This Sunday we commemorate Forgiveness Sunday sometimes referred to as Cheesefare Sunday. This is the last of the preparatory Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent, which begins on Monday March 7, 2022.
Forgiveness is the central theme of this Sunday. St. Isaac the Syrian in his writings urges us to:
“Arouse yourself and with tears pray to the Savior of the world that He may take away the sin from your heart and disperse the inner darkness, so that you may be deemed worthy to see the light of His grace”. (Mystical Treatises)
This Sunday, following the Divine Liturgy, we will celebrate the Vespers of Forgiveness. “Turn to God, so that He will forgive your sins”. A question arises at this time, how do we know that God is greater than our conscience and that He knows everything. It says in John 3:20, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything”. “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him”. You see the hope of the humble and repentant soul is Christ. For Christ Himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven.
In today’s gospel, Matthew 6:14-21, Jesus speaks to us about God’s forgiveness of us and about our forgiveness of one another. He also instructs us to fast in private and not to look gloomy like the hypocrites who disfigure their faces so that their fasting may be seen by others. All Orthodox Christians should fast, but each individual and each family must prayerfully choose and commit themselves to a fasting discipline that is suitable to their unique circumstances and that they can honorably keep. The key words that apply here are moderation and simplicity of meals, mindful of yourself and your children’s needs.
It has been said that we should begin the fast as athletes about to begin a race. You see, in this sense the race is actually the present life, our lives. The prize that we are hoping to attain is the Kingdom of God; so therefore, just as an athlete we should begin Lent (Our Race), not downcast but with eager spirit, with joyful and radiant faces, in the hope of the joy of the Lord in His Resurrection!
For as the Hymn of Matins for this Sunday sings, “The time has come! The spiritual contest begins! The victory over demonic powers is at hand! Let us put on the armor of self-control and clothe ourselves in the glory of the angels, that we may attain boldness before God”.
May you have a joyous Cheesefare (Maslanitsa) before we begin our journey towards Pascha!