The Holy Season of Great Lent has always been for Orthodox Christians a time of self-denial, a period of self-examination, a period for preparation to enter the Holy Passion and Resurrection of our Saviour. But in recent years, we have seen a sad attitude take over what was once an attitude of joyful expectation and anticipation. Instead self-denial there is now a denial of Lent. Instead of a period of preparation to enter the Holy Passion of Christ, we find the attitude that “I don’t need any preparation, I am a good person.”
We should never forget that when we entered the saving waters of Baptism we were joined to Christ, we committed to Him. Having committed ourselves to Christ our Saviour, we are bound to live in Christ according to His commandment of love. There is no recess, no spring break, no summer holiday from this life in Christ, yet there are certain times of the year when we are assisted by the Church to attain a deeper experience of our Saviour and His mission. The best way to attain virtue in the life of Christ is by living the life of prayer, fasting and repentance.
During Lent we ought to respond more willingly to the invitation of Christ, “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” This invitation is not to a marathon. Nor is it an invitation to share with others how much progress we have made. Rather it is an invitation to humility (“let him deny himself”) it is an invitation to become more Christ like (“If any man will follow me”) it is an invitation to make sacrifices (“take up his cross, and follow Me.”)
We as Orthodox Christians are bound to fast during this period. In fact The Fast of Great Lent is obligatory not voluntary. As St. John Chrysostom says, “fasting will pass when Lent is over but the virtues gained during Lent remain ever after.” And again: “The value of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in a relinquishment of sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is he who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works. If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him! If thou seest a friend enjoying honour, envy him not! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from destruction and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the forbidden spectacles. Let the eyes fast, by being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon a handsome countenance. For looking is the food of the eyes; but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast, and overturns the whole safety of the soul: but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be an instance of the highest absurdity to abstain from meats and from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to feed even on what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon licentiousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear is not to receive evil-speaking and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive an idle report,” it says. Let the mouth, too, fast, from foul words and railing. For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes, and yet bite and devour our brethren?”
“Repent!” was the first word which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ said when He began to preach. (Matt. 4:17). The season of Great Lent is the time of repentance. This is the season of our reconciliation with God. One important aspect of repentance is the change it brings about in our hearts and minds. This is often best reflected in our concern for the needs of others. That is why Great Lent is also a time of increased almsgiving. If we truly repent of our sinfulness, then that repentance, that change of heart and mind will be reflected in how we respond to the opportunities to do what we can for those who are in need. This was the message of Meat Fare Sunday with its Gospel from Matthew explaining how we will stand before the Throne of God and give an account of our lives. Will we be able to say that we fed, clothed, nursed and housed Christ? Likewise, the ongoing problems that the world continues to experience in the form of bad harvests, equally bad weather and worst of all bad politics raises the importance of almsgiving to a level of importance we have never needed to face before. One is reminded of the words of Christ, “The poor you will have always with you.” Consequently, we must never turn away from our responsibility to those who are in need.
In the daily rush of our life, we don’t have time to think about our faith. We take for granted that we must pray and practice our faith every day. Yet, there must be a reason why the Church has set aside seven weeks as a special time for repentance, a time when it calls each Christian to put forth a special spiritual effort for prayer and repentance. Obviously this must concern you, your life, your faith, your mem-
bership in the Church, your participation and experience in the Body of Christ. You must try to understand and follow the teachings of the Church, for you cannot be a Christian in name only, but must practice the message of Christ in your personal life, through prayer, through fasting, through almsgiving and through repentance
Great Lent gives us the opportunity to learn about prayer and repentance. Great Lent is the school of repentance and prayer and every Christians must participate every year in order to refresh within himself the understanding and experience of his faith. Good schools always make sure that their students have homework. And for us Orthodox Christians our homework is to humbly and joyfully accept the challenge of Great Lent. It is indeed a wonderful pilgrimage to the very source of Christianity and to the rediscovery of the true Christian way of life. Let us then sincerely strive to make this Lenten season meaningful, rich, and full of profound experience of the Truth, that is, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
May Christ guide you and give you strength during this season of Great Lent and may He bestow upon you His grace and love that you may attain perfection in His eternal presence.