Today is the first day of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. For the next forty days, we will abstain from meat, fish, dairy, wine and oil. It is meant to be a time of reflection, repentance and forgiveness.
Last night we ended our day with "Forgiveness Vespers". This is a beautiful and for many a very emotional service. After the vespers service, each person in the church prostrates before every member of their congregation, individually, and asks "forgive me" the other person also prostrates and then responds with a threefold kiss and says "God forgives and I forgive." There is simply no better way to begin the fast than with Forgiveness Vespers.
My Bishop once said that when we sin we sin against man and against God. Therefore when we ask forgiveness, we must ask forgiveness from both God and man. To me, this act is beautifully manifested in the sacrament of confession. Confession is both frightening and refreshing for me. There is nothing like audibly confessing one's sins in the presence of a priest, the Gospel, the cross and of course God Himself. It is hard to step up, push aside one's pride and begin to divulge the dark places in one's heart. But it is also comforting at the same time. To lay aside the world and place one's complete trust in knowing that God is ever waiting to embrace and mend our marred and torn hearts even before we begin our confession is an "altar call" par excellence.
The Great Lent is like one big confession for me. It is a time when I am asked to dig a little deeper into my heart, while giving a little more of myself to other's–in every way. It is challenging and good in the purest sense of the word.
So, please forgive me! Have a blessed lent!
O Lord and Master of my life, the spirit of idleness, of despondency, of love of power, and of idle words, grant me not. (prostration)
But the spirit of continence, of humility, of patience, and of love, do Thou grant unto me Thy servant. (prostration)
Yea O Lord and King, grant unto me to perceive mine own offences and not to judge my brother; for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen. (prostration)
(Then 12 bows to the waist while saying:)
O God, cleanse Thou me a sinner and have mercy on me.
-Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim