Forgiveness service important to experience
Forgiveness Vespers service at an Orthodox Christian church is in the top five religious services you must see.
This Sunday began Orthodox Lent (which starts at a different time than the Lent Western churches recognize). After the traditional liturgy, the congregants bow to each other and say, "Forgive me, a sinner."
They stand and say, "I forgive, and God forgets." Then they give each other three kisses on the cheeks, the way Americans see in Europe.
It"s quite moving.
At the service at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church in Tyler, a few congregants' faces were wet with tears.
Forgiveness is a powerful part of the Christian faith.
Even the priest, Father John Mikita, participated, saying that he needed to apologize for any way he did not represent Christ.
"There is no such thing as a generic sin," he said.
He also said forgiveness was a way of "purifying the community."
"Forgiveness is an eschatological reality," he said. "Christ said to us, 'If you do not forgive your brother, neither will God your father forgive you.' He tells us to love our enemy ... What does it mean to truly forgive those who have damaged you? What does it mean to truly forgive those to whom you hold great and perpetual anger and resentment and hurt? This is what is meant by Forgiveness Sunday. This is what is meant by purification. This is what is meant by cleansing the soul. Our Lord has in mind a level of freedom here, a level of liberty.'
"It sounds strange, but the inability to forgive is ultimately a question of necessity. If I cannot forgive someone at any time in my life, what is it that I"m holding onto, what is it that I need? The saints were free, they needed nothing. And every time we do the litanies we pray for the freedom from necessity. The failure in our own hearts to forgive and let go of anger and hurt and resentment and woundedness, is because we need something, and our Lord is saying, "You don"t need what you think you need. You only need Me." You don"t need what you think you need when, with great pain and great anger and great difficulty, you think about those whom you struggle to forgive. You don"t need what you think you need: respect, justice, rights, exoneration, for everyone to know that you were the innocent party, for everyone to know that you were the good one and they were the bad one. We don"t need any of that. You just need Christ.
"We can be free from all of those feelings of self-justification and defensiveness if we know the light of Christ in our hearts. And it"s not that we become detached and uncaring and unfeeling when we become impervious to insults, impervious to false accusations. It"s that we know an acceptance; we know a love in our life that shines brighter than any love that any other human being can give us. We know an acceptance that shines brighter than any acceptance that we feel amongst our beloved family members and dearest friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. We know what it is to be loved and to be whole, in Christ, because of the love God has for us. We still value the love of others, we still value friendships, we still value all of those things, but because of God"s love and friendship and mercy and forgiveness outshines every other light, when we are attacked, when we are insulted, when we are falsely accused, when we are cut off on the highway, the saints are impervious to feeling negative emotions against those people, because they see only those needs of the other person. They see the other person as one who, like them, is wounded."