Though not as common in the modern Church, especially here in America, throughout history, public displays of the Orthodox Faith were a vital part of both evangelism and apologetics. Processions such as the Sunday of Orthodoxy which took place yesterday in every Orthodox Church throughout the world, used to be very public events. You wouldn’t realize it by the way the Feast is commonly celebrated today with Sunday School processions inside the Church, but at one point such processions could be witnessed throughout the year.
Ever since the creation of humanity, we have been at war with the devil. Since the first conversation with Eve, the devil has been trying to turn our attention away from God. Unfortunately, the devil has had many successes throughout the millennia, beginning with Adam and Eve up to this very day. One of the great lies we have been told over and again, is that God doesn’t care what Church we attend, or what doctrine we believe, so long as we are good people. We are told God doesn’t even care IF we go to Church, so long as we believe in Him.
A year ago, churches were closed to the public with only a few people inside celebrating the special services for Great Lent ‘on behalf’ of the people. Then we were in the middle of Great Lent. Today we find ourselves still in the early days of the Fast, and churches are open at least in most places. Beyond the obvious, what has changed in the past year? I am not talking about the shutdowns or stimulus debates in Congress. Have you noticed anything different in the way you’re approaching Great Lent, since last year’s shutdown?
Today we come to end of our first week of Great Lent, keeping in mind as I said yesterday, the weekdays are different from the weekends. By the time you attend Church services tonight, the color will change back to bright, and lights will be on again. So, what have we learned so far this week? If you only learned about menus, robes and lights, then you missed the point of our Daily Lenten Journey. Great Lent is about forgiveness, repentance, Communion.
Each year during the first week of Great Lent, I like to remind people to take a moment during Church and look around. If you are attending Church more than just on Sundays, you will notice a few things you may not have noticed before. The colors are different. The lighting is different. Even the sound tends to be different during Great Lent. Unfortunately, for those who attend services only on Sundays, in most Churches, the differences go unnoticed.
Trying to live according to the teachings and traditions of the Church, can seem like we are traveling through the desert. The world, void of true love and compassion, can leave us feeling parched as Christians. We thirst for human compassion, and especially during the pandemic, we crave for human interaction. Lockdowns have left us alone and frightened.
During the first week of Great Lent, it is customary to sing the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, a profound poem of repentance. St Andrew wrote this poem in the Seventh Century, as a dialogue between himself and his soul. As we enter the Great Fast this week, the Church invites us to do the same, to discuss sin and righteousness with our soul.
As we begin our 2021 Great Lenten Journey today with Clean Monday, I am always reminded (and refreshed) by the repetitive nature of the Church calendar. We are not the same people we were last year, especially considering the global pandemic, so this year our Daily Lenten Journey will focus on how we have grown, if we have grown, and where we are headed in our spiritual life. Let's get fasting!
On Judgment Sunday, the third Sunday of the Triodion, the Church reminds us how God will judge us in the end. As described in Matthew 25.31-46, the judgement will focus on how we view others. Do we look at others the way God wants us to look at others, or do we look at others with self-righteousness? The goats, those in hell, were shocked to find themselves in hell, not because they did something bad, but because they could not look at others with the same eyes that God does. They failed to understand what it means to love God and others. Life is not about earning our way into heaven.
The Second Sunday of the Triodion, known as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, calls each of us to reflect upon our situation in life and experience the self-realization that we are not where God wants us to be. Then the Church invites us to deep and profound repentance to return our life to God, so that He can restore us to our original glory.