Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, the moment in which the Archangel Gabriel gave the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary the glorious news that she would give birth to the Son of God. This Good News ushered in a new era in human history. God, by His love and grace, became a human for our salvation. Truly, today is a great day. It is too bad today is also shaded by darkness on television.
In the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Great Lent, the Church draws our attention to the benefit of Church in our struggle to reach Christ. Contrary to what we might think, we need the Church in order to reach Christ, just as the paralytic man needed his friends in order to reach Christ. Then he could be healed, and so can we.
Let’s face it. In contemporary America, we are surrounded a society that most times is in direct conflict with our Orthodox way of life. The constant preoccupation with sex, violence and unimpeded selfishness, and all seem a bit daunting. In fact, now that we are placing extra emphasis on prayer, fasting, almsgiving, worship and the like, we may even experience Great Lent as lonely place, considering many of our fellow Orthodox Christians don’t embrace Great Lent like we do.
This week we have been discussing the ways in which we can experience the energies of God. Since our ancestors were removed from the Garden, humanity has experienced the energy of God not as love, but as punishment. I have often compared it to how children experience the love of their parents trying to keep them safe. Children approach a hot stove, and a parent slaps hands to keep them safe. The child experienced that love as pain rather than joy. It is easy to read the Old Testament and see an angry and vengeful God, rather than love.
I hear it too often. “You don’t have to be in Church to pray to God.” “You can find God in the beauty of His creation.” “God doesn’t care whether we say the right prayers. He just wants us to be nice to other people.” These catch phrases are common coming from those who, simply put, don’t want to be burdened with attending Church services. I know we’ve been talking about fasting as part of our Daily Lenten Journey, but Great Lent is about more than just what is cooking on the stove for tonight’s dinner.
When it comes to Great Lent, while our attention is sometimes overly focused on fasting, we tend to forget that fasting is supposed to lead to righteousness, not just a diet. As we pause mid-week in this second week of Great Lent, to attend Presanctified Liturgy and receive Holy Communion, we are faced with a challenge of the Prophet Isaiah that God “shows Himself holy in righteousness.” What is righteousness have to do with fasting?
With the second week of Great Lent now fully underway, the Church reminds us of our inclination toward sin. Just “moments” after they had made their offering to God for their blessings, Can and Abel found themselves in conflict, and Cain killed his brother. It was only two days ago that we each gathered in the Church to make an offering to God. How long will it be for us until we find ourselves in conflict with our spiritual brother? Or have we already been there this week?
On the first Sunday of Great Lent, known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Church commemorates the truth of Christ’s incarnation. We hear the story in the Gospel of John of Philip’s great joy as he ran to Nathaniel crying “We have seen the Lord!” This invitation for us to come and see for ourselves is rooted in this truth of God’s incarnation for our salvation. We have seen the Light, and it is now our turn to run to our friends, neighbors and family, “We have seen the Lord. Come and see Him for yourself!”
Today we begin the second week of Great Lent, and I invite you to reflect on how last week ended up? Did it end up like my week because you fell short of your goals? Did last week finish with you being thankful you made it through by the skin of your teeth? Either way, today begins a new week, and a new opportunity to commit to the journey that is Great Lent.
The Church has never been afraid of history. History is filled with happy events as well as sorrowful events, but it cannot be unwritten or changed. As human beings, we study history to learn of our past and to improve our future, as the old saying goes, “He who does not know history is doomed to repeat it.” Church history is important not only so we can avoid repeating the “bad parts”, but so that we can emphasize the good parts. Today is one of those days.