Last year we found ourselves in the rather odd position of participating in Forgiveness Vespers as relative new-comers to our parish. We'd been a part of the Four Evangelists family for just a few short months, not yet chrismated in our first Sunday as catechumens and still trying to figure out the whole Orthodoxy thing when we suddenly found ourselves thrust into approaching each and every member of the parish seeking from them and granting to them forgiveness. Our parish is gracious and our participation in this annual ritual was handled with joy and love.
I fell in love with the whole idea of Forgiveness Vespers immediately - perhaps precisely because of the love shared with us by our fellow parishioners. Shortly thereafter I began to reflect on what it would mean to come back in a year, with these same people, and wondered if over the course of that year I would have time to collect ill thoughts, unforgiven grudges, judgmental attitudes, disgruntled murmurings in my heart about these people. Surely it is possible for I am a sinner, I am driven by pride, I have strong opinions. A year seemed a long time to go without tripping over my own vanities and carrying genuine feelings and actions in need of forgiveness into the next year's Forgiveness Rite.
I vowed then that I would attempt to live my parish life in anticipation of Forgiveness Vespers. (Notice I only said parish life - extending this little experiment to my whole circle of relationships seemed way too daunting a task.) I said to myself, "If the opportunity arises for me to feel slight or anger or to grow judgmental, I will choose humility. I will bow before the icon of Sophia and hear her wisdom to my soul." That sort of vow changes things in a person. It made me hear the words of others and decide to hear in love. It made me see the actions of others and choose to see hands that serve. On a very, very few occasions it made me drop my pride in an instant and accept that people are who they are - all of us in process, all of us with failings and shortcomings. It gave new meaning to Lord have mercy on me a sinner.
I believe I can enter into our Forgiveness Vespers this year truly holding no grudges or ill thoughts. Granting forgiveness will be simple and genuine because of this discipline in which I've lived over the past year. (Well actually it will be simple because I have the best parish *ever* with people who truly fail to offend in the first place. If only we all had it this easy.) I only hope that the other angle proves fruitful as well. In my own bumbling and prideful way I am certain I have offended others. In coming out of a traumatic church environment and into the safety of a healthy environment I have let my fears and insecurities show. How could it be that I have not made a single hurtful comment or nary an inadvertent harmful reference? I often go to Liturgy tired and end frustrated with all the distractions and busy-ness of singing in the choir *and* handling the needs of 10 children. I'm not nice when I'm in a bad mood or when I'm interrupted for the umpteenth time. Certainly I have offended others. But I am counting on their forgiveness. I am banking on the hope that they are more gracious to me than I will ever need to be to them.
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.