The first is Zacchaeus Sunday in which we remember that our first move toward salvation is to seek out Christ and invite him in. The second is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharasee in which we are reminded of how to pray: not in public, full of pride, but humbly, asking God’s mercy since we are the last and lowest. The Sunday of the Prodigal Son reminds us that God is always waiting to joyfully welcome us back into the fold, no matter what we have done.
The Sunday of the Last Judgment is celebrated to remind us that this life and world are temporary, that all things come to an end except Heaven and Hell. We will be judged according to our words and works, what we did and failed to do. When I think of standing in front of Christ on the last day I tremble. No one knows how vile a heart I have but He. He knows my faults, my fears, my failings. All I can do is throw myself on my face and beg, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Next Sunday, Forgiveness Sunday (also called Cheesefare Sunday, as it is the last non-fasting day before Lent), we will celebrate the rite of forgiveness in which we personally ask forgiveness of each member of our parish (and others, should we be able to reach them). In the parishes I have been in this is done literally: the priest asks forgiveness of the entire parish and prostrates before them. We in turn come up and do likewise, then form a line beginning at his right side, each person prostrating and asking forgiveness of the next until each has asked forgiveness of the other. There is nothing general about it, you are specifically asking the forgiveness of “John” who is standing before you and you prostrate before him. [Those who are unable to perform prostrations make a bow instead.] Children participate as well. It brings tears to your eyes to see your priest very seriously making a prostration before a toddler and asking his forgiveness. None are left out.
In this wise are we readied for Lent. Father pointed out in a sermon a few Sundays ago that you get out of Lent what you put into it. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of Lent?” If you don’t want anything, you can let it all go by in a purple haze and happily smash a red egg on your friend’s head at Pascha. But don’t waste your Lent. God’s Church has ordained these seasons for our salvation – use them.
Article on the Last Judgment (OCA website) here.