Great Lent: A Matter of Life and Death
by Fr. Elias Bitar
Many things, throughout the history of the Church, have been said about this most holy period of the Orthodox Christian year.
We live in an age of great and continuous achievements in all aspects of our wonderful world. We are, everyday, trying to discover new dimensions to things in life.
Lent — the forty-day journey toward the Resurrection of our Lord, has suffered much because of lack of attention. There is no doubt that we know a great deal about Lent, we have enough information to satisfy our inquisitive mind, but our spirit cries out for meaningful application of our faith. How can we do this?
First, by being full of God and empty of ourselves. In doing this, we learn to trust God more than we do our own reasoning. As our Lord said to His Disciples that this kind (meaning the evil Spirit) comes out only by prayer and fasting, He meant PRAYER AND FASTING, and NOT what we want Him to mean. Lent is a period of prayer and fasting. It is a time especially set aside for us to draw closer to God.
Before we enter the Lenten period, we are reminded of the desire to come closer to Christ (Zacchaeus), because unless we want to move toward God we will always stay away from Him. Then we are asked to be humble like the Publican (“God have mercy on me a sinner”) and not “Thank God I am better than everyone else.” God abides only in the humble heart. The Prodigal Son urges us to acknowledge our sinfulness and return to God the Father. All these preparation guidelines help give us the proper attitude towards Lent. These are tools with which to enter the Lenten period.
When we enter Lent after Meat and Cheese weeks, we are reminded that our Lord is surely coming again to judge the world. By this we are made aware that repentance is now or never. We should not wait like the thief did (just before he died). You can do the same if you knew when you will be called by God. On Cheese Sunday, we are reminded of Adam and Eve being thrown from Paradise because of their disobedience and how we are being saved by the obedience of the second Adam (Jesus) and forgiven. It is also called “Forgiveness Sunday”.
While on our journey toward Pasch-Passover from death into life, the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, we are called to strengthen our Spirit through praying more on a personal level and participating more often on a church level in the Services of the church during Lent. Sometimes, with the help of your parish family, you can achieve more spiritually than on your own. We need food to sustain our bodies, but can we let the spirit starve to death? Prayer and fasting is the food of the spirit in addition to the nourishment we receive from the Body and Blood of our Lord on Sundays. If we are what we eat, then we become Christ-like when we take communion and communicate with Him through prayer and fasting. Christ fasted for forty days before he was tempted by the devil. Are we ever tempted? Oh, yes. Should we fast? Christ did not give suggestions but commands. He knows what is best for us.
Frequent confessions is a step closer to understanding our own weakness and the power of God’s forgiveness. “I don’t sin much” says the proud, but the Christian asks forgiveness with humility.
The Church has the Pre-sanctified Liturgy on Wednesdays and the Akathist service on Fridays to give us the chance to further involve ourselves in the spirit of Lent (repentance and growth).
Yes, it is a matter of life or death, because our salvation is involved. Fast, but do it not to gain praise from people, but because it helps you grow closer to God. Fast not only from foods, but, clean your heart from ill feelings toward others. Pray and forgive. Fasting by itself is useless. We normally take health insurance to help our families when we die, but what about after-life insurance, our salvation? Our faith and the practicing of it, especially during Lent, is the way to Christ and life eternal.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America