Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forgiveness and Holy Icons

This is the third year that I've participated in Lent with St. Luke's Orthodox Church, but the first year that I've attended the Sunday services. The services during the week are beautiful, but Sundays are the deal. The Sunday before Lent begins on Monday is Forgiveness Day, and each person present asks everyone else for forgiveness even if the people are speaking to each other for the very first time. I've enjoyed all the aspects of worship in the Orthodox church that are new to me -- incense, candles, icons, chants --- but for some reason I froze to the spot instead of taking my place in the circle of forgiveness. Everyone else asked me for forgiveness, but I stood there mute. Why did I do that? The last person who asked my forgiveness whispered, "I'm new to this too" so I guess it was blatantly obvious that I was a fish out of water. I love the idea of starting Lent with a spirit of humility and realizing that we often do wrong people that we don't even know. Maybe next year I'll get over my paralysis. The first Sunday of Lent commemorates the Triumph of Orthodoxy and celebrates a church council decision from 843 A.D. that settled a century long dispute over whether it was ok to have icons in church. Oddly enough, the icons were more offensive to the local Muslims than the other Christians so modern day churches that forbid icons are following an Islamic tradition. Anyway, the service ends with an actual parade around the church with members carrying icons to honor the ancient Christians who joyfully carried the icons back into their church. St. Luke's members had extras so that no one had to walk around empty handed, but had I known, I could have brought my own. A longtime Baptist friend gave me one titled "the handmaidens of the Lord" years before I became interested in Orthodoxy. How strange.

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