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Liturgy for forgiving

I don’t mean liturgy for repenting and being forgiven. There’s lots of that. I mean liturgy for practicing forgiveness.

Why does collective repentance figure so strongly in liturgical tradition, but collective forgiveness does not?

That is, the liturgy regularly calls us to reflect on, and repent of, our sins. But when are we called liturgically to forgive others, our enemies, each other, ourselves? I’m not thinking of any examples. Some forms of the prayers of the people may ask us to pray for our enemies and each other, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing.

Perhaps it’s difficult to do well in a corporate setting?
But surely we could use the practice? I know I could.

Anyone have any examples?

{ 12 } Comments

  1. Bruce A. Wilson | March 4, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    What about the Eastern Orthodox Vespers of Forgiveness?

  2. Phil | March 4, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Bruce, that looks like a promising suggestion. I’ll post some links when I find out a little more.

  3. Miranda | March 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Apparently on Erev Yom Kippur (Yom Kippur Eve), it’s customary to visit people and seek forgiveness “whom one may have somehow wronged or spoken ill of in the past year.” – quoted from:
    That’s not liturgical exactly, but it’s understood as part of the observance of Yom Kippur….

  4. Phil | March 8, 2008 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Following up on the Vespers of Forgiveness, these are held on the evening of “Forgiveness Sunday” (also known as “Cheese Fare”), and they are the first service of the Orthodox Great Lent. Most of the vespers are oriented towards asking for forgiveness, but at the very end, there’s a forgiveness ritual, wherein each member of the congregation both forgives and asks for forgiveness from everyone else.

    A few links:

  5. Pamela Smith | March 9, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Bruce, Phil and Miranda, thank you for finding these wonderful resources!

    Here is the Prayer of Ephraim the Syrian, referred to in Schmemann’s article -

    O Lord and Master of my life
    take from me the spirit of sloth
    faint-heartedness, lust of power
    and idle talk.

    But give rather the spirit of chastity,
    humility, patience, and love to thy servant.

    Yea, O Lord and King
    grant me to see my own errors
    and not to judge my brother;
    for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages.


  6. Tim Fleck | March 10, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I’ve long wished for a “ritual” for forgiveness in everyday life. When someone says “Thank you,” we say “You’re welcome,” which is a simple secular rite for this transaction.

    But when someone tells me he or she is sorry, I find myself stammering a bit. “I forgive you” is awfully stiff, and seems to give all the power in the exchange to the forgiver. I often end up with something like, “That’s all right,” but that minimizes the real offense for which the person is apologizing, and thus trivializes the apology.

    I would love to find a formula as simple and rich as “you’re welcome” that conveys, “yes, you hurt me. I thank you for having acknowledged that hurt, and for having taken the first step toward repairing our relationship. I forgive you and invite you to forgive yourself. Now let’s move forward together in love, both of us having learned something in the process.”

  7. Phil | March 10, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Tim, one of the reasons I started thinking about this is that I’ve been trying to work with our two-and-a-half year old on appropriate ways to handle and express anger and frustration. Right now, at least with me, his anger will often find physical expression–hitting, scratching, hair pulling. I have found myself sometimes surprised by the intensity of my own response to this, and wanting to find more instructive ways of modeling anger as well as apology and forgiveness.

    Just very recently, he reached a point where his anger sometimes got much bigger, and more out of his control, in a way that I think scares him a little. At more or less at the same time, he started understand a little better when he has hurt someone, and to say “I’m sorry” when that happens.

    It’s a situation where I need to be very clear that hurting others is not an ok way to express anger. But forgiveness is very much needed. So far, I’ve been thanking him for his apology, asking if we can be friends again, and showing that forgiveness in hugs and sharing some playtime or a story. But I share you desire that there was maybe some better way to do this.

    Perhaps “I forgive you” seems stiff because we use it too little? That’s what got me thinking that perhaps we could use more practice. That doesn’t have to happen in liturgy, but perhaps it could.

  8. Phil | March 15, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    An interesting story about forgiveness in Sudan went up recently on the Daily Episcopalian:

    Forgiveness in this place is not some intellectual exercise; it’s reality. It’s a daily need. Mother Martha wasn’t discussing some esoteric theological point; she was directly telling the people in her care to work at something some of them don’t want to even consider.

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