One of the joys I have during Great Lent is experiencing the rhythm of the Church. This ancient life, which the overwhelming majority of Christians today consider only a historical footnote, includes morning and evenings prayers along with times of quiet solemnity and bright joy, all sprinkled throughout the week. If you haven’t noticed this rhythm, chances are you weren’t in Church this week.
If you attended the traditional Forgiveness Vespers this past Sunday evening, which ushered in the Great Lent, then you noticed the service began with bright colors and light and concluded in a peaceful but dark quiet Church. Throughout the week the Church was darker than normal, maybe even without any lights on while the chanting was quiet and simpler than normal. If your local Orthodox Church has daily services you also noticed they include different prayers than other seasons of the year. This is the rhythm I’m talking about.
Tonight you will experience another rhythm shift. The lights come back on, the colors are again bright, the bells will ring and the chanting becomes more elaborate again. During the week, if your local Orthodox Church had liturgy, it was a PreSanctified Liturgy which (simply explained) is Vespers with Holy Communion inserted, but tomorrow’s Liturgy will again be a celebration of the entire Divine Liturgy. But if you only attend Church on Sunday, you will never be blessed to experience this rhythm.
If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I often speak about allowing the life of the Church to guide you. This rhythm isn’t coincidental. Things in the Church are rarely coincidental. The Holy Spirit knows our needs. The Holy Spirit knows our physical bodies are filled with sensory perceptions that affect our soul. Just as sitting in a loud ruckus sports stadium causes your pulse to race, and sitting in a quiet green pasture calms your pulse, the physical environment of the Church affects our soul. If you want your soul to be at peace, you don’t attend a loud sporting event.
So as the first week of Great Lent comes to a close tomorrow, notice the rhythm shift and allow it to affect your soul. Make a mental note of what the Church is like this weekend as compared to during the week. Remind yourself that Great Lent is a season of increased intensity, for the purpose of growing closer to God. Rather than consider attending Church services as a required burden, appreciate the joy of giving your soul some peace and quiet so it can heal from the pain of life. Embrace the rhythm of the entire experience and spend more quiet time with God, and don’t forget to fast. Fasting is still part of our Great Lenten Journey.