“O Lord, as we begin this sacred and holy season of Great Lent, and as we strive to discover You anew, help us to make the prayers of our hearts, the thoughts of our minds, the words of our mouths, and our daily actions always pleasing to You. Help us to sincerely struggle to keep this season of the Holy Fast with a serious desire to grow closer to You and to experience the joy and hope of Your Resurrection in a glorious new way.”
As Orthodox Christians, we are preparing to enter the holiest season of the Year – Great Lent. For any serious believer this season is a time when we try to make extra efforts in our spiritual struggle and discipline. Of course, every day we should be praying, reading the Bible, striving to grow spiritually, doing good deeds of love, and offering an overall Christlike witness to the world around us. The Church, however, understands the cycles of life well, and knows how we all have our ups and downs, our times of spiritual highs and spiritual deserts. That is why the Church offers us specific reminders in the church calendar to help us refocus, to reorient our lives toward the straight and narrow path that lead into the Kingdom of Heaven. That is why the Church year is full of fasts before our feasts, preparation before our celebrations.
CLEAN MONDAY (March 15) marks the beginning of our Lenten journey and for the followed seven weeks the Church challenges all Christians to try and develop their spiritual lives. We are preparing ourselves to celebrate the greatest event in world history. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead marked the beginning of new hope and life for all humanity. Death no longer has the final say in our lives. Through our Christ’s death and resurrection, our own death becomes but a doorway into an eternal union with God.
Yet to truly celebrate this magnificent feast of Pascha, we need to prepare. And how do we prepare? First of all, we need to focus ourselves, towards spiritual things. The secular world in which we live often dominates our time, our attention, and our lives with temporal and material things, with the here and now. This holy season challenges us to pull ourselves away from our “normal” and secular lifestyle, and reminds us to concentrate on what is most important and essential in life, on what should become our new normal!
We begin this reorientation towards God by first creating time in our busy schedules and making room for the Holy Spirit to come and abide within us. This isn’t easy to do. It means we need to change our typical hectic schedules. It means slowing down the tempo of our lives and limiting our usual forms of entertainment. It means putting down our phones, fasting from social media, and evaluating anew all that takes up our time. It means consciously making room in our schedules to attend more Lenten Church services, to read some spiritual and edifying books, to attend a spiritual retreat, and to surround ourselves with positive, holy, and godly influences. Great Lent is a time when our daily and weekly lives should change!!!
During this season of change, we want to try and create ways that we can constantly connect with God. This is where fasting plays a central role. When we fast and are hungry, or when we don’t eat certain foods and we crave them, we can remember why we are fasting and turn our attention toward God. Throughout Church History our saints have always shown us what an extremely important tool fasting can play in making us aware of God. This year, why don’t you try and fast in a more serious way than you have done in the past.
Of course, fasting is only one aspect of our Lenten journey. Fasting has value only if prayer is a companion – both personal prayer, as well as communal prayer through Church worship. And going to the Sacrament of Confession can be a cleansing and essential type of prayer for this season. Can you make a commitment to attend one extra Church service a week throughout the 40 day period of Lent, and also go to Confession before the end of the Fast?
And the Lenten triad is complete with acts of mercy and love. Consciously try to help those in need, through making donations, offering of your time, and serving others in some way. Think of something kind you can do for others. Visit someone in need. Perform some anonymous act of love. Do more than what you typically do.
In this issue of The Light, you will find two powerful articles related to forgiveness. We cannot progress towards God without a forgiving spirit. That is why the Sunday before Lent begins is called Forgiveness Sunday. I realize this is one of the great obstacles for some people and yet forgiving one another and seeking out the forgiveness of God is indispensable for anyone serious in their journey toward our Lord.
I pray that these next two months leading up to Pascha on May 2 will be spiritually edifying for each one of us, and will help all of us draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another.
With much love and hope in Christ Jesus,