” but up to seventy times seven…”

Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

For those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics, yesterday was Cheesefare Sunday, because it is the last time we eat any dairy and today is called Clean Monday – the first day of the full “Great Fast.” Every year, Lent is prefaced by Meatfare (two weeks ago) and Cheesefare, but more importantly, we also refer to this past Sunday as, “Forgiveness Sunday.” Traditionally, on this day, we are asked by our priest to forgive him any sins he may have committed against us, and we repeat, aloud, “I forgive you.” The clergy on the altar seek forgiveness from one another. In some eastern traditions, this act of seeking and giving forgiveness is expressed in a more formalized, and public, way with a line developing wherein each parishioner personally meets with the priest and other clergy, then joining the line, until each parishioner asks and gives forgiveness to every other parishioner. It can take hours if the parish is large enough.

It was celebrated in our parish, the long way, yesterday. I did not attend Church. I am so hurt in my heart, that I just could not stand to have the hypocrisy of some people played out in front of my face, when I know they gossip disparagingly about my family and I behind our backs. Gossip is alive and well in my life. I was fearful I would say something that would make the situation far worse. For me, and for them.

north_door_of_iconostasis_v-2The icon above depicts the Temptation in the Garden and the Expulsion from Eden and the Shame of Adam and Eve. This icon is used on Forgiveness Sunday to remind us of the Original Sin of Adam. And we are supposed to contemplate our sin, in light of God’s justice in removing Adam and Eve from His Presence. We believe that when we sin, we take a step away, or remove ourselves from, the Presence of God. Depending upon the sin, that step can be minute, or it can create a chasm between us and God. God is consistently standing with open arms, waiting on us to seek Him out, in repentance. In the Eastern Rites, and in the Roman Catholic Church, we go to Confession (or Reconciliation). The Church asks us to go to Confession at least once before we celebrate Pascha, or Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ.

Since last week, I have been thinking long and hard about all of this. I felt that removing myself from this would be better for all of us. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nor do I think my presence should have a definitive affect on others, one way or the other. I have wronged people, I am sure, and need to seek forgiveness from them. But I do not need to do so in a public forum. Do I have anger and frustration in my heart? You bet I do. Do I need to let it go? Oh my, yes I do. And how am I to do that? Therein lies the heart of my moments spent musing over this.

I have been doing this study, which I referenced in my last post, and I quoted from it about the boulders we have in our lives that we need to move out of the way. I have lots of boulders that I need shifted. And I am working on them. I do not think I would have served anyone any good by being at Church. God is working on me. Hard. In the eastern rites, we have no “obligation” to attend religious services. In the Latin Church, there is the pain of mortal sin if you purposely avoid Mass. For us in the eastern Churches, we feel no pain of “mortal” sin; we do not delineate sin in that way. We view sin a little differently and it does not entail whether or not we go to Church. The philosophy behind it is that when you love someone, you want to be with them, above everything else. You will do whatever it takes to be with them. And if you love God, you will do whatever it takes to be there, with Him, at Church. Sin is seen as a step away from God – does your choice put you closer to God, or further away from Him? Does staying home from Church cause you to be further from God or closer to God? For me, I felt that being at Church would be a “near occasion of sin” for me, and for others. And so I stayed away, purposefully.

Today, well, today is Clean Monday. Today we begin the Great Fast in earnest. And today I did something I have never done – I juiced! We bought a juicer and today was its first run. I am now drinking it over ice and I must say, it is pretty darn tasty! With this study I am doing entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman,” we are also altering our dietary intake and trying to purge our bodies of the stuff that impedes good health. So I thought I would coordinate that with the start of Great Lent. I made my son a smoothie today. It feels good to focus on our health and is such a great way to share Clean Monday and the start of Great Lent.

juicing

Back to why I started this post – forgiveness. It is a rough thing and a touchy thing. To truly forgive someone, you remove the hurt and take it out of your timeline, if you will. You live as if the hurt was never a part of your life. And if the pain is too much, you just give it to God. He has a better way to handle our hurts than we do. He died for our hurts. He hung on that Cross for three hours, taking on the hurts of the entire world. Just for me. Just for you. And He said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  

Quiet

Do I forgive? Oh, I sincerely do. I really, truly forgive anyone who has ever wronged me. It is as though those things, those words, were never said. And I am completely at peace with that. Do others forgive me? In the same way? Perhaps; perhaps not. But all I can do is seek that forgiveness; how they forgive is between them and God. Forgiving is freeing. I still retain the memories of the hurt, but the pain is somehow removed because I truly let it go. But it does not mean I am stupid. I am not going to consistently, regularly, bang my head against that same wall. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I am adult enough to realize that repeating errors is just wasting my time. And it is honestly okay to just walk away….

Nonsense

So I will continue to embark on this Lenten journey. I am focusing on becoming healthier in many ways – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I do forgive others and I pray for their forgiveness, as well. I read a great blog today by Joel L. Miller enttitled, “The Trouble with me – and  – Jesus Christianity” on Ancient Faith blogs. He talks about the story of the blind men each touching an elephant and describing it to one another. One touches a leg and describes the elephant like a tree trunk; one touched the trunk and described a snake…you get the idea. It is the same with Church, with our faith – if we only see our own interpretation of Jesus, we may only know Him as a tree trunk or a snake. We will not see the entirety of our faith. We cannot be Christians in a vacuum or as islands. Salvation comes in community. We celebrate our faith, we share our faith, we grow in our faith in the presence of other Christians. We listen to the preaching of our priests and deacons; we listen to the Fathers of the Church, who guide us in “orthodox” or “right thinking.” We cannot do this alone. We cannot seek salvation alone. Yes, our faith is between us and our Savior. But the Apostles sought one another and lived in community. We, too, should seek other Christians. So to not attend Church is not the best approach to growing in our faith. However, sometimes removing ourselves from situations that are not life-giving, nor healthy, is the best we can do for everyone. I’m not advocating avoiding communities that help us build and grow in our faith. But I am advocating an intelligent perspective on, as St. John Chrysostom said above, “Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.” And I believe removing ourselves and spending time alone is a healthy thing to do.

Alone time

This year’s Lenten journey should be amazing. I am working hard on listening more and talking less. On watching less TV and reading more. On making better choices in so many areas. I am working on becoming more fit in my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This time, set aside each year, is given to us to reflect, repent, and start again. I feel blessed. Working to prepare myself in order to really welcome Christ with Palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest.” See you on the other side…

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot

“Please forgive me…”

Holy Season of LentForgiveness 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.

anointing1I 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!

40 Days logoAs 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!

Lenten Candle Stand Gold

“Be reconciled and then draw near…”

ON ForgivenessAs we prepare to enter into the full fast and the start of Great Lent, we end this preparatory time with Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese Fare Sunday) or the Sunday of Forgiveness. The Church gives us this opportunity to reconcile ourselves to our fellow parishioners, as well as with others we may have a disparity with, and to further prepare us to enter more fully into a prosperous and healing Lenten period.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” Matthew 5:23-28

This was brought to an enhanced, and very clear, meaning in a homily of St. John Chrysostom: ” As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion.… I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’

As I have gone through a spiritually-changing journey (which is why I write this blog in the first place) and have come to see things a little more clearly in my life, I have been enabled to let go of things that have hampered my spiritual growth – issues in my life that have kept me nailed to the place I was, the person I was.  There is a great book I have quoted from many times by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft, where he deals with Heaven.  He talks so many times about what we bring with us to our own, personal judgement.  He talks about our baggage, literally contained in a suitcase.  They are full of past sins we have not forgiven ourselves for, whereas God has gone back into our personal timeline and ripped those sins out of it, so when He looks at us, it is as if those sins never occurred.  It is us, us feeble and weak humans, full of pride and free will, who drag things with us that God has let go.  He also talks about true forgiveness and things in our lives that we cannot handle.  He says to create a “God closet” with shelves with little shoes boxes on them. In these boxes we place issues that are too hard for us to deal with.  And we label the boxes, shut the lid, close the door, and offer them all to God.  I am tempted at times to open that door, get into a box or two, and wallow in those issues.  But I remind myself that I gave them, truly gave them, to God.  And I find that peace once again, and I close the door and walk away…out from under the onus of things best left to God’s care and attention.

Forgiveness is like that.  We often say we forgive.  We have cry sessions, we yell, we stomp our feet in our tantrums, and then we tell the offender that we forgive them.  But quite often, when the time is “right, ” (or ripe) we pull that old hurt back out and we sling it at the offender.  Husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, good friends – all fertile territory for such things to happen.  But what if forgiveness is something that we just cannot seem to manage on our own?  What if we’ve left that hurt festering for years?  What if we have secretly been waiting to whip it out and sling it into the face of our offender, still hurting as badly as when the offense took place?  If that is true, how can we approach the Altar of God?  How can we even begin to tackle our spiritual issues that we want to focus on during Lent?  How can not drinking coffee or eating chocolate, or fasting for 40 days, do us any good when that hurt is still festering deep inside of us?  We can’t – it taints everything.

Many, many years ago I suffered a hurt in my life. That particular event has colored my decisions in my life since it took place in my 20s!!  It was, for many years, a festering wound deep within me. It was not what I had pictured for my life; it was not the storybook fairytale I had envisioned for my life, then or now.  It ruined my life – to my way of thinking.  It changed how I looked at “forever.”  And I use to fling it out in times of hurt, and anger, and frustration.  Many times it was flung at the wrong people, at the wrong time.  And then I would seek forgiveness from them, for that erroneous spurt of anger.  The vehemence of it often took those around me by surprise.  And one day, after reading Peter Kreeft’s book, and praying, praying, and praying some more, and then after seeking spiritual guidance, I actually forgave those who hurt me. And I totally gave the entire issue to God, in its own box, in God’s closet, in my heart.  I cannot fully express to you the weight that was lifted from my back.  I did not realize that the hurt and pain I had carried for years was felt in my physical reality, in the physical realm, because I had assumed it was an emotional pain.  It is, it was, but I also carried it like an extra pound or two of weight on my back.  It was a tangible thing.  And once I spoke the words, allowing forgiveness to enter in…and I mean honest, sincere, real forgiveness, it is like God lifted it off of me and I felt light-headed from the release of the pressure that hurt and pain had been in my life.  God took that annoying backpack of issues off of me!  And when I think of those involved or the situation and things that happened around it, I feel nothing – a cool breeze and still that lightness of being in my heart.  I finally feel free of it.  And I truly, honestly forgive.

Getting to the core of who we are, and releasing the “ick,” the “sludge” of all those negative feelings of hurt, pain, betrayal, anger, etc. really makes a remarkable difference inside of you.  And it shows on your face, in how you embrace the day, in how you love other people.  This Sunday, as we step into Great Lent, the Church, in her wisdom, asks us to forgive everyone who has wronged us, and to let the pain of that betrayal go.  But also in Her Wisdom, the Church asks us to seek forgiveness from those around us, and from those we perhaps are not standing next to in His Temple, but those who live miles from us, those who have passed into their Eternal Rest, and even those we are most close to….we need to seek their forgiveness and ask them, “Please forgive me if I have wronged you in any way.” (The response is usually something like, “God forgives you; I forgive you”).

From a blog called “Voices from Russia”:

On Forgiveness Sunday, the priest reads a special prayer after the conclusion of the Vespers service that beseeches God to assist the faithful in the keeping of the fast. After it is read, all the clergy, starting with the priest, request forgiveness from all the faithful present in the church, and the laity request forgiveness from the clergy, and from one another personally. One says to another, “Forgive me”, and the traditional answer is “God forgives. Please, forgive me, as well”.

In addition to the church ritual, believers request forgiveness of all those in their households and of all their friends so that they may enter the Great Lent with a good spirit, without holding anger in their heart against their neighbor. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “If you shall not pardon the sin of your brother, neither shall the Father forgive you your sins”. The custom of mutual forgiveness before starting the Great Lent arose in the very first centuries of Christianity. In the early monastic abodes in Egypt, the monks gathered together, they prayed, and they requested forgiveness of one another before they departed into the desert. Some of them did not return.”

ON Pillars of LentAs we begin to enter deeply into these 40 days of Great Lent, I do ask forgiveness from those I may have wronged.  I do not pretend to be a great theologian or historian, but a person who expresses herself through words.  And if my words, here or in person, have caused injury, anger, or pain, I seek forgiveness from you. My intention is to share, not to disrupt, or anger, or divide.  I pray that these next days be days of forgiveness realized, and an increased closeness in a simple relationship with God, with our loved ones, with our friends, with our fellow journeymen along this path to our eternity; the beauty of eternity in the presence of God.

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