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To Eastern Orthodox: Forgive Me, a Sinner

Dear OnePeterFive donors, supports, and readers,


I write this especially to the occasional Orthodox Christians who read our online journal, but also want to speak to all our readership and highlight something important for the salvation of our souls as we begin Great Lent.

Perhaps Orthodox readers have seen some of our polemics against the Greek schisms shared in various social media groups. This is our work attempting to dissuade Catholics from entering one of the Greek schisms in an attempt to cope with the difficulties of being a Catholic right now. I’ve already caused offense to a number of Orthodox I have talked to personally as result of this series.

And now war has broken out over Kyivan Rus, the ancient see and mother of Slavonic Christendom.

So much blood has been shed between baptized Christians who are commanded by Our Lord and God and Saviour to Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

The fratricidal blood of Orthodox which has been shed by Catholics, or the blood of Catholics shed by Orthodox is a scandal to the whole Christian faith itself and which mocks Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, forgiving His enemies.

This fratricidal blood is the blood that makes the demons rejoice and laugh and dissuades unbelievers from accepting baptism.

This fratricidal blood destroys the Gospel and sends souls to eternal damnation.

So I write to you and all our readers with a broken heart as we begin the Great Fast. Catholics, whether Latin or Greek rite (or another Eastern rite) have begun the Great Fast, while Eastern Orthodox (besides, to my knowledge, the Oriental and Assyrian Orthodox churches) begin Great Lent on Monday March 7th.

Corporate Penance and the Wrath of God

In the Roman custom we have the communal penitential act of placing ashes on our all our foreheads for Ash Wednesday to begin the Solemn Fast.

Originally “sackcloth and ashes” was reserved for only the “Penitents” in the early Church – those who had committed grave sin and had been excommunicated. For example, if you committed the grave sin of adultery, you might be excommunicated and obliged to wear ashes outside the church in penance for three years before you could return to communion.

But ashes were only for the penitents, not the whole body of the faithful.

Eventually, however, due to Christian charity the faithful began to take part in ashes as well. The faithful took the ashes together with the penitents to both support their brethren who were excommunicated but repenting, and also repent of their own sins. With this in mind we consider the Collect for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday in the Roman Rite:

O God, Who by sin art offended, and by penance appeased, mercifully regard the prayers of Thy people making supplication to Thee, and turn away the scourges of Thine anger, which we deserve for our sins.

The brings to mind the repentance of the Ninevites in the face of the wrath of God, who repented in ashes (Jon. iii. 6).

We know from the words of the Holy Ghost in Scripture that war is the wrath of God for our sins. Therefore we need to look at the war in Ukraine as the wrath of God poured out upon us and repent for our sins.

And this goes for all of us. Everyone wants to blame each other for this war, but we need to first count the wrath as having come upon us for our own sins and repent. As the Russian saint Ignatii Brianchaninov wrote in his nineteenth century spiritual classic The Arena, we should pray in any suffering like the thief on the cross:

I am receiving what I deserve for my sins. Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

The Law of Christ

We fast and repent together and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. vi. 2) and sins, for this, says the Blessed Apostle, fulfills the law of Christ.

What is the “law of Christ” to bear one another’s burdens? It is the imitation of Christ’s Passion. As the Holy Spirit tells us, he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows (Is. liii. 4).

Now in the Greek rite Great Lent begins in the same communal fashion, but with an entirely different aspect emphasized. The various liturgies of our fathers – whether Latin, Greek, Syriac rites or others – all point to the different shades of the mystery of Christ our God and the “unfathomable life-giving power of grace,” as the Russian Orthodox confessor under the Soviets, Fr. Gregory Petrov, wrote so beautifully in his Akathist of Thanksgiving.

No one rite can truly capture this unfathomable mystery, and so the Apostles established and the fathers passed down multiple Apostolic rites.

The Greek rite begins Great Lent with “Forgiveness Vespers” (see Ukrainian Catholic The Byzantine Life for more on this and other Greek rite Lenten customs). This is the Sunday Vespers of “Cheesefare Sunday,” which is the last Sunday in the Greek Triodion, the equivalent of the Roman Septuagesimatide, or “pre-Lent.”

This Sunday Vespers includes the great Lenten prayer from a Syriac saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Ephraim. This is one the few but beautiful ways in which the Syriac tradition – an entirely different school of orthodoxy and spirituality than the Greek – is retained in the Greek and Slavonic traditions.

O Lord and Master of life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power and idle talk (prostration)

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant (prostration)

Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for Blessed art Thou unto the ages, amen (prostration)

O God cleanse me a sinner (12x, metanoia)

O Lord and Master of life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power and idle talk

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant

Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for Blessed art Thou unto the ages, amen (prostration)

At the conclusion of Forgiveness Vespers, the priest goes to every other parishioner and (according to local custom), bows to each and says:

P: forgive me, a sinner.

R: God forgives and I forgive. Forgive me, a sinner.

P: God forgives and I forgive.

Then they (again, according to local custom), exchange a kiss of peace.

Each parishioner then goes to each other parishioner and does the same thing.

When I was Eastern Orthodox, I was always among the Arabs, whether with the Copts of Egypt or the Arabs of Syrian and Lebanon origin (besides a good number of pious “slavophiles”). In these regions it is customary to exchange kisses on the cheek as a greeting and farewell. So this custom was normal to the Arabs from the old country at the parish I attended while Eastern Orthodox.

Now we see in this rite the deeply communal nature of corporate fasting for repentance and supporting one another as we begin this fast. In this time of war, all Christians, whether Catholic or Orthodox, must repent together for our sins. Only such repentance can avert the wrath of God. We look to our saints to aid us sinners, in our unworthy efforts to repent. I share again what our contributing editor Charles Coulombe said recently about this war:

In time of bloodshed, our hearts often become hardened against our brother and we give in to the fallen angels, who captivate us with their lies provoking our fallen nature.

Moreover, the media, oligarchs and national interests encourage this sinful hatred of brethren.

Only when nations can stir up sinful hatred for other nations can wars be provoked, continue and cause lasting damage to untold families.

We are still living and feeling the consequences of the fratricidal bloodbath of 1914, but that’s another story for another time.

As Our Lord said starkly: unless you repent, you will likewise perish (Lk. xiii. 3) and again if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive yours (Mt. vi. 15).

How can we pray the Our Father and hope to be forgiven by God if we do not forgive our brother? As it is written, If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? (I Jn. iv. 20).

And thus this day, Forgiveness Vespers, pious and Orthodox Christians begin this Great Fast in sorrow for the bloodshed that has begun. Let us all repent of our sins together.

As I have tried to emphasize to Romans since we began publishing on Eastern Orthodoxy and the Greek Schisms:

We can also truly call the Eastern Orthodox our “separated brethren.” …And this is not some modern invention of false “ecumenical dialogue,” the traditional view actually treats the Greeks as brothers, as they were treated at Lyons and Florence.

Thus I myself as a Roman say to my separated brethren as they begin Great Lent and we both begin our repentance: Forgive me, a sinner.


T. S. Flanders
Sabbato post Cineres
Saturday in Cheesefare Week


Photo: Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv

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