I was recently asked, “Can someone love their religion and not ever go to Church?” By religion, the questioner implied Orthodox. What a great time to address this question! During Great Lent our attention is on increased participation in Church activities and services. It is a clear implication that “good” members of the Church “do” Great Lent. In fact, I know many believers who only fast during Great Lent, and who only receive the Mysteries during Great Lent. Unfortunately, there are still those who don’t come to Church, some not even for the Resurrection Service on Pascha.
We are almost to the final stretch of Great Lent with only one Sunday remaining. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to grow closer to Christ as of yet, you may think it’s too late, but it’s never too late until it’s too late. Even a ninety-nine-year old man can begin a new journey with Christ.
It is no secret that here at Be Transfigured Ministries we place a great amount of emphasis on living the life the Church has established. We do so with faith in the Church which has been guided by the Holy Spirit since the very first day of the Church. This year’s Daily Lenten Journey has spent a lot of time discussing the centrality of our free will to choose the Church life. Our slogan at Be Transfigured Ministries, Live A New Life In Christ, is based upon this free choice, but the choice rest on one critical element….our intentions.
During every journey we arrive at a crossroad which requires a decision, and our Great Lenten Journey is no different. Admittedly, our Christian life is filled with crossroad moments that are not limited to Great Lent, but every Christian comes to a point when we must choose, “Are we in this or not?” Are we really willing to choose the Christian struggle, or not? Up until this moment, maybe loyalty or a bit of guilt has been enough encouragement to keep up the struggle, but now we must choose. Are we in, or out?
On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent the Church commemorates Saint John of the Ladder, who received his name for the book he wrote about ascending the ladder to heaven. The first step, where if we are honest with ourselves we spend our entire life, is Renouncing the World. Saint John wasn’t the first to suggest this. Christ Himself said we must first deny ourselves before following Him. The Gospel reading this Sunday (Mark 9.17-31) speaks about how only prayer and fasting will be enough to get us through the most difficult challenges to our faith.
During Great Lent, we Orthodox spend most of our time focusing on prayer and fasting. There are extra services offered daily accompanied by the sharing of various fasting foods and recipes. Some even accuse us of placing too much emphasis on fasting during Great Lent. In fact, many spend so much time reading food labels in search of “legal” foods, it can be easy to forget why we place so much emphasis on fasting in the first place.
This week I’ve written about trust, charity, forgiveness, and even fatigue during Great Lent, all to express different understandings of the cross we bear for Christ. Today I wrap up our weekly theme with service to the Church. Service to the Church is different from charity because it involves those to whom you are eternally united through baptism. When we serve those outside the Church we are showing love for our fellow human beings, but when we serve the Church we express our duty and responsibility to Christ’s Church for the sake of the Gospel.
You read here on more than one occasion my advice to allow the Church to guide your life. I often comment that the rhythm of the Church (read The Rhythm of Great Lent) is mean to bring us closer to Christ. The life of the Orthodox Church is a life of feasts and fasts, a life of cycles that creates a wonderful rhythm in our soul. But trusting the Church can be a cross.
I admit it! I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m grumpy. I’m frustrated. It must be Great Lent. At some point during your Great Lenten Journey, I’m guessing you have felt some, most, or all these emotions. At this point during the fourth week of our journey, Great Lent seems to be taking its toll on me. You may not be experiencing this struggle, but for me Lenten Fatigue is another cross I must bear during the final weeks before Holy Week.
Continuing with our theme of bearing our cross this week, I turn to the third leg of our spiritual stool. One topic we have not yet discussed during our Great Lenten Journey is that of charity. Our Lord calls us to serve others as we were reminded before Great Lent began on Judgment Sunday. If we don’t serve others we cannot enter into heaven. Look again at Recognizing Heaven, and you will remember that it isn’t what we do, but how we see others that makes the difference.