A Most Blessed Great Lent to All!
Dearest Spiritual Ohana,
Monday, March 14th, marks the beginning of a very significant and rather sizeable and moveable festal period of the year, namely Great Lent. It lasts for a duration of 40 days. The number “40,” according to our Orthodox Faith, represents “completion.” Upon the completion of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, He fasted for 40 days in the desert. After an Orthodox mother gives birth, she returns to the Church with her baby at 40 days and is presented with her child into the Church, as the Theotokos brought the Christ Child into the Temple at 40 days. We offer Memorials for our loved ones who have “fallen asleep” in the hope of the Resurrection 40 days after their repose. Upon celebrating Pascha, we continuously celebrate Christ’s Holy Resurrection for 40 days. These are just a few examples of the correlations and connections we make in the Church regarding the number 40.
We call the very first day of Great Lent, “Clean Monday,” which signifies for us a fresh new beginning and undertaking. The 40 day period ends on the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus. After that, we move into Holy Week, a special week set aside in and of its own which in turn leads us up to and into the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Holy Pascha. With what type of attitude and frame of mind should we approach and enter the season of Great Lent?
We often associate this season of Great Lent with drastic changes in the way we go about carrying out our daily lives and routines. Yes, this is true, and also necessary for our personal benefit! These changes in our lifestyle are often anticipated with a bit of dread, reluctance and with a somber, sometimes mournful frame of mind. Thoughts come about, like: “I have to give up eating what I like.” “I have to give up what I like doing, etc.” Lent carries with it the call to practice fasting, almsgiving, repentance, increased prayer, having to go to church more often and, oh no, having longer services!
One of the hymns expresses the correct attitude and disposition in which we are to enter and actively participate in this period. It captures the “joyful-sadness” we undergo. Observe the following words:
“Let us begin the Fast with joy. Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls. Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see
the passion of Christ our God
and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy."
—Hymn on the 1st day of Great Lent.
So why all this fuss we go through in experiencing Great Lent? The hymn I just quoted unlocks the deeper and more important meaning of this period. All this toil and change we go through are to bring us to focus on the more important and essential elements of life. We give up certain foods like meat, fish and dairy products so that we rely less on our craving for food and to rather hunger and thirst more for the Presence of God in our lives. As we curb our craving for certain foods, we also gain control over our passions which separate us from living the way God would like us to and we place our dependence in Him rather than our own desires. We give charitable alms to those in need rather than looking to our own selfish needs, through what we save through fasting and keeping our meals simple. We repent of our sins by making it a point to go to and receive Confession and experience God’s healing Presence. We pray more to develop and renew our relationship with our Most Loving and Merciful God. In all our spiritual efforts throughout Great Lent, through the Grace of God, we will experience the joy that Christ has given us through all that He has done for us, including: taking on our human flesh, defeating death through His Death and giving us eternal life through His Glorious Resurrection.
I wish all of you strength as we go through Great Lent together. I pray that you all put forth your effort to make this coming Lent the most meaningful ever in your lives.
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