By Milena Faustova
On February 26th Orthodox believers all over the world are observing Cheesefare Sunday, or Forgiveness Sunday, the last day of Pancake Week and the last day before Great Lent. On Forgiveness Sunday people ask forgiveness of their friends and of people they don’t know and let go of whatever grudges and resentments they might bear. On Forgiveness Sunday Patriarch Kirill performs the Rite of Forgiveness at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
The tradition of asking forgiveness before Great Lent originated in the early days of Christianity. To make their prayers more effective ahead of Resurrection Sunday, Egyptian monks left their cloisters and sought retreat elsewhere. Before leaving, they asked forgiveness of one another for voluntary and involuntary sins and they readily granted forgiveness for everyone and their brother. The monks knew only too well that their meeting the day before Great Lent could be the last. Reconciliation with one’s closest is essential for resigning oneself to God’s mercy. Archpriest Maxim Kozlov gave more details concerning Forgiveness Sunday in a Voice of Russia interview:
“A human soul undergoes dramatic changes in confession as one comes to see oneself as unworthy of God’s grace. Similarly, one’s soul undergoes changes when one reconciles oneself with one’s neighbor. The devout should practice forgiveness of their neighbors even if they have hurt their feelings. They should be able to separate human personality from weaknesses, sins or offences. Christ warned us that “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”.
In pre-revolutionary Russia tsars asked forgiveness of their subjects regardless of their status.
Observed on the last day of Pancake Week, Forgiveness Sunday is the day people burn the mascot of Pancake Week, a straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, make fires and engage in pageants and fist fights. The church, however, disapproves of these pagan traditions and urges believers to demonstrate more humbleness ahead of earnest fasting during Lent.
Great Lent is spent in earnest prayer, abstention from meat, fish and dairy products and reflection on the Savior’s earthly life, his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Lent is a serious trial for believers. According to church canons, a human being can purify his soul and get ready for Holy Easter only through fasting. Scientists say that a human body needs Lent-diet at times. Dietician Olga Perevalova comments:
“A fast imposed restrictions on proteins and fats which are present in poultry, fish, meat, sausage, cheese, and dairy products. During Lent believers are required to live on bread, vegetables, fruit, nuts, sunflower seeds and vegetable oil. They are allowed to eat fish twice during Lent. This kind of diet clears the body of impurities and toxins. People should drink more water, preferably spring water. Fasting is the best of health-building, rejuvenation and life improvement programs ever suggested by doctors.”
According to American scholars, fasting is highly effective for activating the body’s inner resources. In a research project which has become the most extensive of its kind over the past decade, scientists from the American National Institute of Ageing established that reasonable fasting boosts life expectancy nearly twofold. This means that those who choose to observe Lent will be able to ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness two times longer than those who are skeptical about the benefits of fasting.