>Forgiveness Sunday and Kites on Clean Monday

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Orthodox Christians all over the world will enter into Great Lent tomorrow, on Clean Monday. You can read about why Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) celebrate Easter (Orthodox Pascha) on a different date here and here and here.

At St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis, we began preparing for this day at Great Vespers on Saturday night, when we chanted verses about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise, and also commemorated the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. If you’re not familiar with this story, you can read it here. I’ve heard the story so many times over the years, but never noticed that the canon includes the individual names of the martyrs. Somehow, as their names were chanted last night, their love for Christ, for each other, and their courage became more real to me. I found myself thinking, those are the three things we need to enter into any kind of martyrdom, any kind of self-denial, even if it’s only increased fasting and prayer for forty days (Lent):

(1) love for Christ,
(2) love for one another, and
(3) courage.

Why courage? For some of us, denying ourselves the things we use to numb pain or escape the reality of life at times (for me, food and alcohol are right up there at the top!) takes courage. But also love. I don’t love God very much, if at all. But I am able to love my husband, family and friends, albeit imperfectly. But I think it’s their love for me that strengthens me to try to restore the image of God in myself through ascetic struggles, especially during the season of Great Lent.

Tonight at Forgiveness Vespers, we exchanged the rite of forgiveness. You can read a good article by Fr. Alexander Schmemann on this here.

There are almost always tears as we ask one another for forgiveness, “Forgive me, a sinner,” and offer the response, “God forgives and I forgive.” At the end of the rite, the choir leads us in a few Paschal hymns. The joyful, victorious message of those hymns reminds us, at the beginning of Lent, that we’re heading towards the Resurrection. Without this goal in mind, our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—our ascetic struggle—could easily become legalistic actions rather than life-giving vehicles of God’s grace.

And so I ask all my family, Godchildren and friends that weren’t here with us at St. John tonight:

Please forgive me, a sinner.

The Greeks fly kites on Clean Monday, to celebrate letting go of our sins that weigh us down. I love that image. It reminds me that even this extra body weight I’m carrying around because of gluttony keeps me earth bound. I hope to lose some of it during the Fast, but mostly I hope to draw closer to God.
May God grant us all a Good Lent!
“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may confess Thy name.” Psalm 142:7

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