From The Word Magazine,February 1980, Page 31
Homily By Father James C. Meena
“Is It Lent Again?”
As Great Lent begins, I wonder how many Orthodox Christians have been significantly impressed by the Grand Design of the Church Fathers to prepare us for this Holy Season. Anyone who has devoted himself to the reading of scriptures on a daily basis, in accordance with the recommended cycle of the Church, will have noticed that during Meat Fare-Cheese Fare, the two weeks before the beginning of Great Lent, from Monday through Friday, those Gospel Lessons are devoted to a recounting of the last days of Christ on earth. Now one would think that the Fathers would reserve that for the latter part of Lent, but they have particularly designed this pattern so that, as we begin this journey through Lent, we might be reminded beforehand that the purpose of this journey is that we might re-experience the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord with a greater depth of understanding in order that we might better appreciate the impact and the full meaning of His Resurrection which is the apex of all of these spiritual exercises we apply throughout the year.
During these two weeks before we begin our Lenten Sojourn, the daily Gospels recount for us Christ’s last contact with His Disciples, His prayer in the garden, His betrayal by Judas, His surrender to the Sanhedren, His trial, His scourging, His mocking, His crucifixion, His death and burial, and it stops there. It’s as though the Fathers are leading us right up to the door of the tomb, indicating that this is where our journey begins as we commence the Season of Holy Fast. The journey does not end here just as the mission of Christ does not end here. Rather it goes beyond the empty tomb into eternity.
The reading of the daily scriptures would also impress upon us (on Cheese Fare Saturday, St. Matt. 6:1-13), that one of the significant disciplines of the Great Fast is one that we have overlooked for many years. While we think that this is a time we give up certain things and abstain from certain foods, in reality there are four major components to the Great Fast. One of them is abstaining from certain foods (of course), the other one is prayer, both private and corporate prayer . . . prayer at home and in our daily lives and prayer with the community, the Family of God. The third component of the Great Fast is the giving of Alms, and had you read that Gospel Lesson you would have understood that Alms-Giving is one of the essential parts of our Christian lives . . . being concerned for the welfare of those less fortunate than we.
It is for this reason that in our Antiochian Archdiocese, we have re-introduced the use of the Alms Box, both in the Church and in the household, urging you during Lent to put a box somewhere in the house in some conspicuous place, so that every day, members of the family will remember the poor, will pray for them and put something in the Alms Box in their behalf, then to bring your Alms to the Church and offer them in the Alms Box of the Parish anonymously, so that our Alms are given in secret, for God who sees in secret rewards openly. I urge you to think on these things.
Finally, the last and truly urgent message before the beginning of Great Lent is the message of Cheese Fare, that one of the essentials of our life of prayer and devotion is forgiveness . . . not merely seeking to be forgiven but to forgive. . . to search the depths of our lives and to root out of the darkest recesses thereof the memory of all those who have given us offense and to sincerely forgive them, and in turn to seek forgiveness for our sins as well. It is not because there is only one day of the year when our sins are forgiven but on this day, God is saying to us, as we enter into this cleansing experience of the Great Fast, leave behind all the corruption of grudge-bearing, of hatred, of spite, of lowness, of meanness, and forgive those who have offended you.
As we begin this journey through the Great Fast, we must be aware of how important it is that we give thanks. We ask “Is it Lent again?” We should say rather, ‘Thank God it is Lent again, that I have lived to see the beginning of another Great Fast; that He has given me once again a chance to redeem myself, to improve myself, to continue to grow spiritually. Let us be thankful that once again we stand at the threshold of this glorious experience, and let us pray that when we come out the other end we shall be better than we were when we started this great journey through Lent.