The Eastern Churches do not begin Lent with Ash Wednesday, but with Forgiveness Sunday. Wesley Smith describes it:
Orthodox Christians enter Lent with a special post-Liturgy or evening vespers service that launches us into “Clean Monday,” the first day of the rigorous Lenten fast….
The forgiveness service begins as any other vespers, but it soon changes with different hymns and more mournful prayers. In the midst of the service, Lent begins as the choir cries out in earnest supplication:
Turn not away thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. Attend to my soul, and deliver it.
From the ends of the earth I cried unto thee.
I shall be protected under the cover of thy wings.
I will praise thy name forever.
As they mournfully sing, the altar cloth is changed to Lenten purple and the priest changes into dark vestments to symbolize mourning.
At the service’s end, our first Lenten act is to ask from and offer forgiveness to everyone present—not collectively, but individually from person, to person, to person. This is one of the most powerful moments of the Church year. One by one, each parishioner bows or prostrates, first before the priest, and then each other, asking, “Forgive me, a sinner.”
Each responds with a bow or prostration, asking also for forgiveness and assuring, “God forgives.” Each then exchanges the kiss of peace.
The service is a healing balm. It is hard to bear grudges when all have shared such an intimate mutual humbling. Indeed, Forgiveness Vespers is emotionally intense, tears often flow and hugs of true reconciliation are common.
No man is an island. Our sins wound all members of the church and indeed all creation. An Orthodox akathist confesses
We are to blame for the calamities in the world, for the sufferings of dumb creatures, and for the diseases and torments of innocent children, for through the fall of man the beatitude and beauty of all creation has been marred. O Christ our God, greatest of innocent Sufferers! Thou alone canst forgive all. Forgive, then, all and everything, and grant to the world its primordial prosperity, that the living and the dead may rejoice and cry: