March 22, 2020

Forgiveness Sunday to Great Lent: the Journey is Worth It by Alan Anderson

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matt. 6:14).”

My wife and I are members of an Eastern Orthodox Christian church. Our spiritual journey seeking peace, a place to belong, and a caring community, ended with our being embraced by Orthodoxy three years ago. Every step of this journey is worth it.

Eastern Orthodox Christians observe fasts all through the year. For instance, we refrain from certain foods every Wednesday and Friday. There are also Communion fasts which means we abstain from food after dinner Saturday evening or midnight (whatever comes first) until we receive the Eucharist at Sunday liturgy.

Great Lent

Great Lent is the most important fast in Eastern Orthodoxy. Great Lent leads into Holy Week then Pascha (Eastern Orthodox Easter). This year Great Lent began on March 2 and Pascha is April 19. Pascha is the most important celebration of the year.

Here is what one of our Orthodox Bishops notes about Great Lent.

"As with our whole life in Christ, this Lenten journey will not be without difficulties. Spiritual health is like physical health, requiring a paced effort, with love, patience, and forgiveness – for self and for others – allowing God to work within us, transforming us into the Body of Christ. The Church offers us the Great Fast as a period of sobriety, wherein we focus on an internal change of heart, bearing fruit in our external actions with those around us. Indeed, the promise of the Resurrection enables us to call brothers even those that hate us, forgiving and loving others regardless of what they may have done, or not done.” --- Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Forgiveness is central to Great Lent.

On the last Sunday before Great Lent, Eastern Orthodox believers participate in, Forgiveness Sunday. This is one of the most beautiful and meaningful gatherings of the year. Eastern Orthodox churches all over the world take part in Forgiveness Sunday.

This is how our church participates in Forgiveness Sunday. After our Sunday morning liturgy (church service) the congregation has lunch together, just like every Sunday. The difference from other weeks is when lunch is over we all head back into the Nave (where church services are held) for a brief vespers time. After vespers and beginning with our priest he stand in front of the congregation and asks forgiveness of them. Each member of the congregation then asks the others, one by one, for forgiveness. The wording we use is, “forgive me brother/sister” The other person responds “God forgives and I forgive.”

My first Forgiveness Sunday felt foreign and somewhat uncomfortable to me. I now look forward to this significant day of the Orthodox calendar. Forgiveness Sunday offers a unique and beautiful preparation for Great Lent.

Through Forgiveness Sunday the Christian is reminded not only of one’s sin but also that sins can be forgiven. As Orthodox Christians we are on a spiritual journey and recognize we do not journey alone. From Forgiveness Sunday all the way to joyous Pascha includes a time of self-examination, fasting and giving to people.

Great Lent allows Christians a time to reflect on Christ’s death for us. The season includes a sense of sadness where we recognize we may have lost relationship with God. During Great Lent we also recognize a recovery of this relationship is needed and is indeed possible. Although a spiritual darkness resides in Great Lent, God’s Holy Spirit works in our hearts and leads us to the brilliance of the Resurrection. The time of self-reflection and examination although at times painful, is worth it.



  1. Thanks for sharing this beautiful tradition from the Eastern Orthodox Church, Allen. The celebration of forgiveness is especially meaningful. This would be good to practice in all our churches, small group meetings, families and friendships. I often think of what David Jeremiah said, "Forgiveness is always our turn." May it be so for each of us.

    1. Oops! These automatic spelling defaults on cell phones. Didn't review spellong of your name.

    2. Hi Sandi. God's are beautiful. The love we can have for each other is not of this world. Where Great Lent reminds me of my humanity the Resurrection of Christ reminds me of His love for us. We can rest in this because of Him.

  2. This is absolutely lovely, Alan. I think some of the things you shared are why two of my children now enjoy attending a more liturgical style of church.

    1. Hi Tracy! Blessings to you, your husband, your children, and grands, my friend. Love and hugs to you.

  3. Thanks for this interesting insight into the Eastern Orthodox traditions, Alan. Forgiveness Sunday is a tradition I’m not familiar with, but I can certainly see a place for this observance. I also appreciate the Archbishops statement: "Spiritual health is like physical health, requiring a paced effort, with love, patience, and forgiveness – for self and for others – allowing God to work within us, transforming us into the Body of Christ.” Amen.

    1. Hi Sharon. Forgiveness Sunday is one of the most powerful gatherings is Eastern Orthodoxy. The service has been celebrated by the Church for centuries. I love the quote by the Archbishop and its summary of the faith.


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