Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
We have completed the forty days which profit our souls.
Now let us beg the lover of man; enable us to see the Holy Week
of Thy Passion,
That we may glorify Thy mighty work,
Thy wonderful plan for our salvation,
Singing with one heart and voice,
O Lord, glory to Thee!
(Great Vespers of Lazarus Saturday)
Today is the fortieth and final day of Great Lent. We are now preparing for the twin feasts of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. The Church exults in proclaiming Christ the “Vanquisher of Death” and He that comes “in the Name of the Lord,” as a prelude to the sobriety and solemnity of Holy Week.
I am trying something a bit different today: I am simply re-sending the meditation I wrote on the first day of Great Lent, March 7. I can understand those who may not feel the need or have the desire of re-reading it. However, I thought that perhaps it could serve the purpose of allowing us to assess or evaluate the past forty days and the goals that we set ourselves for this Lenten season. As I wrote and asked forty days ago: Will we persevere or will we … wimp out?! And, as I wrote just last week, I believe: Have we finished with a “kick” or are we limping over the finish line? Of course, such assessments and evaluations can be spiritually dangerous: a “good Lent” can lead to self-righteousness or pride. But I trust that if that is happily the case, everyone has enough humility and maturity not to indulge in such foolish fantasies; rather any Orthodox Christian will thank God for His gracious presence in accompanying us through the course of the Fast.
Yet, regardless of how we assess the last forty days, we are now preparing to “go up to Jerusalem” and to accompany our Lord to the Cross and then stand in awe by the empty tomb. There is nothing quite like Holy Week, and it demands as much attention and focus as we are capable of giving it. If the Cross and Resurrection together reveal the love of God at its most intense; if, finally, what we claim through our worship and faith is actually true then it can be no other way. The liturgical services will take us on that journey. Even when we are not able to be present, it is not because “worldly pursuits” have enticed us away. May our homes truly become “little churches” during the course of Holy Week.
For whatever it is worth, here is the meditation from forty days ago:
Dear Parish Faithful,
Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life. (Matins of Monday in the First Week of the Fast).
I would like to wish one and all a blessed Lenten journey as we embark on the course of the fast on this “Clean Monday,” the first day of Great Lent. We are well aware of the challenges ahead of us, but these challenges and our resolve to meet them with humility, but also with firmness of faith, only reinforces how essential it is to live according to the Orthodox Way as the surest preparation for the paschal mystery. We have two basic choices to make: to respond with perseverance as we “gird our loins” to cross over the desert of the fast en route to the “Land of the Living” where we encounter the Risen Lord; or … we can wimp out! I trust that only the former choice is uppermost in your minds and hearts.
We are given the tools of the ascetical life by Christ Himself: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. At our most basic biological level we need to eat and drink to sustain our lives. Yet our passions transform that need into its opposite: to live in order to eat. As Christ teaches us: “Man does not live by bread alone.” That is the truth we would like to “taste” as we are tested by fasting.
In addition, we have the following tools to strengthen us in our Lenten efforts:
+ the many liturgical services unique to Great Lent;
+ the reading of the Scriptures;
+ faithfulness in prayer;
+ the confession of our sins in the Mystery of Repentance;
+ the love of our neighbor through almsgiving.
As I said yesterday in the homily: come up with a “domestic strategy” which allows you to integrate the season of Great Lent into your lives; rather than reduce it to some symbolic gestures. Be balanced, but be serious.
I hope to see many of you this evening as we chant the first part of the compunctionate Canon of Repentance by St. Andrew of Crete.