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Pascha: The Formula for Joy (2015 Reflection from Bishop John)

by Bishop John, The Word, April 2015

As I write this Paschal message, I sit before a seven-foot snow drift. It's not easy to imagine the Easter flowers pushing through the earth to greet the spring sun, when the earth is covered with such piles of snow. It's seven degrees now, but I know that, as Lent trudges on, even with another six inches of snow forecast for this week, Pascha is on the way. How do I know that spring is coming? Was it my mother who told me that spring follows winter during those long days inside the house, or was it something I learned in school? Perhaps it was many years living and noticing that each year Pascha followed Lent. In any case, we prepare for Pascha with great anticipation, especially after a record-breaking winter.

What I really want to talk about today is becoming comfortable with the seasons of our lives and recognizing God's presence and love in each of these seasons. Each has its own challenges and blessings. Let's rise to the challenges and rejoice in the blessings. After all, this is the day that the Lord has made for us. After all, we were born for Pascha, and all of life and all the gifts are to help us embrace this reality of union with God. is is true whether we are just learning to drive or are experiencing the aches of the rusty years.

The Great Lent: Message From Patriarch John X

By God's mercy
John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all East
Brethren, Pastors of the Holy Church of Antioch;
Beloved children in all dioceses in this apostolic see

Brethren and dearest spiritual children,
whose strength and anticipation in God, strengthen ours;

Entering this redemptive period which leads us to the Cross (of Christ) and the dawn of His and thus our resurrection, these days bring to us the anticipation to Jesus and His divine consolation for His beloved humans; for whom He descended from His highest, incarnated in the Virgin, submitting Himself to the human law, willingly walking the path of the Cross, in order to rise from the dead, becoming the first fruit for our resurrection from our earthly misery and tribulation.

Discerning the Goal from the Process

by Bishop John, The Word, March 2015

Let's not get so caught up in the Lenten journey that we forget our goal. Lent is a time of preparation. It is a preparation for our Holy Week celebration, which is a preparation for our Paschal celebration, which is ultimately a preparation for our unity with God and Eternity. Lent cannot be an end unto itself. God did not send His only begotten Son to us for us to crucify Him, so that we could fast, do good, and have a new worldview or religion. God took on flesh to join Himself to us and allow us to join ourselves to Him. Fasting, worship, and almsgiving are the process of our union with God, not our goal. Knowing the truth about God, man and the world is not the goal, but part of the process of learning to commune with the living God. He gave us a way through the Church to receive Him and share in His life. Orthodoxy is not the goal, but the way. Christ is the way and the Orthodox way is the God-given way to worship, live and share in His life.

We are given choices and opportunities, but there is right and wrong. The relationships that God gives us allow us to enter a process that leads to unity with Him and each other. Our God-given relationships with Church and family let us stretch and grow. They allow us to understand better. They allow us to desire God, to humble ourselves and to come to encounter Him, to forgive each other, and finally to accept that God accepts us. Because He loves us first, we come to love Him and do His will. Doing His will is our true nature, because, like God, we love and we give. It is only fear of not having enough love and being vulnerable to each other that prevent us from loving and giving as God lives and gives. Loving God and each other is what brings us into the union with God and each other which is ultimately our goal.

March 4, 2015 + Become as Lightning


Become as lightning, my soul,
receiving the flashing rays of abstinence,
and flee from the obscurity of sin:
that through the divine Spirit
the light of forgiveness may enlighten you as the rising sun.

The deceiver enticed and captured me with the hook of pleasure.
But, apostles, as by your preaching
you have caught the whole world in your net
deliver me from his malice.

A Blessed Lent During These Difficult Days

by Maria C. Khoury, Ed.D.

Dear Friends of Saint George Taybeh,

I sincerely wish all of you a most blessed Holy Great Lenten journey with your beautiful families and church communities. It is amazing that this sacred and most holy time of year just sneaked upon us so fast with some awful very unholy things happening all around the world. May our Lord have mercy! Let us just pray, pray, pray.

The Palestinian flags are flying half mass today here in the Holy Land in response to a three-day mourning of the horrific slaughter of twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya yesterday. While I was busy in my own little cocoon complaining that it was the last Sunday to serve meat for the family lunch according to the Orthodox tradition in preparing to cleanse our soul and focus on Christ, I heard the news late.

The first thing that popped in my mind is how tragic for the families that have to deal with this horrendous loss. As I am deeply shocked throughout this whole last year with the tragic loss of life in all corners of the world, we continuously try to live a normal life in a little Christian village in the heart of Palestine.

It seems from Paris to Copenhagen to America, evil is just spreading. And, on a personal note, I was completely shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Bob Simon, the Veteran CBS journalist who spend a memorable visit in Taybeh conducting interviews. He was a champion of truth and deeply loved humanity. Although the CBS producers cut out the Taybeh footage from two major broadcasts, Bob Simon, gave us a gift of a short overtime. May he rest in peace.

I hope we might have more courageous journalists who are willing to share the truth but in many cases pay with their very life. May this most holy time of year allow for a time of healing and forgiveness so the Light of Christ overpowers all evil,

forgive me a sinner,

The Gifts of the Evangelist Luke

Icon by Kh. Erin Kimmett - apicons@yahoo.comIcon by Kh. Erin Kimmett -"With Sacred Songs, let us praise the holy Apostle,the Narrator of the Acts of the Apostles, and Author of the Bright Gospel of Christ, the All-Hymned Luke, Whose Fame is not conned to Christ's Church, for He is the Physician who heals men's ills, Nature's frailties, and the soul's injuries, and he prays unceasingly, for our souls."
+ Troparion of St. Luke the Evangelist, Tone 5

"The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me." Luke 10:16–24

The Seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!"

And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Then turning to the disciples He said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
Luke 10:16-2

St. John Climacus: The Forgotten Saint

Whenever I think of Great Lent, I make it a point to remember a meaningful conversation I had just a few years ago. I was on a pilgrimage in Greece, visiting a centuries-old church, when an old priest sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. At one point he observed that the Christians in America make Christianity look easy.

I sat in silence for a moment because I was surprised by his bold statement. "Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because you have forgotten about John," he replied as he let out a grin.

"John who?" I responded, knowing full well that Orthodoxy has a lot of special people named John. "Are you talking about St. John the Baptist or St. John Chrysostom?" I asked.

"Neither," the old priest replied. "I'm speaking of Saint John, the one with the ladder."

St. John Climacus is one of the great saints of our Church. He so special that the Church remembers St. John, not once, as we do with most saints, but twice a year. His feast day is always celebrated on March 30th, but the Church also devotes the fourth Sunday of Great Lent to this majestic church father.

The early life of St. John is shrouded in mystery. While we know that he was born in Palestine in the year 579 A.D., not much is known of his parents or of the days of his youth. All we know is that St. John received a general education and that he entered into the monastic ranks at the age of sixteen. From that early age, St. John embraced the life of solitude and ascesis, as he progressed greatly in the spiritual life.

April 2, 2014 + Catachesis 61

by St. Theodore the Studite, Given on Friday of the 3rd Week of the Great Fast

Catechesis 61: That we must not submit ourselves in temptations,
and about fasting.

Brethren and fathers, yesterday a tempest and to-day calm; yesterday a <disturbance> [1] and today quiet; but blessed is God, who has also dispelled the trial and given you power to remain unmoved in the expectation of threats. This is the way of true Christians, this is the way of authentic monks, to hold themselves always in readiness in the face of dangers on behalf of virtue and to consider nothing more precious that the commandment of God. Those who came said what they said, and they left not so much amazed as ashamed; while to you may the Lord grant the perfect reward in return for your having chosen to be persecuted for his sake; and being rich in mercy he knows how to crown from the intention alone the one who chooses the good. But in fact the trial has not been dispelled, but again and again it continues, and particularly because everywhere there are edicts of the rulers that no one is to lag behind from having a share in heretical fellowship. And so let us hear the Apostle when he says, Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

March 19, 2014 + St. Theodore the Studite on Fasting and Dispassion

Taken from Catechesis 54 of St. Theodore the Studite

Brethren and fathers, the season of Lent, when compared to the whole year, may be likened to a storm-free harbor, in which all who are sailing together enjoy a spiritual calm. For the present season is one of salvation not for monks and nuns only, but also for lay people, for great and small, for rulers and ruled, for emperors and priests, for every race and for every age. For cities and villages reduce their hubbub and bustle, while psalmody and hymns, prayers and entreaties take their place, by which our good God is propitiated and so guides our spirits to peace and pardons our offences, if, with a sincere heart, we will only fall down before him with fear and trembling and weep before him, promising improvement for the future. But let the leaders of the churches speak of what is suitable to lay people, for just as those who run in the stadium need the vocal support of their fellow contestants, so fasters need the encouragement of their teachers. But I, since I have been placed at your head, honored brethren, will also talk to you briefly. Fasting then is a renewal of the soul, for the holy Apostle says, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward is being renewed day by day. And if it is being renewed, clearly it is being made beautiful according to its original beauty; made beautiful in itself it is being drawn lovingly to the one who said, I and the Father will come and make our dwelling with him.

April 10, 2013 + On the Holy Lenten Fast

by St. Dorotheos of Gaza

In the Law, God laid down that the sons of Israel should each year give tithes of all they possessed, and if they did so they were blessed in all their works. The holy Apostles, knowing this to be for the help and advancement of our souls, resolved to fulfil it in a better and higher way, namely, for us to deliver up a tithe of the very days of our lives as if to consecrate them to God, so that we may be blessed in all our works, and each year to be unburdened of the whole year’s sins. They elected to consecrate out of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, seven weeks of fasting, and so they ordained; but our Fathers, in their time, thought it advisable to add another week, both to train and better prepare themselves to enter on the labor of fasting and to honor with their fasting the holy number of forty days which our Lord fasted. The eight weeks, subtracting Saturdays and Sundays, makes forty days, but we honor Holy Saturday with a fast because it is a very holy day and the only Saturday fast of the year.

Keeping Lent at Home

The following article was taken from the “Orthodox Family Life” archives. May it provide motivation, encouragement, and direction in your journey through Great Lent.

by Matushka Nadia Koblosh

When asked to write an article about what we do in my 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, be definition, more a time of doing than of talking.

But on second thought, I decided to go ahead. I think 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 this vein that I share my thoughts.

Lenten Goals

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 with 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.

Great Lent and Holy Week

by Maureen Massiwer Gurghigian
from The Word, March 1993

Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has its own special theme. The first Sunday is called the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. It is a historical feast commemorating the return of the Icons to the Churches in the year 843 A.D., after the heresy of iconoclasm was overcome.

The second Sunday of Great Lent is the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas. It was St. Gregory who died in 1359, who bore living witness that men can become divine through the Grace of God in the Holy Spirit; and that even in this life, by prayer and fasting, human beings can become participants of the uncreated Light of God’s Divine Glory.

The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross, a day marked by its beauty and pageantry. The Cross stands in the midst of the Church at the midpoint of the Lenten season to remind us of Christ’s redemption and to keep before us the goal of our efforts .   But even more importantly to be revered and venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:38). In the Cross of Christ Crucified, lies both “the power of God and the Wisdom of God” for those being saved, (I Corinthians 1:2 4).

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to St. John Climacus (St. John of the Ladder), the author of the work The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John was an abbot at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in the sixth century His work encourages the faithful to persevere in their efforts; for, according to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved;” (Matthew 24:13).

A Lenten Journey to Love

by Matthew Gallatin

As a young child, Nick Damascus loved watching priests deliver their homilies from the pulpit. His little heart would stir, and he would say to himself, I want to do that! I want to stand up there and say, "Hey, you people! Wake up!  God loves you!" Fifty years later, Nick is indeed a zealous messenger of God. Oh, he's never preached a homily. But he does share his Orthodox faith in an uncommonly vibrant way with anyone who will give him half a chance.

What many of those to whom he ministers may not know, however, is that the genuine sincerity, peace, and spiritual insight he exudes are relatively new to Nick. For much of the half-century since his days of childhood fervor, Nick wandered without purpose, searching for a sense of meaning. He could not find it in the Church. Neither did he discover it in worldly success and affluence.

But one year ago, during the holy season of Lent, God worked a miracle in the life of Nick Damascus. It was a quiet and gentle miracle, without lightning or fanfare. Yet by the Holy Spirit, through the divine power of the sacraments and the Lenten services, God transformed this man. Journeying through the weeks and liturgical beauty of the Great Fast, Nick joyously discovered the life of divine love that "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

An Orthodox Child of the 50s and 60s

Nick was born into a Greek home, and raised in an ethnic Greek Orthodox parish. But unlike some his age, Nick did not rebel against his ethnic identity and its traditions. He fully embraced them.

The Lenten Fast: Its Rule and Spirit

by Fr. Ayman Kfouf
Great Lent 2012

I- Historical Background

Fasting is not new in the Church. Fasting had its origin in the life of our first parents Adam and Eve. Fasting was the first, and only, law given to Adam and Eve1.

The Old Testament provides an extensive record of fasts kept by the Jews as commanded by God2 and fasts, without specific commandment, in times of distress, grief or when asking for forgiveness3.

In the New Testament, the Lord Himself fasted for forty days4. He commanded His disciples to fast after His ascension5 and prescribed fasting as a spiritual weapon against evil6. After Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to practice fasting, beside prayer, in every aspect of their apostolic lives7 and they handed down this tradition to their disciples to preserve and practice it after them.

The aforementioned scriptural examples of fasting inspired Christians to imitate them, thus fasting quickly became part of the regular Christian experience. Evidently, the earliest Christian documents show that fasting in the first five centuries took different shapes and passed through various phases of transformation until it evolved into its current form today.

The practice of fasting in the first and second centuries took the shape of complete abstention from food for a day or two8. During the third century, fasting was extended to a full week in preparation for Pascha (Easter). By the fourth century, fasting had transformed in form and length and had evolved from a one week preparation for Pascha into a forty day fast9.

Lent: Journey to Pascha

The following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From The Introduction

When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." We must begin, therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about our Christian faith and life.

Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is "brighter than the day," who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. [...] On Easter we celebrate Christ's Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm: "Death is no more!" Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage — a "passover," a "Pascha" — into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. [...]

Taking It Seriously

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 5, Section 1: Taking It Seriously

What could be not only a normal but a real impact of Lent on our existence? This existence (do we need to recall it) is very different from the one people led when all these services, hymns, canons, and prescriptions were composed and established. One lived then in a relatively small, mainly rural community within one organically Orthodox world; the very rhythm of one’s life was shaped by the Church. Now, however, we live in an enormous urban, technological society which is pluralistic in its religious beliefs, secularistic in its worldview, and in which we Orthodox constitute an insignificant minority. Lent is no longer “visible” as it was, let us say, in Russia or in Greece. Our question thus is a very real one; how can we –besides introducing one or two “symbolical” changes into our daily life—keep Lent?

Family Activities for the Lenten Journey

by Shelley Pituch

One idea that leads and guides our family during the Lenten season is the use of our Lenten coin box. Around the start of the Great Fast, we bring home our Lenten coin boxes from church. Throughout the season, we are to give alms to the poor and needy by putting coins into the box. After celebrating the Feast of Pascha, we return our filled coin boxes to church, who then distributes the money to those in need.

March 14, 2012 + Making Good Use of Great Lent

by Fr. Peter G. Rizos
from The Word, April 1986

The Holy Fathers of the Church have determined that there are three indispensable means of participating in Great Lent. They are fasting, spiritual vigilance and prayer. These disciplines derive from God's word and have through the centuries been the mainstay of Eastern Orthodox spirituality or life in Christ.

When Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness in preparation for His saving ministry, we are told that the devil tempted Him to change stones into loaves of bread. The Lord rebuked the tempter with the words, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'"(Matthew 4:14; Deuteronomy 8:3). In this way Jesus succeeded where Adam had failed (Genesis 3:1-6). His answer to Satan is a trenchant affirmation that to live our lives as though God did not exist, that is, "by bread alone," is to live according to a demonic lie.

The Lord's words and steadfast self-denial alert us to the particular lifestyle He expects of His followers, expressed elsewhere: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Lent Is a Time For Parish Renewal and Growth

Photo by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyPhoto by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyLent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.

To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.

We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:

February 29, 2012 + Orthodoxy Sunday

by Fr. Paul N. Tarazi
from The Word, April 1983

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a gathering of commemoration, a commemoration of a bright victory, the victory of the Orthodox Faith at the 7th Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea in 787. Yes! A festivity of victory! This is after all what Orthodoxy Sunday is all about. However, it is to my eyes highly symbolical that, already since its inception in 843, this festivity has taken place on the 1st Sunday of the Great Lent.

In the eyes of the world any feast without meat, eggs and dairy products cannot be a full scale festivity; it is indeed puzzling — if not insane — to celebrate a great victory in such a meager way. But for us, this celebration is held at the beginning of Lent as an ever reminder that it is Pascha (Easter) —the Feast of Feasts, our only ultimate Feast — which is the fulfillment of Orthodoxy. Any other festivity or celebration is by the same token wanting and incomplete until our eyes have seen Jesus Christ, the Joy of our hearts, risen from the dead, smashing down forever sin, sickness and death, and bestowing His Life upon all those who have lost life.

February 22, 2012 + Great Lent is Coming!

by Fr. David Barr
from The Word, February 1991

Once again we will enter into Great Lent, the season of fasting and preparation for the Feast of Feasts, our Lord's Resurrection from the dead. As Orthodox Christians, Great Lent is an important time of the year, for this is when we make an even greater effort to pursue the spiritual life. It is the time when our attention returns to repentance and self-denial. We have additional Church services, and they tend to be longer than normal. Kneeling and prostrations become a greater part of our liturgical worship. In order for you to participate in this important time of the year, perhaps it is good to look at the origins of Great Lent and how it developed into what we experience today. Knowing why we do things is often helpful in participating in the life of the Church.

March 9, 2011 + Silence that Screams

by the Rev. Fr. Joseph J. Allen
from The Word, April 1969

It is difficult and almost impossible for us to imagine in today’s world that silence is beautiful. What was possible at one time is quickly becoming extinct in all areas, but greatest amongst those disappearing elements is silence. When we shop in the stores we hear bells of all sorts, e.g. cash registers. Driving for only the shortest time can bring every kind of noisy sound, from the toll booth to the old car next to yours with a bad muffler. Then, of course, — there is the neighbor who runs the lawn mower at every hour or, for the apartment dweller it is the young couple upstairs (and young couples so very often begin their married life in apartments) who have all those first year “battles.”

But I cannot help feeling that somewhere in the depth of man’s soul he longs for silence, for a time when the phone won’t ring and he won’t “have” to listen to the newest FM radio. But we seem trapped by it all! How can man escape all this without becoming isolated, or greater, from becoming neurotic?  Where can he turn to find the “silent sound,” sound that can in a way scream about a kind of joy just because it is silent. This is the joy that needs no sound to be joy, the joy that a mother understands when she places her ear to the face of her newly born infant and hears the soft sound of life as it breathes.

March 2, 2011 + Great Lent - A Matter of Life and Death

by Fr. Elias Bitar
from The Word, March 1987

Many things, throughout the history of the Church, have been said about this most holy period of the Orthodox Christian year.

We live in an age of great and continuous achievements in all aspects of our wonderful world. We are, everyday, trying to discover new dimensions to things in life.

Lent — the forty-day journey toward the Resurrection of our Lord, has suffered much because of lack of attention. There is no doubt that we know a great deal about Lent, we have enough information to satisfy our inquisitive mind, but our spirit cries out for meaningful application of our faith. How can we do this?

First, by being full of God and empty of ourselves. In doing this, we learn to trust God more than we do our own reasoning. As our Lord said to His Disciples that this kind (meaning the evil Spirit) comes out only by prayer and fasting, He meant PRAYER AND FASTING, and NOT what we want Him to mean. Lent is a period of prayer and fasting. It is a time especially set aside for us to draw closer to God.

Before we enter the Lenten period, we are reminded of the desire to come closer to Christ (Zacchaeus), because unless we want to move toward God we will always stay away from Him. Then we are asked to be humble like the Publican (“God have mercy on me a sinner”) and not “Thank God I am better than everyone else.” God abides only in the humble heart. The Prodigal Son urges us to acknowledge our sinfulness and return to God the Father. All these preparation guidelines help give us the proper attitude towards Lent. These are tools with which to enter the Lenten period.

February 23, 2011 + Great Lent Meditation

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.

February 16, 2011 + The Right Attitude for Lent

by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1971

Before the Great Lent begins the Orthodox Church reserves three weeks in order to encourage in its members a proper mental preparedness towards the season of intense prayer, meditation and fasting. We must learn not merely to accept lent as a spiritual obligation, an intrusion into a life of fun and diversion, but rather we must learn to welcome its discipline if we are to benefit by it spiritually.

Let us first mention certain misconceptions regarding this period: the great danger of keeping a strict lent is that one tends to become self-righteous. Wisely the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is put at the very start of the Triodion Cycle to impress upon our minds the distastefulness of self-righteousness. It would be far better not to observe the lent than to have it result in an arrogance, a ‘holier-than-you’ attitude.

Neither is Lent intended for scoring points in heaven. The hairs on our head may be numbered, as the Lord tells us; but it is highly unlikely the angels keep track of whether we had a cheese sandwich or boloney for lunch. We sometimes tend to keep the letter of the lent and fail to develop an over-view, a general framework for understanding why we deprive ourselves of certain foods and pleasures.

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