by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1969
Little by little since the Sunday of Zaccheus we have been preparing ourselves for Great Lent, which in turn is the movement towards the Feast of Feasts, the Pascha, Easter. The first Sunday of this preparatory period, the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, has as its theme: Christianity as humility. The second Sunday, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, has the theme: Christianity as return or conversion. The third Sunday has the theme: Christianity as judgment. The fourth Sunday has the theme: Christianity as forgiveness. These four themes are essential in our preparation for Great Lent.
Let us approach Lent with a proper understanding of this period. Let us not reduce this Lent to giving up something for Lent: for this idea fills man with such pride that he loses all the benefit he was supposed to achieve and even more. Let us not reduce Lent to our personal problem.
Lent is a time for slowing-down, for taking ourselves to account, in order that we may be spiritually prepared for the feast to come. Lent is the time when the Church withdraws from the New Testament into the Old Testament. Lent is the time when we become nostalgic for communion.
In a larger sense, Lent is a permanent dimension of Christianity. It is not a spiritual bath. Lent expresses the church as pilgrimage, as movement, as exodus. Lent opens our eyes to the things that we do not see. Let us remember the idea of Church as fast and feast, as expectation and fulfillment, as humility and glory.
The history of our salvation began when God told Abraham to go from Ur in Chaldaea to the land of Canaan. Later on the Exodus from Egypt was the first great Passover or Pascha. This Exodus is the first image of the Church as the Sons of Israel, the People of God. This Exodus has given us the symbol for the 40 days fast. The idea of the 40 is that the goal of those who went into the desert was the promised land. And so for us Christians the first spiritual dimension of Lent is 40 days. The Christian goal is the new promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet in the very desire for the Kingdom of Heaven, we somehow already possess it.
Lent means not only externals as fasting and doing without, but a change in our lives, and a renewal of our baptismal vows, and a new dedication to serve God, a decision for Christ. Above all, let us not misunderstand Lent.
Our hymns clearly indicate the true purpose of Lent:
Let us begin the Fast with joy!
Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!
Let us purify and cleanse our flesh!
Let us abstain from passion, as we abstain from food!
Let us rejoice in the Spirit and persevere with love!
and another hymn:
Brethren, while fasting physically,
Let us also fast spiritually!
Let us loosen every bond of injustice!
Let us destroy the strong fetters of violence!
Let us tear up every unjust writing!
Let us give bread to the hungry, and
Let us welcome the homeless poor to our homes.
That from Christ God we may receive great mercy!
St. Polycarp of Smyrna - February 23
Thy name was verified by thy works, O wise Hieromartyr Polycarp. Thou wast a fruitful olive tree in the house of the Lord, and dost nourish the Church with the spiritual bounty of thy words and deeds. Thou dost intercede for our souls, O hierarch and steadfast Prize-winner.
Kontakion of St. Polycarp, Tone 1
Through thy virtues, O wise Polycarp, thou dost offer spiritual fruits to the Lord and prove to be God's worthy Hierarch. We who have been enlightened by thy words today praise thy memory and glorify God.