At the Liturgy on this day, an excerpt from the Lord's Sermon on the Mount is read. In it, the Lord tells us to forgive our neighbor's offenses, and that should we not, we cannot receive forgiveness of our sins from our Heavenly Father. He also speaks about fasting, and about gathering up Heavenly treasures.
It was established that, in accordance with that Gospel reading, on that day, we should observe the pious custom of asking one another to forgive us our sins, whether committed in knowledge or in ignorance, and of taking all possible measures to reconcile ourselves with those who are at odds with us. That is the first step on the way to Great Lent. Accordingly, that Sunday is customarily referred to as Forgiveness Sunday.
The Church calls the last Sunday before the onset of Great Lent "Cheese-fare Sunday," for it is the last day dairy products may be consumed before Lent begins. The Church reminds us that Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise for their disobedience and lack of abstinence. In churches on that Sunday, following Vespers , there is a special Rite of Forgiveness, in which the clergy and parishioners ask forgiveness of one another so that, having reconciled ourselves with our neighbors, we might enter into Great Lent with a clear conscience.
The casting out of our Forefathers from paradise for their disobedience and lack of abstinence, their loss of the state of blessed innocence, is a cause for tears and repentance. The disaster into which the passions of self-love and carnal satisfaction cast mankind teaches us the importance of fasting and other forms of self-denial are in the matter of piety and salvation, and the danger sensual sinful pleasures pose for us.
According to the Gospel passage reads to us by the Church, Lent is the most opportune time in which to strive to acquire spiritual treasures, just as there are particularly opportune times in which to gather and accrue temporary benefits; it is truly a time for good works.
The Lord will not hear the sighs prayers and sighs we address to Him, asking Him to have mercy on us unless we are conscious of the Savior's words, «For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. » (Matthew 6: 14).
Forgiveness Sunday is a day a day of strict self-examination, a day on which we examine the extent our spiritual maturity: are we capable of following after Christ, of obeying all of His directions?
Many of us know well from personal experience that it is far easier to forgive than to ask forgiveness of one whom we have somehow offended, for our pride interferes with our admitting guilt.
The Church constantly teaches that it is only through repentance, spiritual struggle, and efforts toward great abstinence that what had been lost through sin may be sought, found and restored.
But a few hours after Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, to our amazement, we all notice that in us and around us, something has changed. Something gives us particular focus and attention; that something is the arrival of Great Lent. We, together with the entire Church, now have to move from the call to repent to actually making efforts toward repentance, to the actual matter of repentance.
Great Lent begins…
At the end of Sunday vespers and/or the Great Compline service everyone bows to the ground and the priest reads the following prayer:
O Master plenteous in mercy, O Lord Jesus Christ our God: Through the intercessions of our immaculate Lady Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary; through the power of the precious and life-giving Cross; through the mediations of the honorable, heavenly Bodiless Hosts, of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John; of the holy glorious, and all-praised apostles; of the holy, glorious, and victorious martyrs; of our holy and God-bearing fathers, (the patron saint of the temple); of the holy and Righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna; of (the Saints of the day) and of all the saints: make our prayer acceptable; grant us the remission of our sins; shelter us with the shelter of Thy wings; drive away from us every enemy and adversary; make our life peaceful, O Lord; have mercy on us and on Thy world, and save our souls, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.
Priest: Bless, holy fathers (mothers, brothers and sisters) and forgive me a sinner, all wherein I have sinned this day in deed, word, and thought, and by all my senses.
And the brethren (sisters) (congregation) reply:
May God forgive and have mercy on thee, holy father.
And they make a bow (or a prostration, depending on the typicon), asking this forgiveness:
Bless me, holy father, and forgive all wherein I have sinned this day in deed, word, and thought, and by all my senses, and pray for me a sinner.
Priest: Through His grace may God forgive and have mercy on us all.