Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare)
Fourth Sunday of the Triodion
Last Sunday was Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare)
Turn not away thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily.
Attend to my soul, and deliver it.
From the ends of the earth I cried unto thee.
I shall be protected under the cover of thy wings.
I will praise thy name forever.
- Forgiveness Vespers
Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheesefare Sunday, is the day to finish consuming all dairy products, eggs, and oils. It is also celebrated as Maslenitsa ("Pancake Day") - the Eastern version of Marti Gras, since Great Lent begins for us on the following day, Clean Monday. We also abstain from diary, oil, fish, wine, and eggs all of Great Lent. although oil, fish, and wine are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Forgiveness Vespers that evening begins Great Lent. At this vespers, each person in the church asks for & receives forgiveness from every other person. It is a beautiful thing to see and take part in. Each person approaches the priest, makes a prostration, and holds each others’ arms at the elbows. The priest implores, “Forgive me, a sinner,” and the person responds,“I forgive you and God forgives you.” The roles are then reversed, with the person asking forgiveness & the priest repeating, “I forgive you and God forgives you.” A kiss is given first on one cheek, and then on the other, and the person moves to stand to the left of the priest. The next person, after this exchange with the priest, moves on to the person standing at his left and performs the same ritual, ending by standing at this person’s left. In this way, every person performs the ritual of forgiveness with every other person.
The icon of the Sunday of the Last Judgment incorporates all of the elements of the parable from Matthew 25:31-46. Christ sits on the throne and before him the Last Judgment takes place. He is extending his hands in blessing upon the Theotokos on his right, and John the Baptist on his left. Seated on smaller thrones are the Apostles, represented by Peter and Paul, a depiction of the words of Christ in Matthew 19:28. (1.)
The icon shows Adam and Eve standing before Jesus Christ. Prior to their descent into sin through disobedience, Adam and Eve were blessed with a beautiful relationship of communion and fellowship with God. However, they were tempted by the devil appearing in the form of a serpent to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17).
When they took of the fruit and sinned, they realized that they were naked. Further, when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden”…they hid themselves “from the presence of the Lord” (3:8). The icon shows Adam and Eve attempting to cover themselves with fig leaves as they try to hide, and yet they stand ashamed before the Lord.
Because of their disobedience the Lord expelled them from the garden. The icon shows the Archangel of the Lord directing them out of Paradise, through the gate of Eden where God placed “the cherubim and a sword flaming and guarding the way to the tree of life” (3:23-24). Adam and Eve are dressed in the garments of skins made for them by God (3:20).
Sunday of forgiveness (cheesefare Sunday)
"The Sunday of Forgiveness, the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent, has two themes: it commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, and it accentuates our need for forgiveness. There are obvious reasons why these two things should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of Great Lent. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to Paradise. Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more (Luke 23:43). So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into Paradise.
The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of the Vespers on Sunday evening. Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds.
The Sunday of Forgiveness also directs us to see that Great Lent is a journey of liberation from our enslavement to sin. The Gospel lesson sets the conditions for this liberation. The first one is fasting—the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of the flesh and matter over the spirit. To be effective, however, our fast must not be hypocritical, a “showing off.” We must “appear not unto men to fast but to our Father who is in secret” (vv. 16-18).
The second condition is forgiveness—“If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you” (vv. 14-15). The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness—the return to unity, solidarity, love. To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful and fallen world."
Prokeimenon of Forgiveness Sunday - Vespers (Tone Plagal Fourth)
Idiomela: Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted; hear me speedily. Draw near to my soul and deliver me.
Stichos: Thy salvation, O God, hath set me up. The poor see and rejoice.
Kontakion (Tone Plagal Second)
O Master, Guide to wisdom, Giver of prudent counsel, Instructor of the foolish and Champion of the poor, make firm my heart and grant it understanding. O Word of the Father, give me words, for see, I shall not stop my lips from crying out to Thee: I am fallen, in Thy compassion have mercy on me.