“The Lord has given us two options: to remember or to forget. To forget the bad; to remember the good. Happiness comes only to those who have learned this” – Saint Princess Fevronia Muromskaya.*
This Sunday is known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Forgiveness Sunday, when we remember the Fall of Adam and Eve and how they lost Paradise by disobeying God by eating ‘the forbidden fruit’ (which is why we fast) and by blaming rather than humbly asking forgiveness (which is why we ask one another’s forgiveness and for God’s forgiveness in confession during Lent).
The cure for Adam and Eve’s disobedience was in doing the opposite of all they had done. Instead of disobedience, they needed obedience; instead of pride, they needed humility. In other words they had to turn back on what they had done in repentance and ask forgiveness. At first they had been unable to do this.
When God first spoke to Adam and Eve after their act of disobedience, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither had the humility to take responsibility for one’s errors and ask for forgiveness. It was not that God did not know what they had done; it was simply that God wanted to give them the opportunity to ask Him, and to ask each other, for forgiveness. Instead they blamed each other and in the process blamed God their Maker.
To us, as children of Adam and Eve, God also gives opportunities to ask for forgiveness, as Adam and Eve should have done. He gives us the mystery of Confession. Confession does not exist because God wants to know what we have done or left undone. God already knows that. Confession exists because God is giving us an opportunity to own up to our mistakes and failings. Simply said… God does not need our confession, we do; and every confession is a repeat of that opportunity given to Adam and Eve in Eden, to ask God for forgiveness. Unlike human-beings, God always forgives those who sincerely, with repentance, ask for forgiveness. However, before we ask forgiveness of God, we first have to ask forgiveness of each other.
And just at this time, on Forgiveness Sunday, Orthodox Christians make a beginning of our Lenten discipline with the forgiving of everyone for everything. This is expressed in the rite of forgiveness which is part of Vespers. The ritual expression of forgiveness can easily and often be little more than a ritual. It reminds us of the need to forgive, but does not, on its own, achieve what it expresses. This should not be surprising – forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult spiritual undertaking, but necessary for the sake of our own salvation. For if we do not first ask each other for forgiveness, we cannot ask God for forgiveness. And without forgiveness, there is no way back into Paradise for any of us. Please, forgive me, my sisters and brothers, and please pray for me! May God forgive us and grant us the grace and joy of His Holy Resurrection.
*Translated from Russian: “Две способности дал нам Господь: помнить и забывать. Забывать зло. Помнить добро. Счастье даётся только тем, кто научился этому” – Святая княгиня Феврония Муромская.