Today the Church begins the season of Great Lent. For the past few weeks we have been preparing for this time of the year and now it is upon us. What are you going to do during this season to make it different than any other time of the year?
Our life is supposed to be different during this time of year. We should not be going out to eat or to parties nor should we be going to see movies. This is a penitential time of the year and we “do not feast when we fast.”
Here are some suggestions of things that you can do to make this Great Lent special.
This time of year makes it easy to be a bit more prayerful. The services of the Church lend themselves to the spirit of prayerfulness more this time of year than any other. There are several opportunities for your consideration.
Great Vespers with Compline – Each Saturday night during Great Lent the service of Vespers will be offered. Although this service is offered each Saturday during the Great Lent it takes on a penitential tone and the night time service of Compline is added to the end. The service begins with the church in darkness and moves to fully lite as we sing, “O Joyful Light.” This reminds of us of our journey from the darkness of sin into the light that Christ brings with His Resurrection. The service begins at 6:00 pm
The Presanctified Liturgy – As in years past we will alternate this Wednesday evening service with our friends at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church. Starting at 6:30 pm the service is a kin to Vespers with the addition of the reception of Holy Communion from the Presanctified gifts. In my estimation this is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the Orthodox Church and is the oldest known liturgy.
Daily Prayer – Each day at 6:30 am in the Monastery Chapel the Midnight Service will be prayed and at 8:00 am the Canonical hours will be prayed. Each evening at 5:15 pm Vespers will be served. These services help us to focus throughout the day on our prayer life. If you are able try to attend as many services as possible.
During the period of Great Lent the Church reads from the Book of Genesis, the Prophet Isaiah, and the Book of Proverbs. Genesis reminds us of the creation of the world and the perfect state that we humans were created to live in. The Book of Proverbs is the moral code that the Church built her life around and the Prophet Isaiah informs us of the coming of the Christ that we will welcome on Pascha.
The daily email will contain the readings for the day and if you do not have access to email they will be include in the weekly bulletin. Take the few minutes each day to read the Scriptures that the Church has appointed for these days. Reading Scripture should be a part of everyday but it is essential during Lent.
The Church directs that these days we abstain from all meat and dairy products and we also fast. Fasting means that we do not over eat and we remain hungry. We spend more time talking about food during Great Lent than anything. Fasting and Abstinence is an important spiritual discipline that needs to be a part of our everyday spiritual life but it is a very large part of our Lenten journey. However we should not be so concerned with the letter of the law that we miss the spirit of the law. Strict fasting, no meat products which includes fish, no dairy products, which include eggs, no oil, or wine during this period of time. With that said one needs to start slowly and move towards a more stricter fast. If you presently keep the Wednesday and Friday fast during the year, add another day of the week. If you do not keep the regular fast then start with Wednesday and Friday. Start with a goal that you will be able to meet. The strict fast is the goal that one day we can aim for but if you have never done this before it is not easy and should be entered into slowly. If there are medical reasons for not fasting or abstaining then speak with your physician prior to starting any program. I am always available to answer questions.
One way to truly live the spirit of Great Lent is through almsgiving. The Orthodox Church has a long standing tradition of Philanthropy and almsgiving is part of it. Through the support of the poor and the needy we live of the Gospel command to love your neighbor. Here are a few suggestions: Bring a non-perishable item to church. Starting this week a box will be placed in the entrance of the Church for you to place these items in. These items will be placed on the table in the hall for use during our community meal. Volunteering at the Community Meal. If you have spare time you can practice almsgiving by giving of your time on the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Thursday of the Month at the Community Meal. We gather in the hall around 3:00 pm to set up the hall and serve until 6:30 pm. The clean-up is done and we are gone by 7:30 pm. Come for all or part of it. Almsgiving also includes money. If you fast from a meal take the money you would save and give it to the poor and needy. All of these are examples of almsgiving and should be a part of our Lenten journey.
Confession needs to be a part of our Lenten Journey. Confession is vital to the life of an Orthodox Christian. If it has been some time since you have been to confession make this the year you return. Don’t wait until the last minute; confession will be available after Vespers on Saturday night as well as after all of the Service of Holy Week up to Holy Friday. Make every effort to make a good confession during this time of the year.
The Spirit of Great Lent
It is important for us to remember that we need to focus on the spirit of Great Lent and not just the legality of Great Lent. We can get lost in the details of what we are eating and what we are not supposed to eat and that defeats the entire purpose. As I have mentioned before, if you finish Lent the same way you started it did not work. Focus on the spirituality of Great Lent this year and all of the other things will work themselves out.
As part of our Lenten prayers we should try to pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim once a day. Take a few moments each day to say this short prayer.
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen
Please know that I will continue to pray for all of your during this Holy season of the Church.