Thursday, February 11, 2010

Take Lent Seriously: Make a Good Beginning

Dear Parish Faithful,

Great Lent will begin on Monday, February 15. Actually, from the liturgical perspective, it will begin once we serve what is popularly known as "Forgiveness Vespers" on Sunday following the Liturgy. At this service we change the colors of the analoy and holy table cloths, begin using the distinctive lenten chant for the first time, and together prostrate ourselves before God to the petitions of the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim. But these outward signs - important as they may be - are insignificant when compared to the inward need for mutual forgiveness, concretely expressed in the "rite of forgiveness" that takes us into the very heart of Great Lent. To exchange a kiss of peace and offer and receive forgiveness to and from each other is to extend the forgiveness of God in Christ throughout our community. Receiving and accepting the forgiveness of God, we share that same gracious experience with each other as brothers and sisters united in Christ. Every Great Lent we actualize the saving forgiveness of God when we make present the redemptive death of Christ as well as His glorious Resurrection. But, again, as we experience the "vertical" dimension of forgiveness as it comes down to us; we simultaneously experience the "horizontal" dimension of forgiveness when we extend it to each other. And when the vertical and horizontal meet, a cross is formed. We must crucify our egos, self-defensiveness, and self-righteousness when "face-to-face" with the "other."

Hopefully, you will plan your day so that it will include the Forgiveness Vespers that inaugurates Great Lent. If you have never participated in this service before, please give it serious consideration.

The First Week of Lent is very unique and it affords the possibility of a good beginning to the entire lenten journey of forty days. There is nothing quite like the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, chanted on the first four evenings of the first week. With a knowledge and use of the Bible that would make an evangelical preacher envious, St. Andrew expresses the human need for repentance in an overwhelming manner, weaving together various biblical figures - both good and bad - in order for us to understand that we belong to that same history as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. A quiet and darkened church will allow us to gather our thoughts together and concentrate on God and the salvation of our souls. How liberatating: to be in church free from cell-phones and calling, chatting, texting, twittering! To stand before the icons in reverence and not before a computer screen in an empty-minded search for more distraction! All of that superfluous talk, those meaningless messages and that "junk" filling our minds and hearts from our waking hours until bed, can be "laid aside" so that we can call to mind who and what we really are - human beings made in the image and likeness of God - and not superficial consumers. Even if you are relatively free from that madness, the Great Canon will lead you upward toward God through the realization that at times we are moving downward and away from God.

The Canon is served on four consecutive evenings. If you are not free one night, then perhaps another may be open. If you have never participated in this service, please give it serous consideration.

As Fr. Alexander Schmemann use to say: Take Lent seriously.

Fr. Steven

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