The Church, on this very afternoon of the ‘Day of Forgiveness,’ has set her journey into penitence. And so, kneeling and prostrating, her people look ahead to Kymtho, the great feast of the Light. The service of reconciliation is conducted on Monday, the first day if the Great Lent, at the end of third hour. The Service of Reconciliation or shubqono, stands at the ‘threshold of Great Lent.’ The service marks the actual doorway into Lent, the threshold on the other side of which stands the fullest measure of ascesis that the Church metes out to the whole of her faithful throughout the world. As we stand at the threshold of the fast, we sing of him who stood before the gates of Eden. As we make ready to enter in to this season of preparation, we sing often:
O merciful and compassionate Lord, to You I cry aloud: I am fallen! Have mercy on me! Your grace has shown forth, O Lord, it has shone forth and given light to our souls. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the season of repentance. Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, that having sailed across the great sea of the Fast, we may reach the third-day Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls.
The scene painted by the hymns of the day is one of a great and terrible sorrow. We lament the loss of so great a gift – the gift to be children of God. Our sins have forced us to be exiles from glory. We are in want. No more can we look upon the Lord our God and Maker. As Great Lent begins, we are reminded in language stronger and more direct than ever before of the gravity of our condition in sin:
‘Woe is me, what have I suffered in my misery! I transgressed the commandments of the Master, and now I am deprived of every blessing.’ Then the Savior said: ‘I desire not the loss of the creature which I fashioned, but that he should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth; and when he comes to me I will not cast him out.’
By the transgression of the will of God we threw aside the gift of grace and blessings. However, we have a God who loves us and is abundant in His mercy.
‘I will not cast him out.’ God’s words in this are already the words of salvation. They are words of calling, of beckoning, of reconciliation. But they are also words of directive: ‘when he comes to me….’ God does not take fallen man and, with a divine fiat that would mean little to the long-term well being of humankind, magically place him back into glory from which we ourselves have exiled. God knows that it is our heart that most desperately needs to be healed, needs to be turned away from the desire for its own ends and back to a desire for the heart of God Himself. And so the Savior whispers to us, ‘When you come back to me, I will not cast you out’.
Our prayer must be:
Come, my wretched soul, and weep today over your acts, remembering how once you were stripped naked in Eden and cast out from delight and unending joy.
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