Voices from Russia

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Forgiveness Sunday: The Last Day Before the Beginning of the Easter Lent

prosti menya forgive me


Sunday, 17 March, is Forgiveness Sunday, which Orthodox Christians all over the world observe on the last day before Lent. Lent will continue for 49 days until Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the Glorious Resurrection of Christ, which falls on 5 May this year. The term “Forgiveness Sunday” traces its origin to the first centuries of Christianity. Then, to prepare spiritually for Easter, Egyptian monks would retire into the desert for 40 days before the feast. Before doing so, they’d call on their friends and ask their forgiveness, and they’d gladly forgive all those who’d offended them. After all, no one could possibly tell whether any of them would survive that self-imposed solitary trial. As it was then, so it is now… right before Lent starts, people say “Forgive me”, expecting in return the reply, “God forgives”.

Archpriest Maksim Kozlov {also a professor at the MDA: editor} of the Church of St Seraphim of Sarov on the Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment in Moscow told VOR, “Before a Christian enters Lent, which is a period of repentance, one must realise that it’s impossible without reconciliation with God, but this is unachievable without reconciliation with our neighbours. Besides, we must follow the direct command of the Saviour, who said that if we forgive people their sins, then, our Heavenly Father would also forgive us”. Archbishop Mark Golovkov of Yegoryevsk said, “There’s a special Orthodox liturgy for this day. It mentions the Biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. It reminds us, on the eve of the Lenten season, of the fall of our foreparents Adam and Eve, and prompts us to feel our own lapses of virtue, over which we should pray to God to ask Him to accept our repentance”.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, Forgiveness Sunday was one of the most revered and cherished days in the Church Year. Even the tsar asked forgiveness of his subjects, irrespective of their social standing. Forgiveness Sunday is the last day of the Maslenitsa folk-festival. In Old Russia, people burnt a straw effigy symbolising winter, engaging in all sorts of fun and merrymaking. However, the Church has a sceptical attitude to all that. Archpriest Maksim explained, “Today, it’s nothing more than folklore, it doesn’t exist as living tradition. In modern Russia, people revived this tradition for the purely commercial purpose of attracting people to public amusements. What used to be, in previous centuries, a form of dual-belief, the remnants of paganism in the minds of common people, now, is transformed into a commercial amusement”.

According to a VTsIOM poll, more than 80 percent of the respondents… both Orthodox believers (about 94%) and non-believers (82%)… observed Maslenitsa week by eating traditional pancakes, went out to see their relatives, or invited them to a merry home party. Today is the last time until Easter that you can eat food made from animal products; however, the Church doesn’t allow the eating of meat during Maslenitsa week {Patriarch Pimen Izvekov DID explicitly allow seminarians and church workers to eat fish during Lent… bear in mind, that Lenten abstinence isn’t a end in itself… remember, you’re not allowed to follow strict monastic rules, in any case: editor}. At least one-third of Russians intend to observe Forgiveness Sunday as the climax of Maslenitsa. Nevertheless, priests advise that the best way to spend this day is to spend it in prayerful preparation for the coming Lent.

Milena Faustova17 March 2013

Milena Faustova

Voice of Russia World Service



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