Of all the periods given to us by our Mother Church, this is the one that affords us the best opportunity for life changing ACTION. The Church takes lent so seriously that the Fathers have designated three Sundays of pre-preparation (the start of the Triodion) before the actual 40 days of Lent, to prepare us for the life-saving Passion of Our Lord and His glorious Resurrection.
Why is this period life-changing for me? Because it is a refocusing of my life, a journey of discovery into my innermost being to discover who I am and the true life I was created for. It is a chance to deepen my knowledge of God, and work towards purification with courage and commitment.
Man was created for Paradise, to have knowledge of God and be in communion with Him. However, sin has deprived him of that blessed life, and his life on earth is in exile. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has opened the door of Paradise to everyone who follows Him and His Church by revealing the beauty of the Kingdom.
How does Lent help us to know God more? To paraphrase theologian Alexander Schmemann from his book ‘Great Lent Journey to Pascha’: “Lent is the school of repentance that every Christian must go to every year to deepen his faith, to re-evaluate and if possible to change his life – a rediscovery of the Orthodox way of life”.
The purpose of Lent is not to force on us rules and obligations to follow, but rather to soften our hearts to experience communion with God. It is a spiritual challenge which requires a response, a decision, a plan, a continuous effort. To focus on God and less on ourselves through fasting, repentance, almsgiving, prayer, silence, forgiveness and increased Liturgical worship.
Part of the Lenten journey is a daily examination of our hearts. A time when we look at bad habits and passions that we need to overcome – gluttony, vainglory, pride etc. Do we indulge ourselves and put our needs before those of the other? Are we kind to the poor, respectful to our teachers, parents, elders, spouses, children?
Fasting, longer services, confession, abstinence, increased private prayer and spiritual reading during this time, is designed to reign ourselves in. Like an athlete who is preparing for a marathon and watches what he eats, drinks, how he exercises, what he abstains from.
Silence is especially needed at this time: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 45:10). To stand in our icon corner and offer prayer and worship, to empty ourselves of things of this world, and focus on the reciting of the Jesus Prayer and the Prayer of St Ephraim.
A challenge for us could be to participate more in the liturgical life of the Church. Great Lent has its own liturgical book – The Lenten Triodion (which can be accessed on the internet as well as www.agesinitiatives.com, another resourceful site). No longer can we say that we don’t understand the liturgical language of the Church. It is deep, inspiring, meaningful and is waiting for us to discover its richness and beauty! All the theology of our Orthodox Church is expressed in its beautiful hymnography and worship. The spirit in which we attend Church should be one of discovery, of entering another world, rather than an obligation to be fulfilled.
We need to remember that OUR actions determine our salvation. God does not force Himself upon us. Let us pray from the heart, give from the heart, fast from the heart.
Source: February- March 2014 Lychnos Edition