The last Sunday before the Great Lent, Cheesefare Sunday, is also the last day of preparation. It is called Cheesefare because on the next day we begin a total fast from all animal products, as well as from fish, wine and oil (fish, wine and oil will be allowed only on the Feasts of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday), continuing until Holy Pascha. An important theme of this day is the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise, which reminds us of that from which we have fallen. Another theme is forgiveness, since we cannot even begin our spiritual journey without granting forgiveness to those who have offended us and asking forgiveness of those whom we have offended. A special feature of this day is the very moving Forgiveness Vespers, at which we all ask and grant mutual forgiveness. At this Service, after the singing of the Great Prokeimenon, the liturgical vestments and furnishings are changed to dark colors, and the special Lenten melodies used.
As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam's expulsion from Paradise. God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents became heirs of death and corruption.
Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance, to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: "Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body. As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit…."
Kontakion - Tone 6
Master, Teacher of wisdom,
Bestower of virtue,
you teach the thoughtless and protect the poor:
Strengthen and enlighten my heart.
Word of the Father,
let me not restrain my mouth from crying to you:
Have mercy on me, a transgressor,
O merciful Lord!