Saturday, March 1, 2014

Taking Lent Seriously


Instead of making decisions to change our normal activities during Lent, many seem satisfied to continue life as in any other period. They go to church on Sunday, they don't participate in the additional Lenten services, their social life proceeds as normal, and they even ignore the fast. 

What does it mean to take Lent seriously? It means we engage in it whole heartedly as a spiritual challenge and opportunity. This means we make special plans to make an extra effort during this period. We can think of this period as a gift of God encouraging us to seek ways to perfect ourselves, to make changes in our way of life, to be renewed and deepen our spirituality. It is a period intended for Repentance and change.

We are prepared by the themes of the Sundays precede Lent: the desire of Zacchaes to repent, the humility of the Publican, the welcomed return of the Prodigal Son , of the Final Judgment we will all face, and the need and power of forgiveness. Meditate on these Gospel lessons (Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14); Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32); Judgment (Meat-fare) Sunday (Matt 25:31-46); Forgiveness (Cheese-Fare) Sunday (Matt 6:14-21). Combined, they provide the foundation for the right motivation during Lent.

Next, we find on the church calendar many additional services. If we are serious about Lent we will make plans to participate in them, increasing our time devoted to prayer. This requires a decision and extra effort. The main services are the Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesdays and the Salutations on Friday evenings.

Of course there is also fasting to go along with our additional time in prayer. Without fasting you cannot say there is Lent. To understand its importance review the story of Adam and Eve. Their transgression involved eating against God’s will. Also the first act of Christ when he began His public ministry was a 40 day fast. Food is central to life. Without it there is biological death. We tend to think of the essentials of life only in terms of nourishment, but we must lift our thoughts to consider a higher life which depends on God instead of food. In fasting we are reminding ourselves of the great truth, life is not dependent on bread alone but on God. The problem for Adam was that he ate for his own sake, to be independent of God, thinking the fruit of the tree would make him like God. Adam in disobeying Gods command to not eat of this fruit lost eternal life. Christ came to restore what had been lost. He began with a fast. It says in Scripture, "When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry" (Matt 4:2). Hunger makes us realize that we are dependent on something more than what we have in ourselves. It raises the important question, What does my life depend on? With fasting we face the temptation Christ faced during His fast. When he rejected it He said, “It is written (Deuteronomy 8:3), ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4). He restored the relationship between food, life and God. By fasting we enter into that experience Christ had and with the understanding that life is dependent on more than food. The life we seek is eternal and depends on God. When fasting we can experience food as a gift from God and realize how our life in this world and the next world are dependent on Him. It is through fasting that we can recover the realization of our spiritual nature. We denounce the temptations that come when we are hungry or not able to satisfy a desire for a certain kind of food. We develop inner strength against temptations. When combined with prayer we experience the victory of Christ over evil. We learn that our greater hunger is a hunger for God. This is why our fast in Lent is also coupled with additional prayer services. To be serious about Lent is to be serious about our salvation and our desire to be united with God. In preparing for our fast we must think about more that the "rules" of fasting. It is not enough to simply follow the "rules." The fast must be God centered. It must be viewed as something to help us discover our body as the Temple of His presence.  True fasting will lead us to temptation, discomfort, showing us our weakness and raising doubts. Lent is long enough to test our resolve, our endurance and perseverance which are all necessary to follow the path to union with Christ.

If we are serious about Lent, we also make modifications in our way of life during Lent. We brace ourselves to go against the grain of our modern materialistic and self-centered culture that ignores most religious traditions and efforts. If we are serious about Lent we will choose not to follow the norm. We will instead reduce our level of activity to make room for silence and inner reflection. We should reduce the use of TV, internet surfing, video watching and games, as well as other forms of entertainment and pastimes. This does not have to be a complete absence but a reduced one. We can watch the news and carefully select other programming that is beneficial for our soul. We want to make more time for spiritual reading, listening to spiritual talks, and prayer. We should try to create an atmosphere in our homes that encourages spiritual enrichment during this period. We want gain the experience of what is important for the true life that comes from faith and a life lived by this faith.

Let's become serious about Lent, let's attend the extra services, let's fast, let's reduce our social activities, let’s limit our time spent on Internet surfing, videos and games. Instead, lets make time for inner introspection that leads us to repentance, nurturing our soul, and deepening or relationship with God.

Thank God for this special time and do take Lent seriously.

Have a good and spiritual Lent.


Reference: Great Lent, Alexander Schmemann. 

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