In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15).
Then, we gather after coffee hour for Forgiveness Vespers where we hear the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”. And after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian with its prostrations – we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.
PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM
The “Prayer of St Ephrem” is considered to be the most succinct summation of the spirit of Great Lent and is used in all weekday services, and in prayers at home. The prayer takes some practice before we can receive the full benefit. There are bows and prostrations during the prayer, and a certain number of repetitions. To someone who is accustomed to this prayer, the physical actions and specific repetitions free the mind and penetrate the soul.
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.“
“But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.“
“Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge by brother, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.“
Then, twelve repetitions of:
“O God, cleanse me a sinner.”
And then repeat the entire prayer all at once:
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my transgressions, and not to judge my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.”