If Christian life as a whole is about repentance, communion with Christ, and seeing our sins, the weeks of Great Lent provide a season of Spring Training for this daunting process.
Yet how successful are we? Do most of us really use this time given to us to its maximum impact on our life?
The approach of Holy Week brings with it the echo of the approaching Resurrection of Christ. Yet too often, it can also be a reminder of the Judgement of Christ – a judgement which we fear, and not without reason.
How can we redeem the failures of our spiritual life as Christians? Where can we find hope amid the broken pieces of a Christian life, half-lived?
No one should begin the Christian life with idealism: the Church Fathers call us to have as the first step in our pilgrimage toward Christ a realistic assessment of ourselves, not a caricature of the icon we hope to be some day soon. Orthodox Christianity is not a blueprint for building superheroes: it is a blueprint for holiness. And like the lives of so many great saints, it is in the ordinariness of human life – and human failing – that this holiness begins.
Have we fallen short in keeping the fast, partaking of oil, a bit of fish, some ice cream, or even a whopping steak dinner? Let us use these failures to take stock of the mastery our stomach has over our will, and resolve to fight on for our freedom from such an absurd slave master.
Have we drowned our minds with our fill of loud music, action movies, and online chatter, rather than strive to quiet our heart? Let us savour the pain, the discomfort, the lack of peace which can be ours every day – throughout eternity, if we choose – unless and until we will to take arms against it all, and close the doors of our senses.
Have we flooded our minds with fantasy, of plans unachieved or yet to come, of angry words we are itching to speak, or of fleshly fantasies of which we can only dream? Disappointment, anger, and depression should not surprise us. We have learned and relearned the recipe for despair: let us now resolve to learn the recipe for joy.
Have we seen ourselves at our worst, disappointing ourselves time and again with our failure to keep promises, not just to others, but – most importantly – to ourselves? Let us look resolutely in the mirror of our own spiritual ugliness, knowing that a renewed reflection awaits us, just as soon as our revulsion drives us to seek it.
It is said that nothing succeeds like success. Yet as we approach the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, most of us can more easily stare into the face of our own failure, our own shortcomings, our disgust with our disfigurement of heart.
Let us not hide this discovery: instead, let us use it as the incentive, the engine, the fuel to drive us toward God. Despairing of ourselves, let us throw ourselves onto the strength of Christ, who tramples down not only Death, but our myriad of daily defeats.
Let us not build a prison for ourselves with our sins: let us use the remnants of our defeat to propel us into the arms of Christ, knowing from experience that we do not want to return to the place from which we came.
And when we do return there, let us repeat this painful therapy of facing ourselves, again and again and again. In doing so, we can turn our defeat into a means of joining Christ in His joyful victory.
– Father Geoffrey Korz is an Orthodox priest in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.