The Great Lent & the Holy Pascha
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Great Lent: A Joyful Journey
by H.G. Bishop Serapion
Great Lent occupies a special place in our spiritual life and liturgical cycle.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this holy period is specified for correction, purification, an enlightenment of our entire being, both physically and spiritually. Great Lent is considered the spring of our spiritual life, and for every soul that yearns for her Heavenly Bridegroom, this is considered “a honeymoon,” in which the soul relinquishes worldly cares in order to be free for the Bridegroom and can say with the bride of the Song of Solomon, “Scarcely had I passed by them, when I fund the one I love. I held him and would not let him go, until I had brought him to the house of my mother, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the doves of the field, do not stir up no awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 3:4-5).
The human soul encounters her Bridegroom and is united to Him during the Great Lent. It is an opportunity for the soul to know the Bridegroom, no intellectually, but by experience, and time for the soul to be united to her Bridegroom, becoming one in Him and He in her. It is during Great Lent that the soul transcends time to live with the Eternal One; the limited soul unites to the Infinite One.
This communion between the soul and her Bridegroom is a dynamic action. Therefore, we regard Great Lent as a journey of purification and the correction of our lives, enlightenment and healing of the body and spirit, as well as growth in knowledge. This journey has a certain characteristic that is present throughout the entire journey from beginning to end. It is a journey characterized by joy, which is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, Who guides the human spirit throughout this journey in order to unit her to the Bridegroom.
This joyful journey has certain landmarks and it is through our liturgical worship during this period that our Holy Church presents to us these landmarks. Together, we shall see how this journey allows us to experience joy, using the gospel reading of the Sunday Divine Liturgies as a guide for the important landmarks of this journey.
1) Preparing for the Joyous Journey:
The gospel reading of the Preparatory Sunday is from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:1-18), which revolves around the joyful worship. Our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that our worship, whether through prayer, fasting, or alms giving, is directed towards God and not to impress people, as hypocrites do. God is our Heavenly Father, Who sees what is done in secret and rewards us openly. When He talks about fasting, our Lord exhorts us during fasting not to have a sad countenance, but a cheerful and happy face, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that hey may appear to men to be fasting… But you, when you fast, anoint you head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to you Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:16-18).
2) Where do We Go?
The gospel reading of the first Sunday of Lent (Matt. 6:19-33) defines the direction of the journey. Our Lord Jesus Christ tell us, “But seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33). The Kingdom of God means that Christ rules over us and that we have communion with Him. The bride in the Song of Solomon went searching for “the one I love” (Song of Solomon 3:3). She did not search for just any bridegroom, but for a specific One; the One whom she loves because He loved her first. Likewise, at the beginning of the Lenten journey the soul is not concerned with earthly treasures, food, drink, or clothes. She is concerned with only one thing; encountering her Bridegroom, the Heavenly King. Therefore, with the beginning of Lent, the soul must be freed from worldly concerns, even the good and essential matters. The soul must imitate Mary, who sat at the feet of her Bridegroom, listening to Him and not worrying about anything else. On the other hand, her sister, Martha, was concerned about important things, but they were inappropriate for that time. At a time in which she should have freed herself tot listen to the Lord, Martha was concerned about the duties of hospitality. Therefore, Christ told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed” (Luke 10:41).
At the beginning of our fasting, may our Lord help us not to be concerned and troubled over many things, but to choose the good part, the one which will not be taken away from us, which is encountering our Heavenly Bridegroom. This is what will bring us joy, the kind that no one can take away from us.
3) The Joy of Victory Over Satan:
The gospel reading of the second Sunday of Len (Matt. 4:1-13) give us the joy of victory over the one who tempts us. For our sake and on our behalf, our Lord was victorious over Satan. The Church reminds us that the journey has many temptations, because Satan, our adversary, “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Despite the difficulty of the trials, yet we are joyful, because our powerful God conquered the devil. Regardless of how strong our enemy may seem, and despite the numerous trials, yet he is a defeated enemy compared to our Lord’s might and the power of His life-giving Cross.
4) The Joy of Repentance:
The Lenten journey is actually one of purification and correction of our lives for it is a jour of repentance. The soul that meets her Bridegroom must be like the bride of the Song of Solomon, “looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, awesome as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10). If the sun of temptation burns us and sin humiliates us, and we weaken when facing temptations, we should not lose hope. Despite our sins, our Lord sees a beauty in us. He shows us the road to repentance so we may joyfully walk through it, and when we return to Him, He receives us with great joy.
The gospel reading in the third Sunday of Lent (Luke 15:11-32) helps us experience the joy in heaven when one sinner repents. Even if we wander away from our Heavenly Father, and even if we journey to a far country, waste our possession with prodigal living, and become in need to eat the pods that swine eat, yet we can look up to our Heavenly Father. The gospel tells us how the father received his returning son, “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him… But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his and hand sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf and kill her, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Andy began to be merry” (Luke 15:20-24).
This is a message of hope to every soul that suffers from the sorrow and wretchedness of a sinful life. The Prodigal Son was sorrowful over his sin, but his sorrow was godly sorrow. Therefore, it caused him to repent, leading to salvation, not to be regretted. It is the sorrow, which the Holy Spirit talks about through St. Paul’s writings, “Now I rejoice, not that you were mad sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
During Great Lent, we sorrow for repentance; it is a sorrow, which produces repentance without regret, for it leads to salvation. It is a joyful sorrow, one in which we experience the joy of salvation (Ps. 51:12). This sorrow for repentance leads to joy on earth, as well as in heaven, where “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
5) The Joy of those Disdained and Rejected:
The gospel reading of the fourth Sunday of Holy Lent recounts the joyful story of the rejected and disdained ones after they encounter the Lord of lords and Holy of holies. It is the story of how the Samaritan woman and the Samaritans met Christ, the Savior of the world (Jn. 4:10-42). God sought the Samaritans, who were rejected by the Jews, and led them to know Him. He changed their levies of sin, isolation, and inferiority to joy, and they preached how God worked through them. These are the joyous words of the Samaritan woman and the Samaritans, “The woman the left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come see a Man, who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to Him” (Jn. 4:28-29). “So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with thgem; and He stayed there two day. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world’” (Jn. 4:40-42).
Every soul that feels rejected by society, the family, or the church looks up with hope to Christ, the Savior of the entire world, without exception. He will lead her to knowing Him and will restore her to the sheepfold. A life of distance and isolation begets hardness and pride as it did to the Samaritan woman, who refused to give Christ water to drink and told Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (Jn. 4:9). The Samaritans also refused Christ, because “His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53). But the encounter with the Lord, the Savior of the world, melts the stony hearts and changes them to hearts full of love. Thus, during Holy Lent, the Church teaches us that there is joy in changing the stony hearts into compassionate hearts and the wolves into lambs. Every meek soul living in the midst of the snatching wolves rejoices that Christ the Savior of the worlds is able to change the wolves into lambs, as He did with the Samaritans.
6) The Joy of Complete Healing:
A person is humbled by illness, for he feels his weakness and disability. The cruelty of illness increases when it is connected to sin. The gospel of the fifth Sunday recounts the story of the paralytic at Bethesda (Jn. 5:1-18). This man was paralyzed for 38 years and suffered from loneliness; he said that he had “no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up” (Jn. 5:7). Our Lord changed this man’s sorrow to joy. At a time when he felt desperate in finding someone to care about him, or that he may be healed, our Lord went to him not by means of water of the pool, but by His word; He told him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (Jn. 5:13). After granting him complete healing, Christ revealed to him the reason for his illness. He also warned him of the cause that may lead to an illness worst than the first one; He told him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (Jn. 5:14).
During Great Lent, we experience the joy of complete healing, since healing the spirit from sin is more important than healing the physical ailments. Sin is the illness of the spirit, body, and soul; only Christ can grant complete healing. In the Sacrament of Holy Unction, our Holy Church shows us how to experience complete healing. This sacrament is observed on the last Friday of Great Lent. Let us approach this sacrament with joyful and repentant hearts, confident that sin has no power over our bodies, since our bodies have been made holy and are temples of the Holy Spirit, being purified daily by repentance.
7) The Joy of Illuminations:
The soul that has been purified by repentance and lived away from sin needs illumination through knowing God. Our spiritual life is not merely abstaining from sin, but is growth in the knowledge of God and coming closer to Him. The gospel reading of the sixth week of Lent (Jn. 9:1-41) presents to us the story of a man whom Christ testified that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jn. 9:3). He lived in darkness, which was not only the inability to see, but also more importantly the ignorance of not knowing the Son of God. Christ granted him spiritual sight. Our Lord met him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” and the man answered, and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” to which Christ answered, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you” (Jn. 9:35-37). At the end of this chapter, Christ explains the meaning of true blindness; He said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind. Then some of the Pharisees, who were with Him, heard these words and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you say ‘We see!’ Therefore, your sins remain’” (Jn. 9:39-41). During this Sunday, we experience the joy of illumination by knowing God through our communion with His Son, Who was incarnate for our salvation.
The Church used to baptize the catechumens on this Sunday, which became known as “Baptismal Sunday,” since through baptism we are granted the new nature that enables us to become illuminated by know thing Son of God.
8) The Joy in Christ Our King:
With the gospel reading of Palm Sunday (Jn. 12:12-19), we rejoice with the multitudes, because Christ the King enter\s into our hearts to rule over them. We carry the branches of the palm tree and go out to meet Him chanting, “Hosanna! Bless is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” (Jn. 12:13). The journey of Great Lent is a journey to encounter our Lord Jesus Christ and grow in His knowledge. When Christ reigns over our hearts, He guides our life and directs it in accordance to His royal commandments. Thus, we can say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). During Holy Lent, we experience this joyful experience of mortifying our egos so Christ can rule, and we even experience it with more depth during Pascha Week, in which we rejoice because Christ, the Lover of mankind, reigned as a King on the Cross, was victorious over death, and conquered it, giving us the new life by His glorious resurrection. We then proceed towards the Fifty Holy Days to experience the life in the Kingdome by celebrating daily Christ’s resurrection.
Let us pray that during Holy Lent our Lord may grant us a joyful journey and help us live with Him through His journey of love during His Passion. May our Lord grant us victory with Him, through His glorious resurrection, s that in the end, after we have complete our earthly journey, in this world, we may be worthy to sit with Him in the heavenly places.
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