Forgiveness Sunday

Forgiveness Sunday

Cheese Sunday, Cheesefare Sunday

For Roman Catholics and other Western Christians Lent, a period of spiritual preparation for Easter, begins with an observance called Ash Wednesday and lasts a little over six weeks. For Eastern, or Orthodox, Christians, Lent lasts a full seven weeks and begins on the evening of Forgiveness Sunday (see also Pre-Lent). Orthodoxy is one of the three main branches of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christianity developed in eastern Europe and the countries surrounding the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. Orthodox Christians follow a different church calendar than that commonly adhered to by Roman Catholics and Protestants (see also Easter, Date of).

Forgiveness Sunday falls on the seventh Sunday before Orthodox Easter. On this day church services recall the story of Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise. The Gospel reading (a selection from Christian scripture describing the life of Christ) presents Jesus'teaching on forgiveness and fasting (Matthew 6:14-18). The name "Forgiveness Sunday" comes from the Gospel reading and also from the custom of forgiving others and asking for others' forgiveness on this day. By practicing forgiveness with one another, Orthodox Christians hope to invite God's forgiveness and to begin Lent with the proper spirit of humility. Some Orthodox parishes, monasteries, and schools follow a formal ritual of forgiveness after the Sunday evening worship service. Members of the community bow to one another, ask forgiveness for their offenses, and offer forgiveness to each other.

Forgiveness Sunday is also called Cheese or Cheesefare Sunday since it is the last day on which strictly observant Orthodox Christians eat milk, cheese, and other dairy products before the beginning of the full-fledged Lenten fast. Cheesefare, or Forgiveness, Sunday marks the end of Cheese Week. This, the first week of the Lenten fast, is only partial. Meat products are forbidden during this week, but dairy products may still be eaten. The full Lenten fast begins on Forgiveness Sunday, after the evening, or vespers, service. Some Orthodox Christians exchange the greeting "May your fast be light" as a means of expressing well wishes at this holy time of year. For the next seven weeks strictly observant Orthodox Christians will consume no meat, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, fish, wine, or alcohol. The following day, known as Clean Monday, constitutes the first full day of Lent.

The folk customs of Cheese Week and Forgiveness Sunday anticipate the upcoming fast and the solemnity of Lent by encouraging indulgence in what soon will be forbidden. For example, folk tradition encourages people to feast on egg and cheese dishes. Also, since Forgiveness Sunday constitutes the last day of Carnival for Orthodox Christians, people enjoy dances, masquerades, and other frolics. In Greece, a predominately Orthodox country, people also treat the following day, Clean Monday, as a joyous occasion.

Some of the Orthodox folk customs concerning Cheese Week and Forgiveness Sunday feature eggs, an Easter symbol and forbidden food during the Lenten season. Many follow an old Greek tradition which dictates that the last bit of food consumed before the beginning of the fast be a hard-boiled egg. Before eating the egg one declares, "With an egg I close my mouth, with an egg I shall open it again." For those who observe this custom the eating of an egg symbolizes both the beginning and the end of the seven-week Lenten fast. After the late-night Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday, they begin their Easter feast with a hard-boiled Easter egg. In another egg custom popular in Macedonia and Bulgaria people use a string or thread to suspend a boiled egg from the ceiling. Sometimes a piece of cheese or candy is substituted for the egg. They circle round this treat and knock it with their foreheads to get it swinging. Then each member of the circle tries to catch it with their mouths. The egg may also be suspended from the end of a stick held aloft by one of the participants.

An old Russian folk tradition required people not only to ask forgiveness of family members, friends, and neighbors, but also to visit the cemetery in order to ask forgiveness from the dead. The living embraced one another as a sign of pardon; the dead were offered blini, a kind of thin Russian pancake eaten during Cheese Week (for more on Cheese Week in Russia, see Maslenitsa).

Further Reading

Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1999. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1997. Hopko, Thomas. The Lenten Spring. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1998. Mathewes-Green, Frederica. Facing East. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997.

Web Site

"Pre-Lent," a document describing the beliefs and practices of Orthodox Christians concerning pre-Lent, posted on the Orthodox Church in America web site:
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Forgiveness Sunday

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Seventh Sunday before Orthodox Easter
Where Celebrated: Worldwide
Symbols and Customs: Eggs, Fasting, Food, Forgiveness, Icon, Liturgy
Related Holidays: Easter, Lent


Forgiveness Sunday is part of the Orthodox Christian religious tradition. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ. Christ is a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus's death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There are three main branches of the Christian faith, but there is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

A division between eastern and western forms of Christianity occurred over the course of several centuries in the early years of the church. During this time, Orthodoxy developed in Eastern Europe and the countries surrounding the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually spreading outside this geographic area, Orthodox Christianity is now practiced in many countries throughout the world. Orthodox Christians follow a different church calendar than that commonly used by western Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants). Orthodox Lent, also known as Great Lent, is observed earlier and for a longer period of time, and the preparations for LENT are also different than those observed by western Christians. The week before Orthodox Lent is known as Cheese Week or Dairy Week and concludes with Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheese Sunday or Cheesefare Sunday. Observances during this week anticipate the upcoming Lenten fast by encouraging indulgence in food and activities that are forbidden during Lent. In predominantly Orthodox countries such as Greece and Macedonia, people celebrate Cheese Week in much the same way as Mardi Gras and Carnival are observed in other parts of the world. The weeklong celebration includes parties and masquerades and culminates on Forgiveness Sunday, when people feast on the butter, EGGS , and cheese that are prohibited during the Lenten fast.

Cheese Week ends with the evening church services or vespers that are held at sunset on Forgiveness Sunday. These services focus on the need for forgiveness from God and others whom the faithful may have wronged during the past year. Orthodox Lent officially begins at the conclusion of Forgiveness Sunday services.



Hard-boiled eggs are traditionally the last food that is eaten by Orthodox Christians on Forgiveness Sunday. Some Orthodox Christians observe this tradition by announcing before the egg is eaten, "With an egg I close my mouth, with an egg I shall open it again." This is done to acknowledge that eggs are not permitted during the Lenten fast and will not be eaten again until Easter Sunday. The first food typically eaten on Easter is usually a hard-boiled egg.

In parts of Macedonia and Bulgaria another egg tradition is sometimes observed on Forgiveness Sunday. During the last festivities before evening vespers on that day, a boiled egg, piece of candy, or piece of cheese is suspended from the ceiling on a string. Those in attendance circle around it and knock it with their foreheads to get it swinging. Each member of the circle then tries to catch it with their mouths. The egg may also be suspended from the end of a stick held aloft by one of the participants.


The full Lenten fast begins on Forgiveness Sunday, after the evening vespers service. During the period of Lent, Orthodox Christians are not permitted to consume any meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, wine, or alcoholic beverages.


Forgiveness Sunday is also known as Cheese Sunday or Cheesefare Sunday, so named because it is the last day that dairy products may be eaten before the Lenten fast. The full fast begins the following day on Clean Monday, the first day of the Orthodox Great Lent. Popular dishes enjoyed on Forgiveness Sunday are those that use up any remaining dairy products. For example, many enjoy dishes prepared with cheese or butter, as well as egg dishes such as custards. Russian Orthodox Christians typically prepare blinis, which are thin pancakes rolled around a rich filling such as sour cream, caviar, jam, salmon, honey, or a mixture of cheeses.


On Forgiveness Sunday, Orthodox Christians hope to invite God's forgiveness and to begin Lent with the proper spirit of humility. Some Orthodox parishes follow a formal ritual of forgiveness after the Sunday evening services, in which members of the community bow to one another, request forgiveness from each other, and exchange mutual forgiveness for any offenses. One old Russian Orthodox folk tradition includes asking forgiveness from the dead as well.


An Orthodox Christian icon is a two-dimensional sacred image that is usually painted on a wood surface. Icons are regarded as holy objects and are used to focus prayer in a specific way to honor the subject of the icon. The icon for Forgiveness Sunday depicts the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, which illustrates the fall of humankind and represents the original sin that taints all humanity. Orthodox Christians believe that the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted in the separation of humankind from God. By praying and reflecting on the Forgiveness Sunday Icon, Orthodox Christians hope to enter the proper spiritual state in which to repent and receive God's forgiveness.


Forgiveness Sunday concludes with church services held at sunset. This service includes the final preparations for the beginning of Lent, focusing on themes of repentance and forgiveness. During this liturgy, Orthodox Christians dedicate themselves to the worship, prayer, fasting, and solemnity of Lent.


Constantelos, Demetrios J. Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church: Its Faith, Histo- ry, and Practice. New York: Seabury Press, 1982. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005.


Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Orthodox Christian Information Network

Orthodox Church in America
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
References in periodicals archive ?
The liturgical books call this Sunday "The Commemoration of the Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss." Finally, it is called "Forgiveness Sunday." On this Sunday we focus on the entire purpose of Lent: the reality of the fall, our Lords offer of forgiveness, our own realization that we are all Adam and share in Sin, and the need for us all to return to Paradise.
I suggest that you propose a Forgiveness Sunday, as soon as possible in every church in the world where each of us can ask for forgiveness and give forgiveness and receive forgiveness through a general absolution.
Procka, or Forgiveness Sunday, is a holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Church when believers forgive each other before the start of Great Lent preceding Easter.
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The best known event taking place on Forgiveness Sunday (Procka) in Macedonia is the Carnival of Strumica, or Trimeri, which has also become part of the World Calendar of Carnivals and a massive tourist attraction in recent years.