Forgiveness Sunday, also called Cheesefare Sunday, is the final day of pre-Lent. It is the Sunday after Meatfare Sunday and the Sunday before the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
On this last Sunday before Great Lent, the last day that traditionally Orthodox Christians eat dairy products until Easter, the Church remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. God commanded them to fast from the fruit of a tree (Gen. 2:16), but they did not obey. In this way Adam and Eve and their descendants became heirs of death and corruption.
On Forgiveness Sunday many attend Forgiveness Vespers on the eve of Great Lent. They hear on the Lord's teaching about fasting and forgiveness and enter the season of the fast forgiving one another so that God will forgive them. If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14).
The Gospel reading of the day also gives advice on fasting. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18).
The Rite of Forgiveness
After the dismissal at Vespers, the priest stands beside the analogion, or before the ambon, and the faithful come up one by one and venerate the icon, after which each makes a prostration before the priest, saying, "Forgive me, a sinner." The priest also makes a prostration before each, saying, "God forgives. Forgive me." The person responds, "God forgives," and receives a blessing from the priest. Meanwhile the choir sings quietly the irmoi of the Paschal Canon, or else the Paschal Stichera. After receiving the priest's blessing, the faithful also ask forgiveness of each other.
Sunday of Cheesefare: Expulsion of Adam from Paradise
As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents became heirs of death and corruption.
Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance, to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: “Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body. As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit....”
O Master, Guide to wisdom, / Bestower of prudence, / Instructor of the foolish, and Defender of the poor: / make firm my heart and grant it understanding. / O Word of the Father, / give me speech, for behold, I shall not restrain my lips from crying out to Thee: / "Have mercy, have mercy on me who have fallen."
Please read more about the meaning of this storytelling below.
1. The dogma regarding Creation
3. Existential consequences of the dogma on Creation
4. The consequences of man’s downfall