Today is Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church.
Lent actually begun last night, at Vespers, since the liturgical day begins in the evening. After the prayer “Vouchsafe O Lord to keep us this night without sin” the colours in the church change from light to dark colours – the altar frontal, the clergy vestments, the hangings on the analogia. The music changes to a minor key.
It is called the Vespers of Forgiveness, because at the end of the service every member of the church prostrates themselves before every other member, asking and giving forgiveness. One says “Forgive me”, then goes down on one’s knees and touches one’s forehead to the floor before one’s brother or sister, and on rising, both kiss each other, and say “God forgives you and I forgive you”. Repentance and fasting are meaningless without reconciliation.
But it is amazingly hard to do. People find it very hard indeed to say “I forgive you”. In previous years I’ve found many people have said “Have a good Lent”, or at the most “You are forgiven”. Anything but “I forgive you”.
But in this it is not enough to hide our identity and that of our brothers and sisters behind impersonal passives, like our constitutions and statutes. It is not enough to say “You are forgiven” as if forgiveness were something just floating around in the atmosphere that we just have to plug in to. Forgiveness needs to be personal. And on Clean Monday you you should feel it in your thighs.
And if there is anyone out there who has been offended by anything I’ve said in this blog or elsewhere, or by anything that I have done at any time, please forgive me.