Monday, April 4, 2016

Reduce stress: Live the Liturgical Cycles

Modern life is full of stress and busyness. We have many worries and find it difficult to cope with all that comes our way. This is the modern normal. How can you break this stressful situation? The Church has a great secrete for this. It's not really a secrete but is not widely known or followed.

What I am going to tell you is something I have experienced for myself. I am well aware of the stresses of today's life having lived a life buried in the corporate world. But I chose many years ago to change my life and follow the way of Life taught by the Orthodox Church.

Aside from a solid faith in teachings of Jesus Christ and the reality of His Incarnation, worldly life as Man and God, Crucifixion and Resurrection, His Church from the early days has prescribed a way of life that provides cycles that can help us gain greater harmony. These cycles are prescribed in the Liturgical calendar of the Church. There you will find periods set aside for inner reflection and purification. There are also periods for great celebration. These all coincide with the celebration of His life.

One such cycle is the one we are currently in, Great Lent. When this period begins were are taught from Scripture about humility, mercy of God, and power of forgiveness, repentance and renewal. These lessons lead us to a rather long period of fasting. As we prepare to fast we begin with an awareness of our shortcomings in relation to the teachings of our God and develop feelings of remorse out of our love for Him that we cannot live up to the ideals He teaches us. 

In preparing for the fast the first thing we do is examine our calendar and make sure we remove all that is not necessary and eliminate any optional social activity so we can make time for being quiet, reflecting, praying and worshiping. We commit ourselves to self-sacrifice in the food we eat, restricting our diet to the most basic of foods. This is a discipline to help us gain control over our physical and psychological desires that can so easy enslave us in bad habits. This simple change in diet also helps us to think about all the virtues that require a bit of self-sacrifice. It's not easy to do this but engaging in this cycle brings us great rewards. After this five week period we are prepared for the most moving week reliving of the Passion of Christ, Holy Week.

The cycle deepens and we are prepared. This is definitely a period where we must make plans to attend ALL the services of this week. At the end is the glorious celebration of His Resurrection and the proclamation of His victory over death and our hope of eternal life, Pascha. Here the quiet period ends, even the colors in the church change to bright white and we enter into a week long period of celebration. The cycle shifts to an enjoyment of all the pleasures of food and drink and social activity with family and friends and all the goodness of this world that God has created for us to enjoy.

Such a cycle as prescribed by the church causes us to break with our normal routines and to examine the modern normal way of life that leads us to so much stress. If we engage in this cycle, we are likely to choose to make some changes for the rest of the year. Then, each year as we repeat this cycle, more improvements are made and step by step we are transformed into a new way of life that enables us to face all the realities of modern life with less stress and with Christ continually at our side. Think about how the Church in her great wisdom has given us the guidelines for including such a cycle in our life. Think about what a gift this is! It is important to examine it, and most importantly to choose to follow the guidelines. It creates a renewing experience that is for the health of our soul.

The Church also has other similar cycles during the year that also provide a break in our routine and renewal. There is the fast in preparation for the falling asleep of the Mother of God. It is shorter being only two weeks and comes at the peak of summer in August. Another which is not as strict is the preparation for the birth of Christ. The Church calls us to restrain our activities in the weeks leading up to Christmas and then to celebrate for 12 full days following. Today this cycle is missing from our lives and most of us find ourselves stressed by this over commercialized holiday period.

There are more, but what is important to think about is the wisdom the Church provides for our well being, for the health of our soul, for a life based on love and peace, for our preparation for eternal life with Christ in His kingdom.

You don't need self-help books, no TV guru to guide you, nor a yoga class to relieve stress. Simply follow what is hidden in the wisdom of the the Orthodox Church and follow it. It is that simple. It will bring you grace and you will gain strength you did not know you had access too. You will experience His presence and your life will become one that is closer to what He teaches.

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

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