Dear Parish Faithful,
I still stick by my contention that a "good beginning" for Great Lent will give us the "momentum" and resolve for a "good ending" to Great Lent. And this good beginning is not simply based on our well-planned lenten menus and recipes. I would like to here concentrate on the liturgical services unique to Great Lent. Our participation in these services may just pose a greater challenge than fasting from certain foods and drink. And that challenge is again probably the result of our "busy schedules" which almost seem immutable and unchangeable in their demands on our time and energy. This is an old problem and one that will not disappear any time in the near future. This is a component of life that is here to stay. And it certainly challenges our role as "stewards" of our time. Our schedules control us far more than we control them. The "world" is decidedly indifferent to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church! But is it really "impossible" to make some adjustments and expend some effort for the sake of our spiritual lives that are nourished in the Church and nowhere else?
I will again turn to Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent in order to share some of his thoughts on this interminable challenge to perhaps find some guidance on what to do:
No one, as we have already said, can attend the entire cycle of Lenten worship. Everyone can attend some of it. There is simply no excuse for not making Lent first
of all the time for an increased attendance of and participation in the liturgy of the Church. Here again, personal conditions, individual possibilities and impossibilities
can vary and result in different decisions, but there must be a decision, there must be an effort, and there must be a "follow up." From the liturgical point of view, we
may suggest the following "minimum" aimed not at the spiritually self-destructive sense of having fulfilled an obligation, but at receiving at least the essential in the
liturgical spirit of Lent:
In the first place, a special effort must be made on the parish level for a proper celebration of the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers.... It must become one of the great
"parish affairs" of the year and, as such, well prepared.... For, once more, nothing better than this service reveals the meaning of Lent as the crisis of repentance,
reconciliation, as embarking together on a common journey...
The next "priority" must be given to the first week of Lent. A special effort must be made to attend at least once or twice the Great Canon of St. Andrew. As we
have seen, the liturgical function of these first days is to take us into the spiritual "mood" of Lent which we described as "bright sadness."
Then, throughout the entire Lent, it is imperative that we give at least one evening to attend the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with the spiritual experience it
implies - that of total fasting, that of transformation of at least one day into a real expectation of judgment and joy. No reference to conditions of life, lack of
time, etc. are acceptable at this point, for if we do only that which easily "fits" into the conditions of our lives, the very notion of Lenten effort becomes absolutely
meaningless. Not only in the 20th (and 21st!) century, but in fact since Adam and Eve, "this world" was always an obstacle to the fulfillment of God's demands.
There is, therefore, nothing new or special about our modern "way of life." Ultimately it all depends again on whether or not we take our religion seriously, and
if we do, eight to ten additional evenings a year at church are truly a minimal effort...
To repeat what Fr. Alexander wrote (emphasis added): "There is simply no excuse for not making Lent first of all the time for an increased attendance of and participation in the liturgy of the Church." Excuse the cliché, but if "there is a will, there is a way." Strong desire can assist us in overcoming certain obstacles. If we cannot do the "impossible," then we may have to strain ourselves a bit to do the "possible." I fully agree with Fr. Alexander's guidelines as expressed above as something to aim for as a family or as an individual. Great Lent demands some effort. And that is a basic precept of the Gospel.