Orthodox America

  The Holy Quadragesima - How a Christian Should Regard the Time of Holy and Great Lent

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer.

(Rom 13:11)

 At no other time are these words of the Apostle more directly applicable than the time at hand, the Great Lent, a truly propitious time-days of salvation. But few of us have seriously considered its significance. Let us take a few minutes to reflect upon this.

Notice that the 40 days of Great Lent (also called the Quadragesima) are one tenth of the year. The holy Church thus sets aside for Christians one tenth of the yearly cycle, a tithe as it were, for special dedication to God and care for our soul. It is a period of self- examination and correction,, If we desire to progress along the path of virtues, now is the time to press forward; and if we have been overcome by spiritual slumber, now is the time to hearken to the words of the Psalmist, "My soul, my soul arise, Why art thou sleeping?"

When the Lord's disciples could not cure the possessed child, He told them: "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.." The Great Lent is given to us by our holy Church as a time of increased prayer and fasting. If we make at least some effort to enterinto the spirit of this blessed time-to attend the deeply moving Church services, to observe the fast, to abstain from worldly amusements and distractions, to offer heartfelt repentance and prayer to God-we shall, with God's help, begin to cast out those sins which now burden our souls.

In examining ourselves, we see our hidden sins and weaknesses. Now is the ideal time to work upon these areas. Someone, for example, lacks temperance; here is the time when our Mother-the Church-enjoins a strict fast for all, in order that we might gain control of our appetite, to accustom our stomachs to plainer food, and that in moderation!

The Church also gives us the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian to be included in our morning and evening prayers during Lent. This serves as a constant reminder not to judge others-to which, unfortunately, we are a1l so prone. And how conducive is this time, during which the Church calls us to lament over our sins and thoroughly examine our consciences, to refrain from undue laughter and idle talk. What heart is not moved by the sorrowful countenance which the Church takes upon herself at this time-the plaintive chants, the longer and more frequent services, the moving penitential prayers. What soul is not roused to think of the purpose of life and its short duration? And who is not inspired to make a new beginning, to live for God and to do good? Yes, all this externally sorrowful countenance of the Church which is revealed in the divine services and especially in the church singing-all this reflects the disposition of the Christian soul longing for the heavenly homeland and weeping, like the Israelites in the Babylonian captivity, on account of the heavy bondage to sin.

Christian! You are on the threshold of Lent which is like a renowned school where necessary and valuable lessons are taught. Avail yourself of the courses offered here and hasten to educate your mind and heart in the spirit of the Gospel commandments. Here you can easily become more attentive and learn to exchange pride for meekness, self-indulgence for the fulfillment of God's will. But hurry, because if you neglect to take heed now and do not accustom yourself to anything good, later it will be more difficult, and finally you will not think about it at all.

The holy Church, however, does not content herself with simply indicating the means by which we can invoke the Saviour’s mercy. No, she herself pleads together with the sinner, And how deeply moving are these prayers! What hard heart do they not touch and soften? Who does not shed abundant tears when they listen to these chants in which the Church implores the Saviour's mercy? "Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life..." she cries out.

O, let us make use of this precious time; let us not feel sorry about chastening our- selves and exchange our carelessness for heartfelt vigilance, our former coldness and hard-heartedness-for tears and compunction: our ill will and envy towards our neighbor-for alms and good deeds; our pride-for humble prostrations; idle talk-for care in our speech; intemperance-for abstinence and the curbing of our self-will, Seeing this, our Heavenly Father, in His infinite goodness, will be moved to mercy for the sake of His Son's servants, and through the priest's absolution will grant us total forgiveness. O Lord! during these days of weeping and lamenting over our sins, place in our hearts true repentance and accept this as a sacrifice pleasing to Thee!

Finally, let us look upon the Great Lent as the best time to share in the sufferings of our Saviour Who suffered so much and so cruelly for our sakes: 40 days He spent in prayer and fasting, eating nothing; He lived not knowing where to lay His head, enduring scorn, slander, and all manner of humiliation. And what of His sufferings on the Cross? Who can measure them? Who can even describe their intensity? What have we to

offer Him in return? We bear His name, but where are our deeds like unto His? Where is our gratitude for all He has done for us? Shouldn't we endure at least something for His sake,: seeing all that He endured for us? On the Cross our Lord became parched; His spirit grieved; He experienced all manner of suffering for our sakes. Let us, during this 40 days, deprive ourselves of unnecessary comfort and pleasures, and let us also mourn in spirit and body, at least for this short period of time. And by abstaining and sorrowing we can become partakers of Christ's grief. Before His Passion, the Saviour prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane until He perspired great drops of blood. If we earnestly pray, especially during this lenten period, if we fervently labor with prostrations and heartfelt sighs, we shall in a small measure participate in the Saviour's prayer. And the more difficult our struggle in prayer, the more pleasing it will be to the Lord, and the sooner it will reach the Heavenly Father. Blessed is the man who in this way is able to co-suffer with his Saviour.

Let us then not regard this time as something tedious, but let us give thanks to God and to our Mother-the holy Church, This lenten period has been established for our salvation. In order that it might indeed be profitable, let us concentrate on our inner man, avoid worldly distractions, think more about "the one thing needful." The ancient desert-dwellers looked upon Great Lent in just this way; it was a time for them of in- creased ascetic struggles. During this time they would depart from their monasteries into the remote deserts to devote themselves to God without the least distraction and work upon their souls. O, if only we had even a small portion of such zealous care for our own souls at this time. If we could only labor to do at least something for the good of our souls-to refrain from sin, to develop inclinations towards what is Christian and pleasing to God!. Let us fervently entreat the Lord concerning this, and He will help us.

Priest Peter Shumov

(From a Russian leaflet published by Our Lady of Vladimir Convent, San Francisco)