This coming Sunday is the last Sunday before we begin Lent. It is called Forgiveness Sunday and we also commemorate Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. In other words we must have these things in mind when we read the Epistle (Romans 13:11-14; 141-4) and Gospel Readings (Matthew 6:14-21):
- All of the themes from the previous weeks since we’ve opened the Triodion: the humility of the Publican, the coming to oneself of the Prodigal Son, and the criteria that God will judge us at the Judgement Seat (“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” —Matthew 25:40)
- The casting out of Adam and Eve from paradise (the consequences of which we are still living with)
- The beginning of the Great Fast
The discussion on the Epistle this week centered around the fast and why we do it.
- It allows us to exercise our spiritual muscles by taking something very basic (food) and willingly choosing to deny ourselves those things which in the ancient world took a lot of time to prepare (meat, dairy, fish, oil and wine). By practicing saying “No” to these basic things, it makes us more able to deny ourselves with other aspects of our lives. Ultimately, it strengthens us for when we are tempted with our weaknesses.
- In modern times, the things that in the ancient world took so much time to prepare, take about the same amount of time (and in some cases less) than fast-friendly food. This extra time we are supposed to gain from fasting is to be used for prayer and reading Scripture. For us, this means that we need to find that time in other things than food preparation (TV, internet, etc.).
- Since everyone is on their own unique and unrepeatable path towards Christ, we cannot judge or condemn someone else’s path. For example, someone with diabetes is going to have to fast in a fundamentally different way than someone who is 100% healthy and a pregnant woman shouldn’t be fasting from food at all.
- Despite the fact fasting from meat etc. doesn’t have the same practical outcome that it did in the ancient world, we still maintain these as part of our fast. This is because we not only fast for ourselves, but we fast for others as well. When we choose to keep the fast, we are strengthening our fellow Orthodox Christians to do the same.
- In addition, we all get to practice obedience. We die to ourselves and place the wisdom of the Church (and thus Christ) above our own.
Our discussion of the Gospel Reading was more varied:
- It was pointed out that Christ’s lesson on forgiveness is in context of teaching the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, the Gospel Reading for Cheesefare Saturday (the day prior to this Sunday) ends with the Lord’s Prayer.
- It was noted that the Gospel Reading teaches about the three basic aspects of our ascetic life during Great Lent: prayer (v. 14-15), fasting (v. 16-18) and almsgiving (v. 19-21).
- The root of the Greek word for “forgive” used by Christ (ἀφῆτε) means “to let go.” In other words, we have to let go of the past in order to move towards our future in the Kingdom of Heaven. If we do not let go of that past, we choose to live in that reality rather than the reality of the Kingdom. Thus,
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.
- A corollary of this is the ability to allow God to forgive us. We must let go of our own sins in order to move forward towards the Kingdom. We must acknowledge them, name them by confessing them, let them go and look forward to the chance to do better next time.
- Great Lent is a time for doing exactly this — it is an opportunity to turn towards God, letting go of sin, letting go of the past and looking forward to striving to better ourselves and get closer to God as Great Lent progresses. May we all take advantage of all our opportunities in this Lent. Amen.