reading appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day (Isaiah 1:1-20), which says in part:
Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (v. 16-18).”
So today, being Clean Monday, I am trying to get my home together. Working carefully, and trying to prepare to enter fully into Lent. It truly makes the entire “Spring Cleaning” philosophy completely different for me. First, I learned about the desire to clean my home with the increase in daylight and, second, the impending blessing of our home (in the process of cleaning for the priest to come, I injured my back) and now with the start of Lent, yet another reason to “Spring Clean”! Isn’t God and His Church awesome?? So many reasons to do what comes naturally.
I just wanted to share a short post on Forgiveness Vespers and what an incredible start it gave me for Lent. I will be fasting from media and noise this Lent, so postings will be sparse. May your Lenten period prepare you for an incredible Pascha and may God bless you each of these wonderful 40 days!