Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
In just a few hours, Great Lent will be over for this Year of the Lord 2016. We are on the eve of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. We will celebrate both of these great Feast Days over the course of the next two days.
Then, of course, Holy Week will begin with the Bridegroom Matins on Sunday evening. Fr. Sergius Bulgakov once described Holy Week as a "mystic torrent" that carries us along toward the paschal mystery of the Lord's death and resurrection.
Everything around us in our lives is "real" - sometimes "all too real" - but in my mind what occurs in the church during the Holy Week services is somehow "more real." Or, at least as revealing the ultimate realities of life if Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God; and if His death is the death of God on our behalf and for our salvation. Everyone must make their choices as to what extent they are willing or able to participate in this ultimate Reality.
At the same time, with a glance back at the last forty days, we may want to make an assessment of our "lenten efforts." Did I "redeem the time;" or did it slip away despite my intentions and actions?
As one way of making such an assessment, I am re-sending a text that I sent out on the first day or so of Great Lent. St. Theodore really gets to the deeper meaning of Great Lent, far beyond my eating or viewing habits (yet not to be shrugged at, considering our level of dependence in this area). So, here is what I wrote and shared about forty days ago (and let's hope that we don't have to wince too much in reading this again!):
I would also like to include a short, but truly excellent exhortation from St. Theodore the Studite (+826). Although a rather severe ascetic himself as a monastic from the Byzantine era of the Church, you will also notice his comprehensive and "holistic" approach to Great Lent as he emphasizes the lenten struggle as no less than aimed at "purity of heart," only achieved by a wide-ranging practice of the virtues.
What is this struggle? Not to walk according to one's own will. This is better than the other works of zeal and is a crown of martyrdom; except that for you there is also change of diet, multiplication of prostrations and increase in psalmody are in accord with the established tradition of old.
And so I ask, let us welcome gladly the gift of the fast, not making ourselves miserable, as we are taught, but let us advance with cheerfulness of heart, innocent, not slandering, not angry, not evil, not envying; rather peaceable toward each other, and loving, fair, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits; breathing in seasonable stillness, since hubbub is damaging in a community; speaking suitable words, since too unreasonable stillness is profitless; yet above all vigilantly keeping watch over our thoughts, not giving place to the devil.
We are lords of ourselves; let us not open our door to the devil; rather let us keep guard over our soul as a bride of Christ, unwounded by the arrows of the thoughts; for thus we are able to become a dwelling of God in Spirit. Thus we may be made worthy to hear, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Quite simply, whatever is true, whatever noble, whatever just, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if there is anything virtuous, if there is anything praiseworthy, to speak like the Apostle, do it; and the God of peace will be with you all.