“His Grace is sufficient for all.”
This is the statement that keeps running through my head during this first week of the Great Fast in preparation for Pascha.
We began the fast on Sunday with Forgiveness Vespers. Over the years as I get to know more people in our church more deeply, this event has more significance for me. For the previous three weeks of pre-Lent preparation we have been reminded to pray and fast as the Publican, that we receive God’s Mercy as we turn to him like the Prodigal Son, and that we will be called to account for our deeds at the Last Judgement. Then, after a final Cheese-fare potluck, we gather once more in the church to ask forgiveness. We ask forgiveness of God, ourselves, and our neighbors.
There is something humbling, beautiful, and reassuring about Forgiveness Vespers. We line up in a line, and one-by-one go to each and every member of the church, look them in the eye, ask for forgiveness from them for any pain we have caused them in the past year, and humbly fall prostrate on our knees before them. Then we get up, and are reminded that “God Forgives.” At the same time, we forgive them for all the hurts, known and unknown, that they might have caused us in the past year. It is deeply humbling and soul-nourishing to fall down before your spouse and ask forgiveness of them, knowing that all hurts, words spoken in anger, and all deeds are forgiven and forgotten. Likewise we ask foriveness of and give it to our priest, our friends, and the rest of our families. You recognize that it’s only by God’s Grace that we continue living, that only by his acting in us that we are capable of forgiving (hence “God Forgives”) or receiving forgiveness. In this way we receive and give forgiveness to every member of the church family. Our sins against one another don’t need to be numerated, by mutual agreement they are all given up to God and forgotten at that moment. I watched children as young as 4, and men as old as 85 prostrate themselves, giving and receiving the grace of God’s forgiveness to each other.
Then, united, as one family and one body of Christ we go into the Great Fast together with a clean slate. Because in that one service, all our relationships with one another have been restored. By the Grace of God, we are united and cleansed.