On the final Sunday of the Triodion, the day before Holy and Great Lent, our hearts and minds are focused on the blessed opportunity for forgiveness. We call this day, Forgiveness Sunday, and the Gospel lesson begins with the truth, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6.14-15)
The sincere need for forgiveness between people and from God is highlighted in another commemoration on this Sunday. The Church also brings our hearts and minds to the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In the Genesis story, after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree, God questioned them. Rather than taking responsibility for their actions and seeking forgiveness from God, instead they chose to blame others. Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed God. Since they chose to not take responsibility for their actions, God was unable to forgive them, not because He didn’t want to forgive them, but because they never asked. They never asked, because they never really believed they did anything wrong. They thought it wasn’t their fault.
Have you ever wondered why we find it so difficult to forgive others when they sin against us? Ultimately it is because they don’t sin against us. They sin against God. All sin is against God, as we recall from Psalm 50, “Against You only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight.” When we forget this truth, and we believe we were the real victims, we tend to demand justice. We act as if we are God. “If they don’t ask…..we don’t forgive.”
We return again to the place of Adam and Eve. Rather than taking responsibility for ourselves, we blame others. In this case, it means accepting that the sins of others are not against us. If we struggle to forgive, it is because we refuse to take responsibility for this failed understanding. Since we don’t think we did anything wrong in the first place, we don’t seek forgiveness from God, so God doesn’t forgive us, and we find ourselves outside of Paradise.
Fortunately for us, the Church gently reminds us of our opportunity to forgive others at the Vespers of Forgiveness. I invite you this year, take responsibility and join your brothers and sisters in the Vespers of Forgiveness in your local Orthodox Church. Together you will join your voices in prayer and seek the forgiveness of each other and God, rather than repeating the failure of Adam and Eve.