Forgiveness Sunday

I am the image of thine ineffable glory though I bear the brands of transgressions. Pity Thy creature, O Master, and purify me by Thy loving kindness. Grant unto me the homeland of my heart's desire, making me again a citizen of Paradise. [Troparion from the Panikhida and Burial Service, on the refrain 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord: teach me Thy statutes' (Psalm 118)]

Today the Church highlights the theme of forgiveness as we enter into the Lenten season. We need to understand that without mutual forgiveness there can be no spiritual change or growth. In fact, without striving to forgive and asking for forgiveness from God and one another there can be no salvation. The Lord Himself says that divine mercy will be shown only to the merciful, and divine forgiveness only to the forgiving.

This Sunday also commemorates the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. The ancient, ancestral fall from grace of our first parents is the source of our own sense of exile and alienation, of the division and separation we experience in our relationships with God and one another. We have only at times a passing glimpse, a brief taste, of the paradise for which we were created and for which we long, our true spiritual home. The experience of being forgiven and forgiving - of letting go of offenses - are just such moments.

Most of us will have experienced at some point in our lives the sweetness of being forgiven. It really is a kind of paradise, a brief taste of heaven. It is like paradise to be in a right relationship with God - and with one another, especially those with whom we have a difficult relationship. To shed all that is calculating and defensive and guilty and to savor a moment of relief, of honesty and openness, to have a clear conscience, is to regain - even if briefly - an almost child-like innocence and purity. It is in its own way a return to Paradise.

At Vespers for Forgiveness Sunday, we hear this beautiful verse: O Paradise, garden of delight and beauty, dwelling place made perfect by God, unending gladness and eternal joy, the hope of the prophets and the home of the saints, by the music of your rustling leaves beseech the Creator of all to open to me the gates which my sins have closed, that I may partake of the Tree of Life and Grace which was given to me in the beginning.

May our Lenten journey be marked by such moments - moments when the veil is lifted and the distance that separates us from paradise - from the Lord and from one another - is diminished, moments of recognition and sweetness that point towards the true homeland our heart's desire.