We picked a doozy of a day for our first Sunday as catechumens. The children (well, most of them) enjoyed the attention it drew when we stepped forward during the prayers for the catechumens. They weren't sure which way to face (I'll have to tell them when in doubt in the Orthodox church, face an icon - it's bound to be facing east) but once we got all that figured out we managed to move in and out of our places fairly smoothly. Fr. Greg assured me on our way back to our places that we did *not* have to leave but could remain for the rest of the Liturgy. But the real focus of the day was yet to come. There were several things going on, not the least of which was the 1 hour time change which had us getting up earlier already. Also, since we rent space from a school, the school was in need of the room where we meet for Divine Liturgy and all had to be out and packed up by noon. This meant that Matins was canceled, and Divine Liturgy moved to a half hour earlier than usual in order to make room for Forgiveness Vespers and the Rite of Forgiveness.
It seemed to me that we were whipping through the Divine Liturgy. I don't know if Fr. Greg and the choir intentionally moved a bit faster or if the time constraints were weighing on people - or, maybe just maybe the Liturgy no longer seems as long to me - but it seemed like no time at all before the end of Divine Liturgy. We shifted directly into Forgiveness Vespers which is usually said in the evening but, as I said before, we were short on time and space is limited for this church in a box. It was difficult for me and for the kids to shift our focus to this short service since it occurred at a time when we would normally be heading for the bathroom and a snack. They were about half way through it before my mind made the shift and I was able to focus on the service.
Vespers was followed by the Rite of Forgiveness, a wonderful tradition that actually manages to allow time and ceremony for every member of the church to seek and grant forgiveness to every other member of the church. We were instructed to form a line and then stand in front of each person, beginning with Fr. Greg and his family, make the sign of the cross and a metania (sweeping the hand towards the floor in a semi-bow) then ask for the person to forgive any offense committed by you against him in the past year. They (hopefully) offer forgiveness to you and then repeat the process in reverse at which time you grant forgiveness and move on to the next person.
It was a beautiful time. JT and Ben participated reluctantly but made it through just fine. We waffled about whether or not we would require their participation and when it came down to it, I just silently prayed and gently guided them into the line in spite of the looks of desperation they were shooting me. Noah and Nate wandered around until somebody picked them up and carried them from person to person. John Michael and David tried to stick with it but I think the whole thing seemed very odd to them. Ruth was completely traumatized by all the expectations and did little more than stand next to me with "the stare" on her face. Miriam was precious. She stood on the other side of me and asked over and over again with great sincerity "Will you forgive me?" I just can't think of much she could possibly need forgiveness for and she was so full of the Spirit. Philip was the only one who latched on to the entire routine, down to the metanias (which he executed with quite a bit of grace I thought). We had it a bit easy (I hope) since we've only had but a couple of months to offend these people. Since this is done once a year, the ritual was to include any offenses committed over the past year. Many people came to us and asked, instead, to forgive anything over "the past two months", or "since the short time you've been with us". One friendly man used it as a learning opportunity to teach the kids to cross themselves like Orthodox instead of Romans (push, not pull). Unfortunately I think that got a bit confusing since most of them were confused anyway and he was facing them, so getting them to do his opposite was a losing battle. It seemed like such an intimate family time and I was so blessed that our family was included.
This also marked Cheese Fare Sunday and the last day to consume dairy before the Great Lent fast began today. Unfortunately, as a church we didn't celebrate Cheese Fare as we had Meat Fare - with a great feasting upon the impending forbidden foods - so we had our own celebration that evening, wiping out the remainder of our supply of Breyer's ice cream. I'm not too sure with what we'll replace it during Great Lent, maybe fruit salad.