Today is the second day of the Great Fast, and many are tempted already to search for that perfect gimmick that will make the Great Lenten Journey fun “fun for the whole family”. This might especially be true for those new Orthodox families who remember events such as “funny hats Sunday” or “wear blue days” during which days the pastor might even pass out rewards for the best hat.
On the last day before Holy and Great Lent, the Sunday of Forgiveness, Saint Paul reminds us, “Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” His urgent message for us should remind us that the time is now for us to get ready for the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord says, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Don’t put it off any longer. The time is NOW.
The following are some suggested guidelines for Great Lent this year.
If you currently do not fast regularly or at all… abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays
If you currently fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays… abstain from meat every day during Great Lent
If you currently fast… increase your fasting one “level” this year following the example above beginning with Wednesdays and Fridays.
When Christ returns, He will separate the sheep from the goats – the righteous from the condemned. The righteous will inherit the kingdom of heaven because they served others as if they were serving Christ Himself. The condemned, the goats, were only willing to help Christ, but couldn’t see Him in others. Each human being is created in the image of God, and only when we can see each other as Christ and serve others as if we are serving Christ, will we be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. That is judgment.
Whether we admit it or not, we all want to know what heaven is going to be like, and we hope we “get in” so we can have something to look forward to when we die. On the Third Sunday of the Triodion, known as Judgment Sunday, we hear an answer from Christ Himself, this time without parables. He speaks directly about the future judgment.
One truth the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us, is that no matter what we may have done in our past, God will never stop loving us. Too often, we hesitate returning to God and His Church, thinking we are no longer worthy of God’s love. Unfortunately, we cannot experience God’s love remaining in the foreign land of sin, and the decision to return home to God and His Church will always be welcomed with open arms.
One of the big challenges in being a Christian is understanding God’s love. We read the Old Testament and hear many stories of the pain and suffering of God’s people. Slavery, lost in the desert, conquered by foreign kingdoms. And these are the sufferings AFTER God had chosen His people. What about being banished from the Garden or drowned in the Flood because they weren’t on the Ark? Does this sound like a God that loves us no matter what?
Being honest about who we are and how we live is a crucial part of every Christian journey. We are fooling ourselves with sinful pride if we think we are any better than other person in the Church, or anywhere else we may encounter them. Being honest with ourselves, which is pure Christian humility, is the center of the first Sunday of the Triodion and Great Lenten Journey. Rather than calling out, “Thank you God!” that we are not like the other sinners out there, it would be infinitely better for us to cry, “Have mercy on me a sinner!”
“Thank you God, that I am not like all those other sinners in the Church today!” These words echo the voice of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel lesson. If we are honest with ourselves, each of us has at one time or another said something just like this to God. Oh sure, we may use words more like, “I haven’t had and really big sins, not like others I know,” but truthfully we are always comparing our sin against the sins of others in order to comfort ourselves into thinking we don’t have anything to worry about when Judgment Day comes.
Have you ever asked God for something only to wait and wait and wait without an answer? God always answers prayers with one of three options: ‘yes’, ‘no’, or some variation of ‘let’s wait and see.’ Are you patient enough to wait for His answer? It requires a great faith to allow God the time He chooses in answering our prayers, and even deeper faith when the answer is ‘no’ because sometimes we just ask for our own selfish desires.