Today is called Cheesefare in the Eastern Church, traditionally this meant that dairy products were not consumed from until Pascha. Dairy products weren’t the same now as they were back in the early years of the church. What we call dairy products to our ancestors meant anything that issued forth from a living creature, this included eggs, milk, and even honey. In the days before chocolate and confectionaries these “dairy” products provided the sweetness in foods, without them food was pretty bland, and that was the point to this part of the fast. It was a reminder that without Christ and the resurrection life itself was pretty bland. People lived day-to-day putting up with the toils of life with the only hope being in death, which was the end of existence. It was only through Christ that there was the promise of something after death, something happier and sweeter.
Last week we learned about Judgement – the difference between right and wrong, virtue and sin. Today the lesson is on forgiveness. That we will sin is a given, it’s not possible for a person to go through life without sinning, i.e., offending God. God understand this, it is all part of the freedom of will that he gave to people, which is why He provided a way to obtain forgiveness when we do something we shouldn’t have. This method is really tough – we have to ask for it. This is not meant a sarcasm, but as truth, it is difficult to ask for forgiveness. Think about when you do something wrong to your spouse, friend, relative, how easy is it for you to look them in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for…, can you forgive me?” We have the same problem with God, it’s difficult to get down on our knees (literally or figuratively), tell Him how sorry we are (really meaning it) and asking that He forgive us – then to promise that we will do our best not to do it again, knowing that in all probability we will.
The Eastern Church is a bit different in this aspect than the Western Church. Our Saints were real people. Our stories about them include their failings along with their turning it around. Our stories will tell of licentious lives before their conversion to Christianity, how they were no different that we were. One tale was of Mary of Egypt, a prostitute who one day while watching Christians entering into church to worship decided to see what it was all about, but something stopped her from physically being able to enter the building. This caused her to rethink her lifestyle and went to the extreme of becoming a hermit, living apart from people so as to not be tempted to return to her former lifestyle. Many of our Saints tell similar stories of them turning around from sinful lives, asking for His forgiveness. This gives us the hope that we too can change, that no matter what we have done we will be forgiven and the sweetness of life will once again be ours.