Lent Reflection day 40
Today, the fortieth day of the fast, we come to the end of Lent for this year. Sometimes people are surprised at this; we commonly think of Lent as the period of fasting leading up to Pascha, but it’s really the period of fasting leading up to Lazarus Saturday. Why is this?
Lent is a completely different fast than the fast of Holy Week. During Lent, we fast in order to control the passions, as the Ambon Prayer during the Presanctified Liturgy says. It is a time of concentrated spiritual growth, when we bring our wills into submission to God, and our bodies into submission to our souls. It is a process, and a long one. Some of you have heard me say before that the fast does not begin on the first day of the fast. By this I mean that we’re not really fasting until we come to that moment when we’re tired of fasting, when our bodies tell us we’ve had enough. Then we must choose: me or God? My will or God’s will? Sure, you can say it’s the Church and not God that tells you to fast, but it’s all the same thing. The Church is your road map and your vehicle to God. So which is it? Me or God? Me or the Church? Me or anything that is not me?
The first time that happens is the beginning of the fast, and every day from that point onward is a fasting day, a day of struggle, a day of choice, because fasting is no longer easy or pride-producing. It becomes difficult and annoying. So, to continue the fast, we concentrate our efforts on ourselves, on making the outer practices of the fasting and the Church services (and so on) a part of our inner selves. We move the particulars of the fast from the stomach to the heart. Confession is critical, and study, reading, and prayer. This is the real work of Lent, which starts some time after the actual start of Lent. It’s like marriage – it’s great at the beginning, but in time the real work becomes apparent.
Holy Week is different. Having prepared our hearts for Lazarus Saturday, we go to Church and commemorate that event which launches Holy Week. We do not commemorate events during Lent (after the Sunday of Orthodoxy), we commemorate people (St. Gregory, St. John, St. Mary) and the Cross. But starting on Lazarus Saturday, all the services have to do with particular events in the life of Christ, specifically, that week in the life of Christ before His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. We commemorate the Entrance into Jerusalem, the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the ten virgins, the anointing of Christ with oil. We commemorate Gethsemane and Golgotha and the Tomb. And yes, while we’re doing all this, we’re fasting, but it’s not a fast that focuses on ourselves, it focuses our attention on Jesus Christ. It’s a fasting of sadness and respect, of focus, love, and longing. We walk alongside Jesus on the various days of his final week, living each moment with him, and we know that it is not a time for feasting and celebration, just because Lent is over. Some people don’t eat at all, although I don’t advise that. Keep your strength up, come to Church two or three times each day, depending on the schedule, and look next to you as you stand in the pew. There He is. Bloody, beaten, betrayed, and abandoned. But not by you. You are there to walk with Him every step of the way.
Brothers and sisters, thank you for your companionship during this marvelous journey of Great Lent. I pray that it was a good Lent for you, and that as we begin Holy Week, you are prepared in your hearts to travel the path to Golgotha with Jesus Christ our Lord, and celebrate His holy resurrection in the beauty of holiness.