A Most Blessed Journey through the Rest of Great Lent and Holy Week!
Dearest Spiritual Ohana,
April is here! How quickly 2016 is flying by! We have now made it to the half-way point in Great Lent and are well on our way to the Celebration of Holy Week, this month! I pray that your journey has been a very blessed and inspiring one so far.
It is fitting that the Church places the “Veneration of the Cross” at the very midpoint of our Lenten Journey. If we follow the path that the Church prescribes for Great Lent, we experience the joy of basking in the remembrance of our Lord’s Presence and focusing on His Immense and Abundant Love and Mercy for us through increased prayer, fasting, almsgiving and repentance. Yet at the same time, we experience the weight of the asceticism (spiritual athletics) we undertake as well. We experience especially through fasting a hunger that leaves our stomach feeling like a “bottomless pit.” This can leave us feeling weakened and more prone to being more irritable. This hunger, however, is meant for our own good in that we are meant to hunger not for tasty foods, but for Christ and His Presence in our lives.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris very clearly expresses the purpose for the Veneration of the Cross as we have come to the middle of our Lenten Journey. From his book entitled Sacred Symbols that Speak he states: “The Service of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is somewhat unusual when compared to other church celebrations in that it does not commemorate any historical event. It simply was created by the conscience of the faithful as an important observance during Great Lent and must be understood within the character of the spiritual struggle of Lent which calls us to self-denial, introspection, meditation, prayer, repentance, fasting, almsgiving and confession of sins. At this halfway point in Lent, the Cross is raised to remind us of our spiritual goal of imitating Christ by taking up our own cross. Its purpose is to help us gain strength to continue the struggle. Knowing well the weakness of human nature, the Church places before us at the midpoint of Lent the Holy Cross as a powerful incentive to persevere in the struggle.
On this day (Veneration of the Holy Cross on the 3rd Sunday of Lent) every year the Cross is ‘flowered,’ to signify that it is the Cross of Jesus that brings new life, in sublime beauty and fragrance, making every true believer ‘the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved’ (II Corinthians 2:15).”
Being totally honest with all of you, I found the beginning of Great Lent very challenging, personally and spiritually this year. Maybe it is a sign that I am going through the “aging process,” facing more impending physical challenges. “Clean Week” or rather the 1st Week of Great Lent, my body felt very weak and suffered deep pains as if it was under distress. With these challenges going on, I felt more irritable. For example, on the road I was trying to maintain a safe speed limit where the recommended was 35 m.p.h. I was travelling within a safe cushion at about 40 m.p.h., when a motorist began tailgating me. Being irritated, I moved into the slower lane to let the person pass, and made a motioning gesture for the person to “just go!” I also thought, “I hope you get a ticket!” As I took a few deep breaths and said, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner,” I realized that I should have refrained from being judgmental toward the other person and instead had kept my calm and just “let it go.” After this unnecessary incident I created for myself, I could feel that my body was hurting more because I dwelt on the wrong that I felt someone else had done to me. Then came the sobering words of the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, specifically the last phrase: “Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters.”
You see, even as a priest I go through the “arena” of life’s challenges. Another word for this is “spiritual warfare.” Typically, I would love for Great Lent and especially Holy Week to last forever, mainly because we can gather together as a spiritual family, more frequently, to attend the services, but more importantly to renew and revitalize our relationship with God and to come and rediscover His Abundance of Love and Mercy for all of us. I still desire that life would be a continuous Great Lent and Holy Week! Through the experiences we have during this Holy Season, we come to experience the true and fulfilling Joy that only God can give us. The world can only offer us happiness which is fleeting and temporal. The Lord offers us eternal joy which cannot be taken away from us!
I wish all of you a Most Blessed completion of Great Lent and a Most Joyous and Fulfilling Holy Week!
With Love in Christ,
Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna; Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria; Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian; Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos; Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey