We find ourselves at the fourth Sunday of Triodion which is known as Cheesefare Sunday or Forgiveness Sunday. It is the last day we can consume dairy products until Pascha and a day that others ask forgiveness from us, at the same time we ask them to forgive us. Great Lent begins the next day on Clean Monday, and just as the title says, we want our souls to be pure as we begin the journey of Great Lent. On Cheesefare Sunday, we remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Why were they expelled from Paradise? Adam and Eve were told to refrain from partaking of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In essence, they were given a simple fast, not eat the fruit from that one tree. However, the Devil, disguised as a serpent deceived them and tempted them into eating it. Eve partook of the fruit first and then gave some to Adam. “Then the eyes of the two were opened and they knew they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Then they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden that afternoon, and Adam and his wife hid themselves within the tree in the middle of the garden from the presence of the Lord God.” (Gn 3:7-8) They were hiding because they realized what they did was wrong and were afraid to face God. Right after, they were expelled from Paradise. This sin is known as the Ancestral Sin or the Original Sin.
We are reminded of the Ancestral Sin in order for us to reflect on our own sinfulness and how we can restore our relationship with God. As we heard last week on Meatfare Sunday that we do good to God when we do good to our fellow man. That is why on this Sunday we make it a point to offer forgiveness to others and likewise asking them to forgive us. How can we ask God to forgive us, if we cannot forgive others? As we recite in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. At the vespers on the evening of Cheesefare Sunday, it is custom at many parishes for all the people to gather together in a line, asking forgiveness from each other. This vesper service, also known as Forgiveness Vespers is actually the first service of Great Lent. Forgiving others is a great struggle for us all, but there is a prayer composed by St Ephraim that is recited throughout Great Lent to help us: O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and idle talk to come into me. Instead, grant me, your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. Yes, Lord and King, give me the power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother. For you are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
If we see our own sins and not judge others then it becomes easier for us to forgive others and ask for their forgiveness as well. Great Lent is indeed an arduous journey but most certainly an opportunity for us to improve our relationship with God. Adam and Eve when they sinned tried to hide from God out of fear and guilt. Let us not do likewise but rather seek God through prayer and confession. As we hear in the Αίνοι (Lauds) in the Orthros this past Sunday: Adam was evicted from Paradise as one disobedient, after partaking of its luxury. Moses saw God, after cleansing the eyes of his soul by fasting. Hence if we desire to become residents of Paradise, let us divorce ourselves from baleful delights, and desiring to see God, as did Moses let us fast the Four Times Ten. By sincerely persevering in prayer and supplication, let us suppress the passions of our souls; let us avert the swellings of the flesh; thus lightened, let us set off on the journey to things above, where the choirs of angels in unbroken song sing praise to the undivided Trinity, to see the irresistible beauty of the Master. O Son of God and Giver of Life, we who set our hope on You entreat: Make us worthy of dancing with the armies of angels, O Christ, at the intercession of Your Mother, the Apostles, Martyrs and all the Saints.
Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are essential for each of us not only in Great Lent but throughout our entire lives. Let not our fasting, prayers and almsgiving be Pharisaic but rather sincere like the Publican. Moreover, we must not judge others and their fasting, prayer life and almsgiving. We cannot focus on our own sinfulness if we are concerned more with someone else’s sins. That is a common temptation we all fall into. Easier said than done but certainly feasible. If we put our faith in God then nothing is impossible. We enter Great Lent with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise but complete it when Adam and Eve are redeemed in His Resurrection.