Great Lent Begins!

Dearest Spiritual ‘Ohana,

Great Lent officially began on Monday, February 27th, this year.  When I say that “the Joyful Season of Great Lent is upon us” you may find what I am saying a bit odd!  After all, what joy do we find when we go through Great Lent where there is such a lengthy period of very strict fasting (over 40 days), a call to repentance, refraining from dancing, no big partying allowed, a call to increased prayer and in the number of services offered, almsgiving, forgiving one another, practicing self-denial, etc., given that we practice all these actions that the Church prescribes for us?  It appears we are going through Great Lent being prompted and required to give up so much of the things we value and enjoy.  But, in fact, we are really gaining much more than we can ever give up.  We are gaining everything, especially the Presence of the Lord incorporated in our daily lives as our aim and ultimate goal.

Here is one of the hymns we begin Great Lent with on Clean Monday:  “Let us begin the all-holy season of fasting with joy; let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God: with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, the strength of good courage and the purity of holiness! So, clothed in garments of light, let us hasten to the holy resurrection on the third day, that shines on the world with the glory of eternal life!”  In fact, this hymn expresses what really is suppose to happen during Great Lent!  We enter this period and season with a lot of spiritual work, toil and struggle so that we gain “the only thing needed,” which is simply the desire for God to always dwell in our lives and for us to respond to His Love, Mercy and Glory by glorifying, giving praise and thanksgiving to Him for all He has done  and continues to do for us.

We go through our lives seeking ultimate happiness and fulfillment.  After all, who doesn’t want to be happy and fulfilled?  Everyone ultimately wants these!  The truth is, we come out empty when we willfully seek these leaving out the most essential element of joy, which is God’s Presence.  Without His Presence, we hit nothing but “dead ends,” leaving us feeling that something is always missing in our lives, an emptiness and void that just cannot be filled.  Great Lent helps us to reassess our lives, to have a spiritual tune-up, a spring cleaning of our lives, an opportunity to refocus and a refreshing to get us back on track.  Of course, we need to do this over and over again throughout the course of our lives.  The salvation of our souls requires us to constantly “fight the good fight” up until our final breath of our earthly lives.  In other words, we cannot just reach a plateau in our lives and think that we are good at that point and can simply take our ease.  The fight goes on!

Our Orthodox Christian Faith offers us many tools toward the goal of true joy, fulfillment and salvation.  Great Lent offers a loaded toolbox for us and for our benefit so long as we use and put it into practice.  Here are a few tools and their benefits.  Fast from foods with the end of hungering for God and weeding out the parts of our will that push Him away.  Give alms so that we lay up treasure in Heaven.  Forgive one another so that our Heavenly Father forgives us.  Attend the services attentively and full-heartedly, not allowing them to be mere rituals but our pathway to worship and glorify God and at the same time be humbled and moved to repentance ever mindful of His Presence in your very lives.  Go to Confession to wash and renew the garment of your soul and take pleasure in the satisfaction that God has taken and remitted all the sins you confessed.  Such a heavy burden lifted!  These are just a few opportunities of the many we have during this period of Great Lent.

I have a few highly recommended books to help us practice and take advantage of the many blessings of Great Lent, namely The Lenten Spring by Fr. Thomas Hopko which helps us practically maneuver throughout the Lenten Journey.  Fr. Hopko, of blessed memory, is a true Theologian, a priest in the true sense, a man of prayer, and a pastor who served and taught with love and by personal example.    Here is a small excerpt from his book:  “Jesus commands all those who fast to be joyful.  He condemns sadness and grief, especially the outward appearance of fasting before men.  He orders His people to hide their sorrow and to cover their sadness over sin.  He directs them to hide their acts of penitence, to keep their mortifications secret, to appear shining and bright in the world.”  There is also a book, The Crucifixion of the King of Glory: The Amazing History and Sublime Mystery of the Passion by Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, which we are currently in the process of reading for our Men’s Book Club, which will help us ponder, as humanly possible, the Mystery of our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion, of which commemoration we are approaching.  I encourage all of you to take advantage of the opportunities to engage yourselves, personally and spiritually, in our Orthodox Christian Faith as active participants, not allowing ourselves to be merely passive  spectators of our Faith.

Have a Blessed and Joyous Great Lent and Journey to Holy Pascha!    

With Love in Christ,

+Fr. Alexander