by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase;" (ISAIAH 9:1)
I understand the significance of the pre-Easter lent, but why do we keep a Lenten season for Christmas, since it's such a joyous occasion?" The woman who made the comment spoke sincerely and her reasoning was correct. What she misunderstood was the purpose of Lenten fasting and spiritual preparation.
To so many of our people, fasting and prayers are expressions of sorrow for a rupture in Divine-human relationships, such as was the murder of Jesus Christ.
Primarily, lent is a time for our concentrated preparing for the Kingdom of God's manifestation within us. By freeing ourselves from the things of this world we can better live and experience the Spirit of God dwelling in our souls. It is a time of pilgrimage-a spiritual journey to our true native land which the Lord has prepared for us.
Now it is advent, the time of His coming. Christ is on the way to my world, my city, my house and to me. How will He find it: what will He think of us; will He be pleased?
Ostensibly we are preparing for Christmas. External trappings, translucent, illuminated neon and plastic bubbles pronounce greetings to anybody, and receive about as much notice as the recently discarded cardboard announcements of political candidates. Reluctant consumers dutifully divest the glutted department stores of what everybody knows nobody needs or wants, because it's XMAS. Liquor store registers and corner Santas' hand bells jingle in cacophony. Does this please Him? Is all this a worthy greeting for Him? Nobody thinks so, and nobody planned it this way; yet it appears we're locked in a social mechanism we hadn't chosen to enter.
We ought to become serious about freeing ourselves of all the material objects that are idols for so many, promising a happiness they are incapable of fulfilling; if we know that advent is just a time for learning to do without, then capitalist Xmas is a travesty of Christ's coming. It is in fact the very opposite of self-denial and spiritual preparation for communion with God in Christ. We sense His displeasure. Underneath the tinsel peeks out a sad, selfish and troubled world.
Can it be He'll find even a few who await His coming with hope and longing? Are there those who, while knowing themselves responsible for the world as it is, yet trust in His promise of another life and prepare themselves for it, while at the same time doing all in their capability to give content and a dimension of true values to this present world?
There were such in every age of the past, and God sought them out from their society: Abraham in Chaldea, Lot in Sodom, Moses in Midian, Elijah at the Cherith wadi and young Mary in Nazareth. While there are such remaining in the world, God's covenant with mankind is not abrogated. To fulfill advent, then, would be to make ourselves like them; a difficult task, but not impossible, for "With God, all things are possible."
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America