My Answer to the Patheos Lenten Question of the Week: Forgive!

In our small local Greek Orthodox church my wife Genie and I both like the Lenten Service of Forgiveness. It ends with each person in our parish walking to the front of the sanctuary, kissing the icon of Jesus, then bowing in front of our priest.

“Forgive me,” we say.

“I forgive you,” answers our priest, as does each member of the congregation.

We embrace and then together we say: “God forgives us both.”

After that exchange my each person takes his or her place next to the priest in a line that — after we’ve all stepped up and joined it — stretches around the interior perimeter of the church.

Each of us repeats the action and then moves down the line repeating the “forgive me” ritual with everyone in the congregation until we’ve all asked each other for forgiveness.
We bow before children and old people, the middle aged and some giggling kid from down the block. We ask forgiveness from the people we love and from the people we don’t like.

Everyone from the priest to the youngest child in her mother’s arms is equal in this ritual.
When I get to the place in the line where my wife of 42 years is standing, there’s always such a fraught history in my words “Forgive me Genie” that I choke up. There is much to forgive.

We hug just as we’ve hugged everyone else, but in your embrace Darling Wife is the healing gift of reconciliation.

You say “I forgive you” with such warm and direct sincerity that I feel that everything has turned out okay after all.

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Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

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