With the blessing of the Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne, St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church in Anchorage held its second-annual Forgiveness Friday Vespers for clergy Feb. 9. Seven priests from the archdiocese, one sister from Poland, two cantors and seven hospitality helpers from St. Nicholas and Blessed Theodore Mission in Wasilla responded to the invitation from Father Mykhaylo Sidun, pastor of Saint Nicholas.
The Byzantine rite is one of several Eastern rites recognized by and in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. Its origin can be traced to the ancient city of Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul), renamed Constantinople when the emperor Constantine relocated his capital city there from Rome in A.D. 330.
Byzantine Catholic churches are former Orthodox churches that have returned to full communion with the pope but still retain distinctive elements of the Eastern rite churches. Byzantine churches such as St. Nicholas are adorned with icons, and the sanctuary is separated from the congregation by a screen covered with icons. Leavened bread is used for the consecration of the body of Christ in the liturgy and the Eucharist is received under both kinds and administered by the priest from a spoon.
Traditionally the Vespers of Forgiveness begins what Byzantine Catholics refer to as “Great Lent.” The liturgy includes prayers and prostrations that recognized the authority of God over one’s life. The prayers also request that the Lord forgive one’s sins and strengthen the faithful in the virtues of humility, integrity, patience and love.
The prayers conclude: “Yes, O Lord and King, let me to see my own sins and not judge my brothers and sisters; for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen.”
Inspired by the conviction that the sins of any member of the church — the Body of Christ — injure every other member, Forgiveness Vespers includes a moment when each participant asks for forgiveness from every other participant in turn. Each person says, “Forgive me a sinner” and then hears from every other participant, “May God forgive you,” as they kiss each other’s cheeks three times with the kiss of the Lord Jesus Christ.