We are rapidly approaching Great Lent, and it is time for us to begin to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students! Great Lent begins just as it should, with Forgiveness Sunday. Here are some ideas of ways we can help our students learn about Forgiveness Vespers, so that when they are experiencing this part of Forgiveness Sunday, they can better understand the service and more fully participate.
Why do we have Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Sunday because we need to remember how far we have strayed from the way God intended us to be, and how much we each need His forgiveness. This Sunday reminds us of Adam and Eve’s need to leave Paradise. (Find printable pdfs about Adam and Eve, which can be used to teach our students their story, at http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/28.pdf, written for younger kids and http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/29.pdf, written for older kids.) It also reminds us of our own need for forgiveness from God. Read more about Forgiveness Sunday and the icon of the day here: http://lent.goarch.org/forgiveness/learn/.
Why is Forgiveness Vespers an important part of Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers so that we can begin the lenten fast as forgiven people. Our Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14).” We pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, “…forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Forgiveness Vespers offers us the opportunity to forgive and receive forgiveness of our whole Church family. Discuss this concept, stressing the importance of forgiveness, with your students. (Find interesting ways to demonstrate forgiveness – including using disappearing ink or dissolving paper – at http://gracepointe.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/4th-5th-Grade-Lesson-God-wants-us-to-forgive-others-as-hes-forgiven-us.pdf.)
What happens during Forgiveness Vespers? “Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another.” (See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/forgiveness/learn/#sthash.EHma5Qv1.dpuf) Forgiveness Vespers reminds us of the importance of asking God and each other for forgiveness. At the end of the service, we ask each other for forgiveness, and extend forgiveness to each other. Prepare your students for this service. Talk with them about what words your parish uses during this time of mutual repentance. Also discuss what those words mean. Model what will happen, so that those who have never attended a Forgiveness Vespers will know what to expect. Remind them of when the special service will take place, and encourage them to come to it and participate with you.
Asking your students’ forgiveness and extending forgiveness to them is a sweet and beautiful moment in a Sunday Church School teacher’s year. Do what you can to help that moment to be able to happen!
Let us begin the fast with joy!
Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!
Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh!
Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food!
Let us rejoice in virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love,
that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God,
and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!
Following are additional related ideas that can help you prepare to teach your students about Forgiveness Sunday:
After a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday with older students check their retention by asking them some of these questions: http://www.orthodox.net/questions/forgiveness_sunday_1.html.
St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who is, believe it or not, commemorated on Feb. 23!) is an excellent example of forgiveness. Here’s a printable copy of his life, including references to Forgiveness Vespers: http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=6
Find excellent leveled question prompts about repentance and forgiveness here: http://dce.oca.org/mini/repentance/. Question levels begin at grade K, all the way through adulthood.
Here is a link to a great family Gospel lesson on Forgiveness Vespers. Consider printing it and sending it home (or sharing the link) with your students so that they can talk together with their families about this service, before they attend and participate. It includes the Gospel reading, a brief discussion, questions for families to talk together about, and a few hands-on ideas to do together in response. http://lent.goarch.org/family/forgivenesssunday.asp
“Forgiveness is the heart of the matter, and that’s why the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/forgiveness_sunday_2_asking_for_forgiveness
Find a few ideas for object lessons on teaching about forgiveness (these ideas are not Orthodox, but can be a starting place) here: http://ministry-to-children.com/forgiveness-object-lessons/.
Read an interesting article on the science of forgiveness at http://www.pravmir.com/the-science-of-forgiveness/ for some interesting insights into why we need to forgive!