Word Magazine February 1994 Page 19-20
KEEPING LENT AT HOME
By Nadia Koblosh
A Parent’s Reflection
“MY CHIEF RESPONSIBILITY WITH MY CHILDREN IS TO CULTIVATE IN THEM A
DISCRIMINATING ATTITUDE ABOUT WHAT THEY HEAR SO THAT THEY WILL BE ABLE TO DISCERN — FOR THEMSELVES —
WHAT IS GOOD, AND WHAT IS EVIL, AND TO DESIRE THE GOOD, FOR HERE IS TRUE FULFILLMENT AND TRUE FREEDOM.”
When asked to write an article about what we do in our family to prepare for Pascha, my initial reaction was to decline for I felt vaguely uncomfortable writing on such a subject. It is my feeling that Lent is, by definition, more a time of doing than of talking.
But on second thought, I decided to go ahead. I think that there are legitimate questions and
problems all Orthodox parents have who sincerely desire to keep Lent and instruct their children in its meaning. And this includes priestly families as well as lay, for there is no special Lent for rectories as opposed to “normal” families! I think that these common questions naturally call for a common discussion and sharing and it is in that vein that I share my thoughts.
First is the whole reality of Lent as such. I think it is very important to approach Lent not as some period of “religious intensity” as opposed to some other period that is not so “religious.” In a real sense, the whole Christian life at all times is naturally “Lenten” because the whole Christian life is a preparation for death, resurrection and judgment. In a way, all Christians are monks and pilgrims. Lent only serves to focus and intensify this basic element of Christian life. I think that if we really experience Lent in all its beauty and power, its spirit always remains in us — even sitting on a beach during a July vacation! This is one goal our family strives for and what we try to cultivate in our children.
Another goal concerning Lent is to teach it, not so much as a “religious” exercise, but as being a time in which we are given the opportunity to concentrate on what is really real and what is really human. “Orthodoxy,” I once heard one speaker say, “is not a ‘religion,’ but the Truth.” And I think the same idea is true with Lent: Lent is a time to concentrate on life, on being human. Thus my struggle — with myself and my children — is to keep Lent from degenerating into something silly and petty — such as simply giving up candy or movies. The struggle is to cultivate and understand the revelation that there is something deeply wrong and sad about human life; that there is evil in the world and that this evil, subtle as it is, often enters into our hearts and minds; that we sin and are disobedient to God and really lack the emptiness of self and humility before God that is the very foundation of Christian life. To love God, to just learn to love Him and understand and rejoice in His Word; to stand before Him with humility — like the Publican in the Temple; to be tenderhearted and sensitive toward others and their sufferings; to understand that life is meaningless without Christ: this, I think, is part of the essence of Lent and what I strive to instill in my children.
Together with this, Lent is a perfect time to impress on children a certain critical attitude toward life and cultural values. The whole spirit of Lent is opposed to the steady diet of hedonism, sexual ambiguity and self-love that is continuously dished out to us via TV, the schools. and so on. Lent is the opportune time to teach children to think for themselves and to understand that — all claims and promises to the contrary — unhappiness. disillusion, and sadness are inherent in a “fallen” state and nothing is going to solve that except Christ and the resurrection. My chief responsibility with my children is to cultivate in them a discriminating attitude about what they hear so that they will be able to discern — for themselves — what is good, and what is evil, and to desire the good, for here is true fulfillment and true freedom.
THE PRIORITY OF WORSHIP
These are what I consider to be some of the goals of Lent and I would like my children to understand and experience it. But we know that Lent is not just a set of theoretical goals; it is also the discipline necessary to achieve them. Highest of all these disciplines is Lenten worship. Here, I do not allow compromise by letting any other activity take precedence. In my own family as a child, we were told by my mother not to plan anything for the first week of Lent, or Holy Week or on the nights when there were Lenten services. That’s simply the way it was, and that is the way it is with us. No school activities, sports — or protestations over the same — are allowed to take priority. The special lenten melodies, the lenten texts and quiet somberness of lenten worship, the long periods of fasting for evening communion, the prostrations: these things, I think, are so very essential for a child to experience if Lent is to have any lasting meaning at all. I really feel that Orthodox parents are not fulfilling their duties by being lenient or lazily giving in to the inevitable complaining and protests that there is “church again.”
A real problem of Lenten Worship and its relation to children is the lack of participation in
church services often experienced in some of our parishes. Children are very quick to point out who is, and is not, in church! In trying to salvage something positive from such a discouraging reality, I usually use the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee: the Pharisee was religious, but he judged others: the Publican was repentant and he was not concerned with who was — or was not — in the Temple. Nonetheless since my own childhood memory of lenten services is a packed church, I am not too sure that I have reconciled myself to a disturbing lack of zeal among many of our people; but that remains just another part of the lenten effort. It is because we are not perfect, but weak and sinful, that we have Lent to begin with!
Besides church services, the other priority is fasting. First of all, this includes fasting from TV. On certain days such as the first days of Lent, Holy Week, afternoons before Liturgy, there is no TV. I am not of the opinion, however, that TV may not be watched at all during Lent. But I think a restricted and discriminating use of it is necessary to achieve a certain quiet in the house that is so very much a part of the lenten atmosphere. More reading, some quiet games, and just spending time alone is more encouraged during Lent. And of course, loud types of entertainments, such as dancing and so forth, are prohibited.
Secondly, fasting includes the diet. Here, different members of the family may abstain on different levels of “strictness.” While no meat is served during Lent, the children generally eat dairy products. They are encouraged to abstain more “strictly,” according to their ability, for limited periods of time; it seems that there is always a lot of discussion about food during Lent. But to me, spending large sums of money on seafood or hours cooking some involved and complicated meatless-dairyless recipe, defeats the whole purpose of lenten eating. The rules of the Church are clear. They require only a common-sense application. All in all, our goal is to teach fasting and abstinence not as ends in themselves, but as self-evident parts of Christian life.
READING AND PRAYER
Finally, Lent is also a time in which more reading from the Scriptures and other appropriate books is done. The OCEC materials on Lent are very good as are various editions of illustrated children’s bibles: the story of Moses, the Passover, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ are all part of lenten reading. Incorporating into daily prayers the special prayers of Lent — the prayer of St. Ephraim, prostrations, the hymn of Mid-Lent at Cross Veneration — are also part of Lent. But, here again, the discipline of Lent must be tempered by discernment of what children can bear if Lent is not to become an unbearable yoke that children will flee from as they get older. As with everything else in the Church, the bottom line is probably that children will absorb the meaning of Lent only to the extent that Lent is meaningful, natural and powerful in the hearts and lives of their parents.