PROPER OF THE SEASON
GREAT AND SACRED LENT
The Holy and great Lent-Tη Αγία καί Μεγάλη Τεσσαρακοστή-which is also called the Great Fast, because the Church expects of us to fast, principally from food. This is the external or social aspect, that is, as individuals belonging to the Society of the Church, we should all participate in that control of our bodies. However, that bodily control is geared to create a social environment for the individual, the Christian person, to enter into a fast from sin. To fast from sin is one of the most important conditions for being, or becoming, a Christian: “If any one wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). To sin is to do our will and not the will of God.
To do our will is always pleasurable (some people would argue about this, but we are not going to enter into a philosophical discussion, at least for the moment). It is pleasurable because it is a release of desire, of lust. (Although the common use of the term ‘lust’ has been associated with sexual pleasure, this is not its etymological meaning which is that of a passionate desire for something; the same should be said of the meaning of έρως, desire or love, that is a passionate want for the exceptional greatness of the thing known, and so ερέωμαι, to learn by enquiry, a very different meaning to that of erotica on our Internet!!!) However, the sense of passion in the person shows us the effort of will required to deny, or renounce, the release of its tension. This denial, or renunciation, requires a struggle with oneself, within one Εγω, in the heart. There rises a conflict of knowledge within the heart of the person, between the passionate knowledge of our gut and the knowledge of the will of God, that is, the commandments of our God.
One of the hardest things for Christian men and women of our day is fasting from food. It is so hard that the Roman Catholic Church now has dispensed of it altogether.
However, the fast the Church asks for is more than food. Food is the first step to introduce us to an attitude of feeling different. If we fast when we are hungry, or have to say NO to a dish of smelling roast, to be contented with boiled potatoes only, it will be in us a different sense of attitude: we have to say NO to ourselves. It has required a conscious act of choice on our part to be obedient to the Church.”
Thus when we fast in Lent it is done not because we need to diet, not because it is healthy or is going to help us to have better figure, etc., but because we submit our judgement to the Church, which has the Holy Tradition of the Apostles for us, to mortify our bodies, in memory of the sufferings of Christ, in practising of our wills to say NO to ourselves like athletes of the Kingdom of God. This hunger we experience will help our hearts to become quiet and, even silent, and they will rise in prayer to God asking strength to persevere in His service.
Let us fast, also, of noise, of entertainment, of being curious in the affairs of our neighbour, even, of our relatives. Let us walk on the street with our eyes down, not to be occupied in the advertisements but with the memory of God, who is present in our hearts and wants to rest in them. Let us bring to our memories the offence we have given to God. Let us acquire compunction of soul through the stench of corruption in which we live surrounded in the world. Therefore, let us fear the torments that we, and the majority of men, may fall by the Judgement of Christ (Mt. 25:31-46).
Sin is a tempest that drags us into the depths of despair. This is not new, through the centuries the Saints have written about it: “I alone have become a slave to sin; I alone have opened the door of the passions; I am wounded by the passions”(Canticle One, first Canon, Orthros, Monday of the first Week). As a psychological consequence of the state of sin, trying to flee the oppression of guilt, the person listens the voice of the evil one giving justification for the sin and, slowly, grows immune to the pangs of the conscience.
For this reason the Church, following the example of Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, where He himself was tempted, has instituted the Great Lent. Fasting of food is the physical environment for us to immerse ourselves in much greater enterprises: learning and praying.
LEARNING: This happens with the daily readings. PRAYING: attending the Church services, specially the Liturgy of the Presanctified, the Akathistos on Fridays, and many others, but also our private prayer in the solitude and silence of our private rooms.
During Great Lent the Church introduces the reading of the Old Testament: The Psalms, Genesis, Proverbs and Isaiah, during the first to the fifth week, and Exodus, Job and Ezekiel during Passion Week. In Church we hear the Deacon and Priest calling us to attention through the year: Wisdom-Σοφια! Now in Lent we learn the meaning of this wonderful word:
“…for learning what wisdom and discipline are, for understanding words of deep meaning, for acquiring a disciplined insight, uprightness, justice and fair dealing; for teaching sound judgement to the simple, and knowledge and reflection to the young; …the fear of the Lord [The One Who Is] is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:1-7).
The Holy Mother Church is all the time insisting that we learn, therefore she now presents us with the source of the Wisdom of Christ, who came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets. If we wish to be followers of Christ we have to learn in the Old Testament the iotas of the wisdom and instruction of the Lord to succeed in the road of Salvation, which is arduous, narrow and hard:
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord prepare yourself for an ordeal” (Ecclesiasticus 2:1).
In the Law of the Old Israel, The Torah-much better translated as The Teaching-we learn how to conduct ourselves in this temporal life. Therefore we learn history in Genesis and Exodus; in the Psalms we learn to pray; in Isaiah and Ezekiel we learn to listen to God; and in Proverbs and Job to know ourselves.
Let us finish reading from the beginning of the book Ecclesiaticus:
All wisdom comes from the Lord [The One Who is-Ο ΩΝ] she is with Him forever. The sands of the sea, the drops of rain, the days of eternity-who can count them? …Wisdom was created before everything; prudent understanding subsists from remotest ages. …The fullness of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
“The whole creation was changed by fear, when it saw Thee, O Christ, hanging on the cross. The sun was darkened and the foundations of the earth were shaken; all things suffered with the Creator of all. O Thine own will Thou hast endured this for our sakes: O Lord, glory to Thee, glory to Thee! (first stichera of Vespers on Holy and Great Friday).
My brethren and readers forgive me and remember me in your prayers,
© Fr. Kyrillos
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