Day of forgiveness

Baha’i Fast, Lent, and Forgiveness

It is interesting how so often traditions in seemingly different religions overlap and are more similar than not. Today is the Day of Forgiveness in Bulgariathe last Sunday before the Great Lent starts. It is rather symbolic that just as my Baha’i Fast is approaching its end with the upcoming Naw Ruz — the Baha’i New Year on March 21st — my parents are preparing to start their own Eastern Orthodox Lent. Since they are approaching their 80s, they will not fast for all 40 days but they will refrain from any animal product during the first week of the Lent, and after that they will do so several days each week until Easter.

The purpose of both Lent and the Baha’i Fast of course is to prepare us for closeness to God by abstaining from certain physical delights, or even necessities, in order for us to train our spirit and grow it stronger — a necessary human paradox of spiritual beings with physical bodies.

Just as Baha’is are getting ready for the New Year while putting behind the old one with the conclusion of the Fast, Bulgarians seek each other’s forgiveness so that life’s burden being carried into the new year would be lighter.

With the marvel of technology that is Skype, I was able to seek forgiveness from my parents. This same wonder of global communication enables my young daughters to talk to their baba and dyado every Sunday and to remotely participate in traditions and rituals — some serious and others silly — that give context to what being a Bulgarian means, but also reinforces the sense of being a world citizen — something that is dear to any Baha’i heart.

Forgiveness is God’s but it is we who need to forgive each other

Forgiveness is an easy thing when you have not done anything wrong but a very serious business when you might have done — intentionally or not — things that might have hurt others.

The standard response you get from a Bulgarian whose forgiveness you seek is: “You are forgiven by me; may you be forgiven by God!”. Indeed, if God’s desire for us to love Him is translated into the commandment that we shall love one another — His creation — it is only logical, that while forgiveness is only God’s, we need to seek to straighten things out with those nearest to us who might uplift us the best but who also often tend to hurt us the most.

The inmost essence of all things voiceth in all things the testimony: “All forgiveness floweth, in this Day, from God, Him to Whom none can compare, with Whom no partners can be joined, the Sovereign Protector of all men, and the Concealer of their sins!”

(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.36)

There is a delightful Bulgarian tradition on this Day of Forgiveness to play a game in which the children try to catch a hard-boiled egg suspended on a string from a rod while using mouths only and no hands. It was one of those dear childhood memories that brought unrestrained laughter into our family. When my parents visited me and my girls two winters ago, we made sure the little ones experienced this fun ritual. They did and they remembered it! Today I made sure we took the time to play this silly game of catching eggs with mouth alone while talking to my parents via Skype:

Why that silly tradition is part of the Day of Forgiveness? Perhaps because forgiveness can be a serious matter, bringing some lightness — and laughter — into a day that can potentially be difficult makes sense.

Day of ForgivenessMy daughters and I have had many conversations on the subject of making mistakes, and they know that adults make them too. It was not a surprise to them when I sought their forgiveness for what I might have done or not done. It was probably a surprise to their mom that I sought forgiveness from her as well since both of us seem to try to move beyond the many painful things that happened between us in the name of wanting the best for our two precious girls.

Just like the tulips which my girls helped me pick from the store last week are starting to fade away, everything material in life has its end. What remains is love, that power which brought Creation into Being. Let us all wish for each others and for our loved ones God’s forgiveness for our mistakes. And let us all try to do God’s work by forgiving others — and ourselves — our shortcomings!

I beg Thy forgiveness, O my God, and implore pardon after the manner Thou wishest Thy servants to direct themselves to Thee.  I beg of Thee to wash away our sins as befitteth Thy Lordship, and to forgive me, my parents, and those who in Thy estimation have entered the abode of Thy love in a manner which is worthy of Thy transcendent sovereignty and well beseemeth the glory of Thy celestial power.

O my God!  Thou hast inspired my soul to offer its supplication to Thee, and but for Thee, I would not call upon Thee.  Lauded and glorified art Thou; I yield Thee praise inasmuch as Thou didst reveal Thyself unto me, and I beg Thee to forgive me, since I have fallen short in my duty to know Thee and have failed to walk in the path of Thy love.

The Báb

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