Tag Archives: Lenten

As we begin the Great Fast…

O Nymphios

O Nymphios

Monday, February 17th, marked the beginning of Lent for the Eastern Orthodox churches and today is the first day of Lent in the West (this year both East and West will actually celebrate Easter on the same date! This only happens a few times every century). The Church presents some wonderful hymns to strengthen us during this time. One of my favorite goes:

The arena of virtues is open. Let all who are willing to compete enter, girding themselves. For those who genuinely compete will be deservedly crowned. Let us do battle with the enemy. Let us take on the armor of the Cross, having Faith as an invincible rampart, prayer as our breastplate, and charity as our helmet.

This period really can be a battle for us, as we intensify our efforts to deny our own, individual wills. One of the battles – and weapons – of the this time is fasting. A lot of people who work with me and notice my fasting ask me, “Why do you fast? What is the point?” Usually I tell them that it is a form of training, a way to overcome the passion of hunger which presents itself and to learn to control that passion. While reading The Freedom of Morality however I’ve come across another, wonderfully explained reason:

…the instinctive need for food, the greed for the individual’s self-preservation, is transfigured in the context of the Church’s fasting: submission to the common practice of the Church becomes paramount, turning it into an act of relationship and communion. The Christian does not fast in order to subjugate matter to the spirit, nor because he accepts a division of foods int “clean” and “unclean.” he fasts because in this way he ceases to make the intake of food an autonomous act; he turns it into obedience to the common will and common practice of the Church, and subjugates   preferences to the Church rules of fasting which determine his choice of food. And obedience freely given always presupposes love: it is always an act of communion.

To all my Christian brothers and sisters who are embarking on this Lenten journey, I pray that God watches over us all, strengthens us, and I pray that we use this time to grow ever closer to him, ever more in His image.

IC | XC
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NI | KA

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Lent is a useless tradition…

Lent is a useless tradition. It is nothing more than acting like the Pharisee in the temple; standing before the crowd where everyone can see how ‘holy’ you are, and praying to God saying that you are thankful that you are not like the rest of those dirty sinners. Lent is a pointless, prideful tradition which was created by man, is not found in the Bible, and so not something we should do.

At least… this is what many Protestants and those not familiar with a liturgical Church calendar would have you think. And this might understandably be the view given the popular Roman Catholic conception of the season; eating fish on Fridays instead of meat and giving up chocolate for 40 days but giving in and then up halfway through. Now, I mean no offense to my Roman Catholic cousins, but you have to admit, the popular conception of Lent does seem a little shallow.

I once heard the Orthodox Church described as the “Marine Corp of Christianity” and I think that this is a very apt description, especially when it comes to Lent. The Orthodox Church prescribes the strictest fasting requirements of the whole year during the 40 day lenten period and while I won’t go into the specifices, the general rule is no meat, eggs, dairy, wine, or oil for the entire 40 days. But why? What is the point? What good does it do?

In order to understand the purpose if Great Lent (and I’m going to give it from an Orthodox viewpoint) you have to understand the way that the Orthodox Church sees the issue of original sin and how that differs from the Roman Catholic Church (and by extention Protestant churches)  view, and how it influences the idea of salvation.

The Western conception of original sin is that it is some blight, some stain on the soul of every human being. The Christian then must ask God to forgive her for carrying around this burden, and ask that God would remove it from her. Because of this view the Western view of Christianity tends to run very legal: When we commit a sin it is as if we broke a law that God has. Once we break this law we must approach God as if standing before a judge in a courtroom and plead our case, asking God to forgive us. If we do not ask for forgiveness then we will be punished for breaking that law.  Because of this legalistic Western worldview, Christ’s death on the cross came to be seen as an atonement for our sins. A lot of people see it like I recently read on another blog (which prompted me to write this post); that Christ’s death was a sacrifice which had to be made to God in order for God to forgive our sins, and that Christ was the only creature worthy of acting as this sacrificial lamb.

While the Eastern Church does agree that Christ’s death was a sacrificeChrist Icon on our behalf, She does not teach that it was a sacrifice of atonement in the same way as the West. Instead original sin being a stain on the soul, and us having to ask forgiveness for a sin which we did not commit, the Eastern Church teaches that when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, by disobeying the will of God they broke a certain harmony that existed between us and God. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but when we followed our own will over and above God’s, we ‘blurred’ the image, and the effect of this was that we became subject to our passionate will (it became harder to overcome the longer we gave it attention), and material corruption (i.e. aging and eventually the breakdown of the body to such a point that it is unable to sustain life and contain the soul).

When God decided to send His Pre-Existent Word to us, and by the Word became incarnate and God in a sense marrying the Divine with the material, He re-sanctified the image in us that had been corrupted by sin. He made it possible for us to once again, with His help, conquer our passionate will and realign it with His will, thus fulfilling the purpose we were created for and worshipping Him.

When Christ died on the cross his divine nature decended with his human nature into the land of the dead. Being He-Who-Cannot-Be-Contained, the land of the dead could not hold Him and its fatalistic hold over humanity was broken; it is no longer a necessary consequence of life that we die and go, all of us, sinner and saint, to a land of seperation from God. To prove that he had destroyed death, Christ came back to life.

What does this have to do with Great Lent? Everything! Great Lent is a 40 day period of purification, reflection, and anticipation. It is intimately married with the Holy Day of Pascha (Easter), and infact Pascha is the entire reason for Great Lent. During this 40 day period preceeding the celebration of Christ’s ressurection we work to, even though we know we will never be to fully, make ourselves worthy of this glorious ‘second chance’ that God has given us. We practice the ascetic practices as a way of training ourselves to sublimate our will when it does not conform to God’s. We study the scriptures with an enhanced fervor, we attend church more often, we struggle to keep God before us in heart and mind constantly. We reflect on what God has done for us and we praise Him for his long-suffering and patience when dealing with us. We strive to set our selves on a path that will take full advantage of this opportunity which God gives to everyone.

Lent is is a holiday in the fullest sense of the word as being a holy time, set apart from normal life for a specific purpose. It’s when we change our lives, instead of changing things to suit our lives. It is a time when we change our mode of thinking and remember that we are Christians, that we are not of this world, and that we have an opportunity that, sadly, the proud or ignorant might never take advantage of, and opportunity with eternal ramifications.

And perhaps most importantly, it is a time of eager anticipation when we await the glorious celebration of our victory over death and sin, and when we welcome (liturgically) Christ back to the world.

It might be a time of sorrow for our offenses, but it is a joyful sorrow; the sorrow of a Bride who is seperated from her Bridegroom, though she knows the reason is so that she can get ready for the wedding.


Return to me…with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offereings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridgroom quit his room, and the brider her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, and say “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say amon the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

With that, one of the daily readings for today as specified by the Chruch calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her faithful to begin preparing for Great Lent. This is a 40 day period of purification and prepation for the faithful as we eagerly await Pascha–the celebration of Christ’s ressurection from the dead, the single most important moment in all of Christianity and without which the entire religion would not exist.

This 40 day period is also the strictest when it comes the Church’s proscribed fasting rule.  Officially from the morning of the firstday of Great Lent, a Monday, until evening three days later on Wednesday, no food is eaten. After that for the remaining time we do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, oil, or anything with those ingredients in them or are animal byproducts, with the exception being Saturdays and Sundays when wine and oil are permitted.

This more than the just “I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent” mentality that seems so pervasive. This is mortifying our bodies in an effort to overcome our own passionate will and to recognize that we rely on our God to provide for us and ensure our continued existence.

The Church Fathers have recognized for two millenium the value of hunger when fighting against the passions.  The Desert Father Abba Evagnus has said:

Lust is extinguished by hunger.

The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

The passions are exiterminated by sorrow and suffereing, either voluntary or sent by Providence.

And these are just two of many examples.

Great Lent begins on March 2nd according to the New Calendar this year. For all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, both here and worldwide, I humbly pray to God that this Lenten season will be edifying and profitable to you all. Let us struggle together to carry the weight of a self-inflicted cross, to fight against our passionate wills, and reflect upon what it is that our Great and Glorious King and God has done for us: He has set us from the snares of everlasting death and has corrected the Ancient Error so that we might have the means and the opportunity to recapture the Divine Image and Likeness and live in love in His presence.

To my Roman Catholic cousins who begin their Lenten period today, I pray that you will humble your hearts before God during this period, that you might treat it as not ‘Ordinary Time,’ but as extra-ordinary, other-worldly, sanctified time. Treat it as such, change your life to conform to this holy period and I am sure that it will be beneficial  to your souls as well.

Lastly, for the Protestants who do not follow a liturgical Church calendar, I pray that you might find your way back to this ancient observance and set it apart as a time of repentance and anticipation as well.

We are preparing for the second and more glorious Advent of Christ our God, greater than even Christmas. The only event that will ever be more important than this one to Christians will the third one! May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA