Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being Guarded 'In The Fast'

Dear Parish Faithful,

Today is the Wednesday of the Second Week of Great Lent.  The appointed hymnography for the day gives us a great deal to reflect and meditate upon:

Stretched out and slain upon the Cross, O Christ, You have slain the serpent, our enemy, the source of evil.
You have restored to life those who were killed by his bite.  Therefore I entreat You, O Savior:  give life to my deadened soul, for to You I turn in prayer and fasting!
(Matins - Sessional Hymn after the Second Reading from the Psalter)
As we pass through the solemn time of abstinence, let us blow the trumpet and loudly cry:  Through the Fast, life has blossomed in the world, and the death that comes from self-indulgence is destroyed.  By the power of Your Cross, O Christ the Word, guard Your servants in the Fast!
(Matins - Sessional Hymn after the Third Reading from the Psalter)

According to our weekly liturgical cycle, every Wednesday is dedicated to the commemoration of the "life-giving Cross" (which is why Wednesdays are fast days throughout the year).  This, of course, continues throughout Great Lent, but perhaps with an even greater focus because our Lenten journey will ultimately place us at the foot of the Cross.  The "serpent, our enemy, the source of evil" is finally defeated upon the Cross, fulfilling the protoevangelion (first proclamation of the Gospel) rather enigmatically announced in Genesis, when God solemnly curses the serpent with these words:

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal."  (GEN. 3:15)  

The "seed" of the serpent/Satan are his spiritual offspring who continue to bring evil into the  world.  The "seed" of the woman is that messianic line which culminates in the Savior. The serpent will "bruise" his heel - the suffering on the Cross - while the woman's offspring will "bruise" (the word can actually mean "crush") the serpent when, through the Cross and Resurrection, Christ destroys any real power of Satan ("You have slain the serpent"). This is the cosmic battle between Good and Evil that takes place upon the Cross and the victory belongs to "Christ the Word!"  We read the Book of Genesis during Great Lent, and we also read the Epistle to the Hebrews at the Saturday and Sunday liturgies.  The fulfillment of the protoevangelion is powerfully expressed in chapter two of that epistle:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.  (HEB. 2:14)

We enter into the victory of Christ over the Evil One through our Baptism into Christ; and we renew that victory with our annual commemoration of the Paschal mystery.  And yet, that annual commemoration/actualization only has meaning if our own lives are centered upon Christ through "prayer and fasting."  Overcoming "self-indulgence" is a key component of Great Lent, without which we remain subjected to the passions and the "death" that is the only outcome of serving the passions of self-indulgence.  So we "guard" ourselves from such a horrible fate "in the Fast!"

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