Recently in the Orthodox christian community, we entered into the period known as great and holy lent. This is a forty day period before Saturday of Lazarus where we are instructed to restrain ourselves from eating certain foods and activities so that we can focus more on prayer and God. This forty day period is in imitation of when Jesus after He was baptized by John, went into the wilderness to pray for 40 days. What I find interesting is that on the Sunday before clean Monday (which is also called Cheese fare Sunday) is also referred to as Forgiveness Sunday.
It is interesting to note that many of us put emphasis on Forgiveness Sunday and will ask friends (both known and unknown) through social media or personally to forgive us our sins. This practice comes from the wisdom of the church on which the bible reading for the day where Jesus tells us “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.
In the evening as we end the old day and begin the new, many of our churches have a vesper service of forgiveness as we begin our entrance into great and holy lent. What should cause us to weep for ourselves is how we pay lip service to God and each other with the words we say at this service asking from our hierarchs, priests and each other. There is no true contrition as should be. Our faith is meant to be a part our lives and not just heaping upon one another empty phrases that only mean something for the moment that we are reciting them and the next hour we criticize each other behind each others backs.
True contrition comes from the heart! If you are truly practicing your faith, if you are sincere in all that you do then there are several things we must put into practice:
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”– Matthew 23:12
We must humble ourselves before God and man. With the advent of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumbler, etc.) we tell the world about our likes, dislikes, opinions on politics, social issues, the weather etc. Anyone with a computer, smart phone, tablet and internet access has become a self proclaimed expert. For many, the more followers they have the better! You have the likes of the Kardashians, Kanye West, Madonna who post pictures of themselves (selfies), food, etc. They put a few comments and they suck us into discussions which are fruitless. Is any of this good for our immortal souls? We are better than this!
We mustn’t proclaim to the world that which we have done. Our heavenly Father knows our actions and knows our hearts of what type of people we truly are. Our God knows your deeds and why you have done them. Jayzee doesn’t really care about what I had for breakfast or whether I live or die; he only cares (as do the other so called celebrities) on making a living for themselves and being in the spotlight. In other words…
“…when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” – Matthew 6:5
Do not care what others think, their opinions do not matter. Their is only one opinion that matters and that is the one of our heavenly Father. He knows your heart and your needs even before you say it. We must learn to communicate with Him at all times. It is this lack of communication with Him that gets us into trouble. We must learn to pray all the time. You might say “I have no time to pray!” That is a lie which we have come to believe. We always have time to pray, we choose not to.
We can pray while driving, while working, while cleaning, while cooking, etc. He’s always listening! Our prayer does not have to be long and complex, a simple prayer will do “Lord Jesus, Son of God have mercy on me the sinner!” The Lord’s prayer is another great prayer. These prayers do not take more than thirty seconds to be recited. When we pray constantly it leads to a change in our life for the better. When we become better people we think not of ourselves but of others around us.
“…when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:3-4
When we start thinking of others we then start thinking of those who do have and are in need. We do not need to give because we desire recognition from others. We give because we are looking after our brothers and sisters who are the image of God. Those who give in a public manor (as many social figures do) are doing it out of generosity, they are doing it for notoriety which they seek. They desire to appear as generous when in reality they are not. They are obsessed with their public image. I tell you as did Jesus “…when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:2
What does it matter what others think? Many people judge us by what they see; our hair, our waist line, our clothing etc. “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27 What is in our hearts is what God truly sees who we really are, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 Don’t worry on what I or anyone else thinks of you, only worry about the only opinion that matters which is the Lord’s.
Ultimately it needs to be said that if we are practicing our faith in God and put to practice the words of Jesus we will be asking each others forgiveness not just that one time a year, we will be doing it constantly. During the Divine Liturgy the priest not only prostrates himself before the altar of the Lord asking Him for forgiveness, he also turns to us the congregation asking us forgiveness. We in turn say, “May the Lord our God remember your priesthood in His kingdom.” in other words, “We forgive you!”
Before we recite together as one body and one mind the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed we turn and kiss each other on both cheeks saying, “Christ is in our midst! He is, was and ever shall be!” asking forgiveness and forgiving those with whom we embrace.
When we kiss the hand of the priest it is not out of respect to him. We kiss his hand out of respect to God who chose him to serve us. We know that it is through our priest that God forgives us our sins.
Forgiveness is not just once a year, it is every second and every moment of our lives.
Have a beautiful Lent and a glorious Pascha!
Forgive me and pray for me ALWAYS the unworthy priest
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