Forgiveness Vespers

The Beginning of the Great and Holy Lent

“Let Thy grace shine forth, O Lord, let the illumination of our souls be kindled. This is the acceptable time, this is the time for repentance; let us cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of Light; and after crossing the great sea of the fast, let us reach the three-day Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who saves our souls.”

(Sticheron from the Vespers service)

At last, we have arrived at the very threshold of the Holy Forty Days, in the vestibule of the most sacred Fast. This is a period of intensified prayer, genuine repentance, and real transformation. Our Church, in divine wisdom and mystery, ushers us into a new environment of spiritual life – an environment of intense spiritual struggle, towards liberation from all that burdens and harms our being, to be purified and draw closer to God and behold His Resurrection. In this quiet night, the Church extends its call to every human soul, to all of us who thirst to embark on the blessed forty-day journey of the Cross and Resurrection. Tonight, the comforting words, wisely woven by the God-inspired Fathers, with special warmth and care, invite us to leave all our negligence behind, so that with liberated souls we may cross the threshold and enter into the beautiful forty-days-long sorrowful joy, in this most holy and opportune time for deeds of love. Every human soul longs, hurries to return to its source, where the beauty of the Kingdom shines, the doors of which are closed by our many sins. Here, standing humbly before those doors, we begin our self-purifying journey, forgiving one another and applying oil to the wounds we have inflicted upon each other. Yes, a prayerful walk through the desert of the Fast awaits us all, a penitential walk to the heart of our neighbour, a blessed effort made for the good of the great family of the world.

“Turn not Thy face away from Thy child… Keep my soul and deliver it” – quietly and with penitential trepidation in our hearts, we sing along with the hundreds of faithful, for whom the Forerunner’s temple tonight was too small. We stand with prayerful freedom of speech and with contrite hearts, which are our shield against the power of evil from this world. The comforting sticheron sung by the monastic choir, the touching act of mutual forgiveness, and the discourse of our beloved Elder, Bishop Parthenius of Antania, whose paternal love sacrifices, forgives, awakens, heals, and transforms, reminded us of the forthcoming penitential journey through the time-space of the fast.