'We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled', writes the Serbian Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, describing the Pascha service at Jerusalem. 'When the Patriarch sang "Christ is Risen", a heavy burden fell from our souls. We felt as if we also had been raised from the dead… Coming out from the service at dawn, we began to regard everything in the light of the glory of Christ's Resurrection, and all appeared different from what it had yesterday; everything seemed better, more expressive, more glorious. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning.'
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware uses this description of Pascha in Jerusalem as a part of his introduction to a wonderful article entitled The True Nature of Fasting. In this article, he describes not only the joy and meaning that comes with our Lord’s Resurrection, but emphasizes the need to “pass through a time of preparation. ‘We waited,’ says Bishop Nikolai, ‘and at last our expectations were fulfilled.’”
We are in the middle of our Lenten Journey. It is a time when the Church asks all faithful believers to change their lifestyles, to re-evaluate the direction of their lives, to reflect upon the values that we cherish and question whether or not these values lead us into the Kingdom of God. The Fast is supposed to break us out of the illusion we live in throughout the year, and call us into the reality of God’s Kingdom which is not a future event, but a present promise.
Our Lord Jesus Christ offered to all His followers the promise of an abundant life. Yet, how many of us truly experience life as one of abundance? Of course, Christ is not referring to an abundance of material possessions. He is describing, though, life lived under God’s reign, life lived according to the principles of His Heavenly Kingdom, life lived with an abundance of God’s love and mercy and grace.
To experience life in this manner, we first must overcome any obstacles that hinder God’s grace from dwelling within our lives. The Church Fathers describe these obstacles as the many passions that assail our souls - passions such as greed, lust, pride, anger, gluttony, laziness, and envy among others. These vices, which tempt all of us, too often control our lives.
Since the Church Fathers understood our fallen human nature so well, they designated different seasons of the year as periods not only to focus on these passions, but more importantly, to use the spiritual tools which help us overcome them. And by overcoming the passions, we then open up our lives and souls to God’s rich healing grace. Through God’s grace and the practice of spiritual disciplines, we discover the path that leads to the kingdom of God within.
As I have discussed in the February issue of The Light, and in sermons, the most essential spiritual tools for this journey are a triad of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
During Lent, we should strive to pray more frequently, and more fervently. This includes private personal prayer, as well as communal worship. Are you keeping a 30 minutes discipline alone with God each day? Can we accept the discipline of daily Bible reading to open up our hearts to God’s Word? Can we try to come to Church every Sunday, as well as worship at one other weekday Lenten service. Such a discipline of prayer will open up our hearts to God’s grace in new ways!
How are we doing in our discipline of FASTING? Can we limit our earthly desires, in order to unite our spirits to what is heavenly and eternal? Can we accept to discipline our passion for food as an important first step in disciplining our passion for other sinful desires? The discipline of fasting, done with the correct spirit, will open us our hearts to God’s grace in new ways!
Prayer opens us our hearts to the Divine, and fasting helps us control our desires. Yet the spiritual triad is incomplete without almsgiving. Almsgiving not only means helping the poor and needy, but first of all implies noticing the poor and needy all around us. Do we notice those in need around us - in our homes, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, and in our cities and towns ? And such almsgiving not only implies sharing our treasure, but includes giving of our time and talents as well. In other words, true Christian almsgiving demands us to give of our very selves to the other, to those in need!
May we all strive to use these spiritual tools of the Church during this holy season as a means of opening up our hearts to God’s grace and preparing ourselves to celebrate the greatest event of the year - our Lord’s glorious Resurrection!
With love and hope
in our Lord Jesus,
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Our Orthodox Faith
One of the best-known prayers of the Orthodox Church speaks of the spirit of God being "present in all places and filling all things." This profound affirmation is basic to Orthodoxy's understanding of God and His relationship to the world. Learn more»