Each household has its own set of routine chores that needs to get done. Vacuuming, sweeping, making the beds, doing the laundry, and so on. However, many families will set aside a time for a deeper and more thorough cleaning of the home. Spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a time to undertake the chores that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis.
Great and Holy Lent is the Spring cleaning of our interior lives.
In its eternal wisdom, the Church calendar gives us a yearly preparatory time to take a richer and more holistic examination of the entire universe that is within us.
Each of us has wounds that stretch down deep inside of us; painful experiences, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and many other things that keep us from the eternal Joy of God’s Kingdom. These things can debilitate us, rendering us unable to be as joyful, as loving, and as compassionate as the Lord calls us to be. We make poor decisions, we find it harder to love those that hate us, we stress out and have anxiety, and we miss out on the glory of the Kingdom.
I fell beneath the weight of the passions and the corruption of my flesh, and from that moment has the enemy had power over me. Instead of seeking poverty of spirit, I prefer a life of greed and self-gratification. Therefore, O Savior, a heavy weight hangs from my neck.
And this is where it gets really good…
I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within me, one made in the image of God.
How much time do we spend worrying about the external world? How much do we care about nurturing social images and external appearances? Unfortunately, our obsession, and I daresay addiction to these things, never strikes us as being abnormal because all around us people are doing the exact same thing.
While we keep busy trying to manipulate everything going on around us, and spend so much energy on our “outer garments”, we completely neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within us.
“The Kingdom of God is within,” the Lord tells us in Luke 17:21. Ask almost any Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and they will almost certainly say, “heaven.” If Christ, our Lord and our God, says that the Kingdom is within us, why don’t we go there?
We are scared.
We keep our headphones plugged into our ears, we spend hours mindlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other peoples lives, and we avoid our inner life at all costs because we are uncomfortable with what goes on inside of us. There are thoughts we don’t understand, feelings we cannot articulate, and an entire universe that we do not know how to navigate.
When those things are brought to the surface, we mistakenly think that our problems are outside of us. We blame other people and lash out at them, we spread gossip, and we try to change everything outside of us without ever considering that maybe the problem lies within.
Lent is our time to reorient ourselves and to remember that there is quite possibly more work to be done inside of us than there is to be done outside of us. Maybe a better way to say this would be say that without the internal work of Lent, our external work will be meaningless. St. Paul says it like this:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. –1 Cor 13:1-2
Without the internal work of Lent, we will be unable to love perfectly. If we are unable to love perfectly, then nothing else matters. So we must dig deep, and begin the journey within.
How do we do this? 2,000 years worth of spiritual literature covers this topic. Some of my personal favorites are The Kingdom Within by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement, and Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird. Read up!
Also, making time for silent prayer and reflection is an integral part of our spiritual practice. St. Basil the Great calls silence “the beginning of the purification of the soul.” Turn off the TV, close Snapchat and Instagram, and simply take time to be still. The Psalms tell us to “be still, and know that I am God.”
Just as a family takes the time to clean their home more thoroughly, we as Orthodox Christians take Lent as a time to be more intentional in our spiritual practice, so that we might find deeper healing for our infirmities.
May this Lent be to our spiritual edification and enlightenment. May we answer the Church’s call to dig deeper within ourselves. May we seek the everlasting Kingdom of God within ourselves.
Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.
Great Lent. It’s pretty much the best time of the year. Growing up, I always got super excited when Lent rolled around for some of these reasons:
1. You get to sing all your favorite hymns.
2. There are more opportunities to attend church services.
3. Prostrations = working out
4. It made me thankful for everyday things, like having a regular glass of milk.
5. Lenten food, despite being simple, is actually really good. (Editor’s note: agree to disagree)
6. There are more opportunities to receive Holy Communion.
7. And when Pascha finally comes, Lent teaches you how to feast.
But when I got to university, Lent became a little different. Scheduling in the services became much more difficult with my classes, finding Lenten food on campus is a daunting task, and my professors wouldn’t accept “I was at church” as a reasonable response for not having an assignment done, like my teachers at my Christian high school did. I remember one time talking with one of my non-Orthodox friends and casually naming off church services that I attend during Lent. “Wow,” she said, “How on earth do you have the time for that? I definitely don’t.”
You know what? Maybe my friend is right. Maybe I don’t have time for Lent. Maybe I’m just a little too busy this year. It’s March, and the list of assignments, tests, and extra-curricular events is piling up in my planner (not to mention the fact that it’s the end of the school year and I’m starting to feel pretty burned out). Right now, I want to be living from church service to church service, but the reality is I am sometimes living from deadline to deadline. What am I supposed to do?
I’m going to give it everything I possibly can.
You know why? Someday, that assignment, that test, that extra-curricular activity–none of it will matter. The time I spent praying, going to church, fasting, and serving others will. By the world’s standards, I absolutely do not have time for Lent, but we need this time of preparation more than we could ever possibly know. And no, the Snapchats I posted really can’t describe how beautiful and awe-inspiring this season is.
Many things have changed in my life, but when I say the Prayer of Saint Ephrem or sing one of the hymns during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, I feel as though nothing has ever changed. You see, we are most ourselves during Lent. Praying, going to church, giving alms, fasting, serving others–you will never be more human than in those moments. Yes, our other commitments are important, and I do not want to undermine the importance of those activities, but nothing ever is more important than church.
One of my fellow Blog Contributors, Paul, recently told me that one time, after he missed a Presanctified Liturgy many years ago, he told his priest, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come Wednesday, I had a few assignments and knew I needed to finish them and get some sleep.” His priest responded, “That’s fine, but remember that when you come to church, it elevates your soul, and it often takes the body with it.” There’s nothing we need more than the healing Christ can give us if we allow Him to do so.
So please, I don’t know who you are or what your situation is, but I ask you not to let this opportunity to be the most human you can be pass you by. Don’t let our churches be filled with kids, teenagers, young professionals, middle-aged adults, and senior citizens, but empty of college students because this is one of the busiest points of the year for us. My dad’s a priest, and one thing I’ve always heard him tell his parishioners is that by the end of Lent we should be different people. And why would we not be different people? If we allow Lent to be a season of prayer and repentance, of course we will not be the same.
I’m not even going to try to advise you on what your Lenten discipline should look like, because that should be between you and those involved in your life. But I ask you to seriously consider doing something! If you have not started yet, it is never too late to start. When the Paschal homily of Saint John Chrysostom is read on Pascha, I am always amazed by these words:
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
If you have not begun your Lenten discipline yet, do not be afraid to start now.
College offers us so many amazing opportunities. It is pretty much common sense to know that we need to take the chance to have these experiences before we move on to a different phase of life. Some of these experiences are experiences of a lifetime. But Lent is even far more fulfilling than anything college could ever offer us, definitely much more profound than sending each other Snapchats of our fasting food and far beyond all human comprehension. So when the priest opens the church doors on Pascha, I pray that we will enter the church prepared for the feast, knowing that nothing in life is comparable to witnessing the glory of God.
All Snapchats were used with permission.
Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.
Update: Lent started. Today is just a few days before the Sunday of St. John Climacus (aka the fourth Sunday of Lent), which means we’re more than halfway to Pascha. Some of us may have had the foresight to figure out specific goals for Lent going into it, while others may not have changed anything in their lives. Regardless of what boat we’re in, what do we do now?
In order to answer that question, we need to back up and figure out what Lent is. To fully understand that, we need to have some grasp on the state of humanity (my thought process tends to get really general really quickly, so stay with me). We are all spiritually sick. Whether or not we feel it, our souls experience sickness from disconnection with God. so how do we get healthy? Luckily, God provides us with a spiritual hospital: the Church.
The sickness that afflicts us prevents God from entering into our hearts. Our hearts are simply too hard to allow God to enter in, so we need to go to our mother, the Church, to chip away at it. Lent is a time for chipping away at that hardness of our hearts so that we can receive Christ to our fullest potential on the feast of His Resurrection.
So before we get to Paul’s monthly list, we need to remember why we do all of the things we do during Lent. Again, this is absolutely critical for two interconnected reasons: (1) if we go through the motions without realizing why we are doing it, the tasks become an end in themselves; in other words, we aren’t keeping ourselves from eating to grow closer to God, but because we feel like it’s this weird homework assignment we have to do; and (2) when we make the commandments of God an end in themselves, we become like the Pharisees, who outwardly did everything correctly but whose hearts were in the wrong places. And you can check out Matthew 23 to see how Jesus felt about them.
(Editor’s note: not a fan)
So back to the title: how do I Lent? Here are the things you can try:
1. Fast: Do something
As my spiritual father says, the amazing thing about fasting is that you can always do more or less depending on where you are. You can’t do the entire fast prescribed by the Church? That’s fine, do some part of it, like not eating meat. The fast isn’t challenging enough or spiritually beneficial to you? You can do more: skip a meal, don’t eat snacks, avoid adding salt or other flavor enhancers to your food, or avoid non-water beverages. The important thing is that you change what you normally do with food.
2. Cut something out
If you’re like me, chances are you’re doing a lot. The few seconds a day when you’re not either at a class or activity or have something to take care of, you spend figuring out how you’re going to get everything done that you need to do. There’s so much noise.
Find something in there taking you away from God, and get rid of it. I’ve done various things different years depending on what habits of mind are most destructive at the moment. This year it was deleting the Facebook app from my phone. Other years it has been not playing games on my phone during Lent. Find something that you are doing that is holding you back in some way from union with God, and get rid of it, at least until Pascha (hopefully beyond).
3. Go to church
Lenten services are where I discovered my love for the Orthodox faith. Many parishes have church on most nights of the week, so check your church’s calendar and try to make it to one, maybe two, or even all of them (that’s the recommended option). Part of Lent is adding prayer, and the church is supplying it for you. All you need to do is show up and participate.
4. Don’t worry if you slip
One of my past articles was about how you’re probably going to fail. Chances are, you are going to fall short of at least one of your goals (if you don’t, you may want to check to see if you’re pushing yourself hard enough). As someone who loves sports and is filled with useless sports stats, I have to ask you to do something that is very hard for me to do: don’t worry about your own Lenten statistics.
Read Paul’s article here!
I have wanted to be standing in the church on Pascha night, knowing that I attended every service in Lent, had not touched meat or dairy since Clean Monday, and had reached every goal perfectly. The problem with that mindset is that your whole motivation crumbles before you the second you make one mistake.
I offer this mindset as a replacement: starting right now, at this moment (be that as you’re reading this or when you think about it later), let’s strive to love God and do his holy will (citation: St. Herman of Alaska, see one of my past articles on that).
5. Talk to your spiritual father
I often think that I’m a bad judge of what is the right level to push myself in all of these categories, and I’m probably right. I have good judgment about how poor my judgment is. Don’t think about that too hard.
The good thing is, I have someone to talk all of this stuff out with, to say, “I want to do A, B, and C during Lent,” and he can say, “A and B sounds good, but you might want to consider tweaking C in this way to make it better for you.” And I have confidence that he’s right because he knows everything about my spiritual life, so he’s like a doctor giving me a specific prescription for my specific disease. What an incredible resource that we have in our spiritual fathers!
I pray that God will help us to keep all of these things in mind as we continue through our Lenten journey. May we fight our own battles while leaning on and strengthening one another. One of the beautiful things about the collective nature of Orthodox fasts is that we have our church communities and Orthodox friends all around us who are going through the same thing, and who can offer us strength and motivation to make that push to Pascha. It’s impossible for us on our own, but with God’s help and the help of the people around us, we can do what’s been laid before us this Lent.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.
Well, here we are. It’s Cheesefare week. Lent is right around the corner.
The Orthodox faith is one of preparation. We’ve been moving through the pre-Lenten cycle of services and readings for a few weeks now. We’ve heard the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed the sycamore tree that he might see Christ; the story of the breast-beating publican and the self-aggrandizing Pharisee; the story of the prodigal son, who squandered his father’s inheritance away, only to return again in humility; and this past Sunday, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we heard about how will we be judged, when we finally come before the Lord.
Much like Lent, that final Judgment Day is coming, which is undoubtedly terrifying. Nobody wants to spend a lick of time thinking about that, but we’re going to ponder it for just a second. Because it’s all too easy to say, “Okay, yeah, there’s a final judgment, and it’s coming…but, it’s really coming eventually. So I’ll get ready for it tomorrow–ah, actually, I have a thing tomorrow. How does next week look for you?”
Very simply, I’d like to impress upon you the urgency of our situation. You’ve likely heard that “you know neither the day nor the hour,” but don’t forget from where that Bible verse comes. Matthew, Chapter 25, the parable of ten maidens. If you don’t recall it, you can read it here, but if you do recall it, then you know it isn’t a parable about judgment and fear, about salvation and damnation.
It’s about preparation. We’ve been in the pre-Lenten cycle for weeks, and to prepare for what? Lent…which, you know…prepares us for Pascha. The Orthodox Church is one of preparation.
As such, one week before Lent truly begins (and remember, the meat fast has already begun this week), I’d like to encourage you to prepare. When Lent comes, if you haven’t thought at all about the effort you’re going to undertake, the discipline you’re going to impose upon yourself–if you haven’t yet generated that burning desire in your heart that says, “Yes! I will do this!” you will undoubtedly falter. If you don’t get ready for Lent, whatever your unique this is…it’s almost impossible to preserve it.
When you resolve to do something, it is not just some spontaneous revelation that crashes down on you from above, to which you adhere with unflinching resolve. Nobody says, “I’m going to eat healthier,” and then they just do, perfectly. They say, “I’m going to eat healthier,” and then they look up recipes, go grocery shopping, get their friends involved, create milestones…and then they start trying to eat healthier. And when they slip up, guess what? They’ve prepared for those moments too, and they can recover from them.
As such, my encouragement to you is to prepare for Lent. Examine how you eat at college and what level of fasting is possible for you. Consider fasts from technology, from private sins. Consider reading a book from the Church Fathers, or listening to a podcast. Pray and ask for guidance and support during this upcoming season of preparation.
If I may, I’d like to supply one quick thought on what you’re about to undertake. I’ve encouraged you to spend time during your week planning your next six-ish weeks. Perhaps you are someone who does this regularly–I know, certainly, that I am not. I want to help prepare you for one of those inflection points, one of those inevitable obstacles that arises in the face of any grand plan or resolution.
You’re going to look different.
I’m not going to spin this a different way for you. When you sit down with your friends at the cafeteria without any meat, or perhaps without any meat or dairy on your plate, people might notice. They might say something; they might not. They may understand, if you explain; they may not.
But even beyond looking different, you’ll have to force yourself to do different things as well. You’ll have to break your routines, question your regular activities, examine your life through the new lens of your Lenten effort.
You’re going to be different, too.
And being different is so tough. I would argue that the driving force that pulls us away from the faith is the unquenchable desire to be the same. Not fully, mind you–not a mindless copy of other individuals, but the desire to be seen as ordinary, regular, a member of our peer group, integrated into society. The inevitable pull of college isn’t necessarily away from church, but towards college. We want to be accepted.
But if there’s anything the pre-Lenten readings tell us–and I’ve heard those readings were about preparation–it’s that being different is good. We should be different.
Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree when nobody else was, because he was short and couldn’t see Christ–he was different, a tax collector, spurned by the people around him. But Christ dined with him anyway. The publican could have seen the Pharisee, the exalted one of his peer group, the apparently ideal person, and he could have mimicked the Pharisee–but he did not! Instead, he did what he knew was right. The prodigal son, wallowing in the pigpen, had to stand up among the pigs and say to himself, “I am not one of these. I will return to my father, where I was truly myself.” In a serious Lenten undertaking, you are going to seem different to your peers, and you are going to feel different.
Find some alone time this week. Put your phone on silent and in your bag. Make sure nobody around you is distracting you. Look in yourself. What effort does the core of your being want to undertake this Lent? Do you have the means to manifest that in every day of your life? If so, how will you accomplish it? And for what inflection points, for what inevitable obstacles, do you need to begin preparing?
Lent is inevitable. So is the Judgment Day. We best get ready.
Well that was fast (pun intended). It’s already the second week in November. That means Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and of course, that means I saw a commercial with Santa in it this past weekend. Fiat is already preparing for Christmas, it would seem.
But for Orthodox Christians, the preparation for Christmas doesn’t begin until November 15th–the day on which the Advent fast begins, the forty day preparation for the Nativity.
Now, if you’re like me, your first thought is, “No more meat,” and your second thought is, “No more meat,” and your third thought is, “Wow, this gives me an excuse to eat bacon every meal until November 15th.”
But fasting has more meaning than that, has more value than that, and I would argue that in college, that value is augmented. It’s impossible to say that a certain arena of our spiritual lives is more important than another, but my experience of fasting in college life tells me that it’s really unique for us, as students. I’d like to think about why.
Firstly, I dunno about y’all, but I had about zero control over what I ate in high school. Whatever was in the pantry was going to be breakfast and lunch for the school day, and whatever my family cooked for dinner was going to be dinner. When it was a fasting period, my mother and father ensured that the only food purchased/prepared was in accordance with the fast. On the off-chance I was purchasing food (maybe on a Wednesday or a Friday) I occasionally forgot–when I was a little kid I always used to buy chili dogs at Friday Night football games–but I was usually pretty solid.
By Larry Miller via Wikimedia Commons
Most of my fasting was, thereby, the choice of my family. That’s fine and good, that’s the passing on of values and traditions, that’s important. But now, I go to the dining hall every day, and there’s a vegetarian station and a vegan station and salads AND A PERMANENT TACO BAR WHICH IS TOTALLY BONKERS. If I don’t want dining hall food, I often cook for myself, and I’m the guy buying the groceries. If I fast, it’s my choice. I always have an opportunity, I always have the means. Fasting, much more so than before, is a decision that I make, and I own the consequences whether I make it or not.
The question easily follows: why make the choice, then?
There is, of course, an easy answer: because we are told to. Obedience is vital, but it is always good to understand why it is we do what we do–especially because fasting is one of the best ways to begin a discussion with someone else on campus about Orthodoxy. People constantly ask me if I’m a vegan/vegetarian, and it opens the door to introduce them to the faith.
So, why fast? I’m no theologian or seminarian, so I can’t tell you perfectly. That’s a good question for a priest.
I can tell you, however, how fasting impacts me.
It makes me feel better. More like the person I’m supposed to be, the person I wish I could be more consistently. Fasting–a little choice, a simple choice, three times a day–recaptures that feeling you sometimes get after an amazing sermon, after acts of service, after reading a prayer or scripture, after hearing a beautiful hymn. Fasting, in short, brings us closer to God.
People will ask how it does this. Quite simply, by letting go of something earthly, there is more room for the heavenly. By relinquishing a tether to the body, you can acquire a tether to the soul.
All of this being said, I don’t really feel the need to understand how, I just have the experience that it does. I have an opportunity to grow closer to God, and I always try to take those opportunities.
By vxla via flickr
But, in all things, in all arenas of the spiritual life, nothing is a panacea. Nothing is an end-all, be-all. Fasting without prayer and almsgiving, fasting without daily reading and service attendance, will likely falter. Of course, by the same logic, prayer life falters without fasting. The spiritual life is holistic, and fasting is an integral piece in the heavenly pie.
The Advent fast begins on November 15th (with a day off for Thanksgiving, and oh, what a glorious day that is). I encourage you to find the permanent taco bar in your dining hall, make a daily choice, and see what it does for you. I think you’ll like what you find.