Monday, March 02, 2009

Lenten love and forgiveness.

Picking up where I left off in my last post, I'd like to share a couple of additional texts for reflection in these early days of Lent. Last time, I offered an excerpt from Father Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha. In this post, I'll be referring to The Lenten Spring, a book by Father Schmemann's son-in-law and academic colleague Father Thomas Hopko. Composed of forty chapters corresponding to the forty days of Lent, The Lenten Spring was a part of my spiritual reading for this season two years ago. I haven't reread the book since, but I picked it up again last week to take a brief look at what Hopko has to say about the start of Lent. Here is some of what he has to say about Forgiveness Sunday, which in the Byzantine tradition is the last Sunday before the start of Lent:
The Sunday before Lent begins, the day on which the Church liturgically remembers the fall of Adam and Eve, is called Cheesefare Sunday. This is because it is traditionally the last day of eating dairy products before the time of fasting. This day is also called Forgiveness Sunday since everyone must enter the lenten effort by forgiving and asking forgiveness of others. In many churches, schools and monasteries this is done through a special "rite of forgiveness" following the evening vespers at which the Church formally inaugurates the lenten season. The significance of the act of giving and receiving forgiveness is obvious. God does not forgive if we do not forgive each other. It is that simple.

"For 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" (Mt 6:14-15).

. . .

Love between sinners is essentially expressed in forgiveness. There is no other way. It cannot be otherwise. Forgiveness is the singular expression of love in this fallen world. If, therefore, we desire to be loved and forgiven by God - and even more, if we know that as a matter of fact we are so loved and forgiven - then we must love and forgive each other. The lenten season exists for this purpose: to express the love of God for one another through mutual forgiveness. . . .
As Father Hopko's words remind us, we all stand in need of forgiveness. If we pause to examine the course of lives, each of us can think of areas in our lives that manifest this need - we may think of people that we may still need to forgive, and we may also think of people who still have not forgiven us. Lent is a time for reconciliation - not simply between God and the individual Christian, but among Christians as well. In these early days of Lent, it may be helpful for us to pray and reflect on these questions: where in my life is there a need for forgiveness? whom do I need to forgive? who has yet to forgive me? AMDG.


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