March 4, 2009 + Keeping Lent at Home (Part 1)
by Nadia Koblosh
from The Word, February 1994
When asked to write an article about what we do in our family to prepare for Pascha, my initial reaction was to decline for I felt vaguely uncomfortable writing on such a subject. It is my feeling that Lent is, by definition, more a time of doing than of talking.
But on second thought, I decided to go ahead. I think that there are legitimate questions and problems all Orthodox parents have who sincerely desire to keep Lent and instruct their children in its meaning. And this includes priestly families as well as lay, for there is no special Lent for rectories as opposed to “normal” families! I think that these common questions naturally call for a common discussion and sharing and it is in that vein that I share my thoughts.
First is the whole reality of Lent as such. I think it is very important to approach Lent not as some period of “religious intensity” as opposed to some other period that is not so “religious.” In a real sense, the whole Christian life at all times is naturally “Lenten” because the whole Christian life is a preparation for death, resurrection and judgment. In a way, all Christians are monks and pilgrims. Lent only serves to focus and intensify this basic element of Christian life. I think that if we really experience Lent in all its beauty and power, its spirit always remains in us — even sitting on a beach during a July vacation! This is one goal our family strives for and what we try to cultivate in our children.
Another goal concerning Lent is to teach it, not so much as a “religious” exercise, but as being a time in which we are given the opportunity to concentrate on what is really real and what is really human. “Orthodoxy,” I once heard one speaker say, “is not a ‘religion,’ but the Truth.” And I think the same idea is true with Lent: Lent is a time to concentrate on life, on being human. Thus my struggle — with myself and my children — is to keep Lent from degenerating into something silly and petty — such as simply giving up candy or movies. The struggle is to cultivate and understand the revelation that there is something deeply wrong and sad about human life; that there is evil in the world and that this evil, subtle as it is, often enters into our hearts and minds; that we sin and are disobedient to God and really lack the emptiness of self and humility before God that is the very foundation of Christian life. To love God, to just learn to love Him and understand and rejoice in His Word; to stand before Him with humility — like the Publican in the Temple; to be tenderhearted and sensitive toward others and their sufferings; to understand that life is meaningless without Christ: this, I think, is part of the essence of Lent and what I strive to instill in my children.
Together with this, Lent is a perfect time to impress on children a certain critical attitude toward life and cultural values. The whole spirit of Lent is opposed to the steady diet of hedonism, sexual ambiguity and self-love that is continuously dished out to us via TV, the schools, and so on. Lent is the opportune time to teach children to think for themselves and to understand that — all claims and promises to the contrary — unhappiness. disillusion, and sadness are inherent in a “fallen” state and nothing is going to solve that except Christ and the resurrection. My chief responsibility with my children is to cultivate in them a discriminating attitude about what they hear so that they will be able to discern — for themselves — what is good, and what is evil, and to desire the good, for here is true fulfillment and true freedom.
(To be continued next week.)
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, March 4
Thou didst shine as a desert dweller, a summit of ascetics and a reflection of the angelic life; thou wast made radiant with the light of the Spirit, O Gerasimos, adornment of the righteous. Therefore thou healest unfailingly those who cry: Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee; glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.
Kontakion of St. Gerasimos, Tone 4
Aflame with heavenly love thou didst prefer the desert's hardship to all the pleasures of the world. Wherefore a wild creature served thee and became obedient till death. God glorified thee with signs and miracles: in thy prayers remember us also, O Godbearing Father Gerasimos.