Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Happy Monday, and a blessed Cheesefare Week to you all!

Yes indeed, it is that wonderful time of year again–or at least, it almost is. Great Lent is just around the corner: a time to intensify our relationship with Christ and the saints; go an extra mile or two to see what awaits us down the road; prepare for the salvation of mankind in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Great Lent is, inherently, a time of preparation. It is the period demarcated by the church to get us ready for such an earth-shattering event as the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But, despite the fact that Great Lent is supposed to be a time to prepare, we still must ensure we are ready for its own unique trials. We must prepare for our period of preparation, if you will.

Consider studying for a final exam. Do you just start picking up the textbook and reading? No, you often plan more deliberately than that. You make sure you know what’s on the final exam, so that you can study the correct source material. You aggregate multiple sources on the material in question, to get all of the perspectives. You don’t just start studying in the crowded dining hall, surrounded by your friends–you go off, into the library, find somewhere you can be undisturbed. You fill up your water bottle, bring a snack, put on some tunes, and then you are ready. You are ready to prepare.

As such, we must take this week–Cheesefare Week–to get ready for everything Great Lent will bring to us. Here are the steps that I’m going to try to take:

1) Eat a ton of dairy

While this one isn’t necessarily geared toward spiritual depth or anything, it’s the last week we can eat cheese and milk for 40 some days. If you intend on keeping the full fast–meat, dairy, wine, oil, fish, everything–then you should take these last days to savor those foods. If not solely because you’ll miss them, because fasting from mac and cheese will be way easier if you made yourself, very deliberately, a delicious farewell mac and cheese this week.

2) Reinvigorate your prayer life

The hope and prayer is that your prayer life is healthy, active, and strong–I know for me, this is not the case. As such, I think we will struggle to go through these added efforts of Lent–increased fasting, more services, et cetera–if we don’t re-establish a relationship and dialogue with God, and that relationship and dialogue comes through prayer. We will need His help to get through Lent in the best possible way–so begin praying for God’s strength and mercy now, so that you can be better prepared when temptation comes knocking later.

3) Schedule extra services–today

Lent adds a whole slew of services to the schedule, from the weekly Presanctified Liturgy to the Canon of St. Andrew next week. It can be nice and easy in our heads to say “Oh, when I’m free, I’ll go” but we are college students–we are never really “free.” There’s always something we could be doing. If we don’t very intentionally, firmly, pointedly carve out the space on Wednesday evening to head to Presanctified–or just make sure we attend every Saturday Vespers–we will likely not increase our church attendance. Make the decision now, so that you’re prepared when the time comes.

4) Consider the depth of your fast

The church prescribes a fast–but all fasts are individual, personal. The encouragement is to follow the dietary fast as strictly as possible, but if you can’t avoid oils in the dining hall, that’s okay. Fast as to your capacity. However, we should also consider fasts beyond the dietary restrictions: Great Lent calls for a decrease of auxiliary noise in our lives, an increase in self-reflection and personal growth. Consider what a fast–even if it isn’t a completely cold-turkey cut-off, but just a gearing down–from Netflix, music, movies, parties, and alcohol could do for your spiritual life.

I hope that your Lent is fruitful, and that you return to the OCF blog often for more readings/OCF opportunities to help you through your effort of Great Lent.

Lent | A Time of Preparation

Lent | A Time of Preparation

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

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.

Good.

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.

-B