It’s A Good Thing Lent Isn’t Up To Me…

Publican and the PhariseeHow can it be that Great Lent is so close?! How? In the words of my daughter, “just when you thought it was safe to feast, the fast is upon us again.” I am trying to plan ahead because Lent is a really busy time for my family. I am already behind around the house because of being sick and other difficult and crazy things in life. If I intend for us to have our typical set of activities for Lent, then I am going to have to prepare.

Of course, even my best made plans may just fall apart anyway. Especially since I am seven months pregnant, Manny has just started a new job on second shift, I have to go in for surgery on the tenth of February, and I have a house full of rascally (but wonderful) children. Still, I am going to plan as best I can and then take it a day at a time.

In past years, the kids and I would usually go to church for Vespers most nights, and some of us for Matins at least several times during Lent, and we always go to pre-sanctified Liturgy twice a week. We are only down the street from the Monastery but it is winter in Wisconsin, so we drive up the road instead of suffering through walking in the freezing weather (which would be a bit rough on the little ones). Problem is, now that Manny is working outside of our home, I won’t have a vehicle.

This has me thinking about how different every Lenten season can be. Some years the differences have been barely noticeable, and other years, life has taken me for a big ride with lots of change.

Some things never change, and I find great comfort in them. There will be the same soul-stirring prayers at pre-sanctified liturgy, I can hear Fr. Nicholas’ voice in my head singing, “Let my prayer arise in thy sight…,” the prayer of St. Ephraim and all those prostrations…”Oh Lord and master of my life … ,” Holy Week and all the long, hauntingly beautiful services. We will sing about the Bridegroom coming in the middle of the night. We will wonder at how “He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree” and we will remember “The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.” There will be the decorating of the cross and tomb, and the preparation of food for Pascha.

God will not and has not changed, no matter what else is going on in my life. For me this is the gift and essence of the Liturgical calendar. This is why it is so important to enter the dance, and continue dancing no matter what life throws at you. It is true that each and every feast and holy day we celebrate is ever present (because God is outside of time). This is one reason we have icons of the major feasts and holy days in our churches, the icons are windows into heaven and reveal to us all of Christ’s life present in heaven. But it is also true, that we mere mortals can only grasp this truth so much which is why we (not God) need the liturgical calendar.

We need the calendar so that we can encounter our Lord at the different moments of His life…again and again, year after year. Each year we can enter deeper into our Lord’s life and understand more what these events in His life mean for us. Each year we can grow closer to Him and change a little at a time, season by season. Just as Divine Liturgy isn’t just a remembering of an event that happened 2000 years ago, so it is with the feasts. We are truly present on the feasts; we really walk with Jesus Christ during Holy Week and witness His Resurrection right along with the Myrrh-bearing women.

Facing all the ups and downs of life in the context of the liturgical year, on the Churches schedule and not according to our own plans, is good for us on so many different levels. If going through Lent and all that this entails was up to me, it would never happen. I would never be ready enough, I’d have excuses to postpone the start of Lent (valid ones even!), knowing I cannot make time to pray extra because there are so many pressing needs I must take care of. I would never have enough resources to do extra acts of charity and almsgiving (and why would I choose to fast ever, seriously?!). But time waits for no one and the time to begin Lent is almost here!

Now life may indeed be too difficult some years to enter fully into all the traditional practices of Lent. I may not get my family to as many services this year as I hope to. We just may need to improvise and pray at home more instead. Manny is uncertain of what his work schedule will be. Usually he takes time off from work for most of Holy Week. This year there is no way that can happen. I am not really sure what we will be able to do this year for almsgiving and charitable deeds. Whatever we manage will be hard, I am sure of that. I intend to keep the fast simple and plan ahead. I am going to plan a week’s worth of meals and then repeat it until Pascha. But in spite of my planning efforts, it is very possible that things may fall apart enough in a day that I will just be happy to get food, any food, in people’s bellies. There is definitely a lot of uncertainty this Lent, probably the most I have ever known.

In spite of these things I am looking forward to it all and to Pascha especially. No matter what happens in the days and weeks ahead, the truth of the time we are entering will not change, the reason for the traditional practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving will remain the same. It’s interesting for me to look back and see growth in places I wouldn’t have expected, and see sin in places that I thought (at the time) were mega point scorers for me!

Not praying enough, giving as much alms as I’d like to, and not keeping the fast perfectly or as I planned and hoped to, always humbles me and reminds me that I am not in charge and I can only do so much. Any days that go as planned I will be grateful for, because I know this is a tough year and that it is the grace of God that gets us through. Either way, God will be with me and I am open to learning His truths and drawing nearer to Him again, in every trial and victory that’s coming.

Over the years I have found comfort in remembering the homily we are read every Pascha by St. John Chrysostom. Hearing these words on Pascha night always make me reflect back on Lent and Holy Week. If it was a year we managed to fulfill all the Lenten practices we planned to, or a year things just didn’t work out like we hoped, this homily was a great reminder to humbly accept the feast and to rejoice in the Lord:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness…

I’ll be keeping the great saint’s words in mind over Lent as an encouragement to do what I can and accept what I can’t and know that Holy Week will come regardless of my actions. The saving acts of Christ will not change. And in the end Christ will be Risen and all the hard times will melt away on Pascha night, like they do every year, and we will all sing with joy to the Theotokos:

The angel exclaimed to her, * full of grace: * “Rejoice, 0 Pure Virgin; * again I say, rejoice! * Your Son is risen from the grave on the third day * and has raised the dead. * Let all nations rejoice!”

Shine in splendor, * O new Jerusalem! * For the glory of the Lord * is risen upon you, O Sion; * sing with joy and rejoice! * And you, pure Mother of God, * rejoice in the resurrection of your Son.

 

4 Comments

  1. Enjoyed this reading! It reminds me of My Mother who had 11 kids, and the preparations She had to make during Lent!! To God be the Glory!!!!

  2. May God bless you and your family . To God be the Glory. I love you guys. I will always have you in my prayers. You are an inspiration and I want to make my home a monastery and follow your example which are an inspiration. JMJ pray for us Love Nilsa

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