This year, Great Lent for Orthodox Christians begins on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. It is intended as a time to focus on our spiritual growth and health; a time for us to move out of our comfort zones, away from our normal routines, towards a more Christ-centered and spiritually-focused life. This is why Great Lent is referred to as a spiritual journey, one that leads us to a joyful celebration of the Lord’s holy Resurrection.
During the Lenten Journey, we are called to work specifically in three areas: Prayer, Fasting and Works of Charity. The first is to build up our prayer life, both in quantity and quality. The second is to help us take control of our physical desires, and the third to practice charity, giving material or financial assistance to others in need.
The Lenten Journey is one we take together, as an Orthodox Christian community. The journey begins on the eve of Lent, with the Vespers of Forgiveness, bringing us together to ask for forgiveness before beginning our journey. This is why the first day of Lent is known as Clean Monday.
Before meals, at the start of the day, for the health of others, in times of sorrow, or for expressing thanks, prayer is our time with God. However brief, whether with the aid of printed prayers or in our own words, the first discipline of the Lenten Journey is prayer.
Try to establish a daily Rule of Prayer during Lent. This means praying at the same time each day or each evening. It might be difficult at first, but stick with it, and you’ll find it not just easier, but more fulfilling as time goes on.
To help make your prayer time count, find a place and time without distractions. Rather than trying to squeeze in time for prayer, make an appointment, just as you would to see your doctor, to keep the time free of other activities. Prayers on your own, in a quiet environment, can help us feel the presence of God.
Regarding Fasting, the Orthodox Church has continually taught the benefits of fasting especially during Great Lent. It should not be looked at as a way to lose a few pounds, or in a negative light as not being able to eat this or that type of food.
Let’s look at two primary teachings about fasting. First, we can all use help taking control of or passions, and, for many, food is a big one. The Orthodox Church calls us to fast during Lent as a form of personal discipline, to lessen our impulse to eat whatever and whenever we want. Comfort foods, eaten without any self-control, often results in unhealthy weight gain and can lead to a variety of other health-related concerns.
Second, Orthodox Christianity teaches that fasting is not just about food, but behavior as well.
From the writings of St. John Chrysostom: “…for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works!”
So, although fasting is limiting both the amount and types of food we eat during Great Lent, if we are following all the rules on fasting but still keep anger, hatred and envy in our heart we have missed the point. Why? Because proper fasting teaches us to be more concerned with our spiritual growth, and becoming more like Christ. If our behavior - towards God and one another - does not change as a result of our fasting, all we’ve done is change our diet.
The third of the three main disciplines of the Lenten Journey is Works of Charity, also referred to as Almsgiving. This is what puts our faith into action.
The following are practical, real-life examples all of us can do to show love for our neighbors near and far. Feel free to participate in these or others of your own choosing.
Located in Sun City, the Valley View Community Food Bank is always looking for volunteers to help sort and package food boxes.
Visit www.projectmexico.org and see the many volunteer and donation opportunities to help support St. Innocent Orthodox Christian Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.
On the international level, become familiar with and support the work of International Orthodox Christian Charities. Visit www.IOCC.org.
Please stop by the Church Bookstore and take advantage of the various books and icons available. Books on Great Lent include: The Lenten Spring by Fr. Thomas Hopko; Great Lent by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and the Lenten Covenant by Fr. Leonidas Contos. Holy Week service books are also available for purchase.
As we get closer to Holy Week, our Sunday School will participate on Lazarus Saturday, Apr. 8, with the making of the Palm Crosses for Palm Sunday.
On Good Friday, Apr. 14, a half-day retreat is planned for our youth, which finishes in time for them to participate in the Vesper service at 3 pm.
For the evening Lamentations service on Good Friday, young girls are encouraged to participate as Myrrh-bearers. Finally, on Easter Sunday, there will be an Easter Egg Hunt for our young people in the Church back yard.
As with any journey, it is best to begin the Lenten Journey with prayer, asking the Lord for guidance, strength and perseverance to help make your journey as rewarding as possible.
A Blessed Lent to all.