Our Lenten journey began with the crucial commandment and Christian act of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt 5:23-24) with our fast only being acceptable if grounded upon forgiveness, as its goal is the love of God, and consequently love of our neighbours. We have struggled through this period against the many passions, intensifying our efforts to fight against 'the spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, love of power, and useless chatter' but rather, through prayer and repentance, seeking to acquire the virtuous 'spirit of chastity, humility and love.' We sang the Canon of St Andrew ( a dialogue between a Christian and his soul, usually taking place in Clean week and the first Thursday of Lent), powerfully reminding us of our own lives speedily passing by through time, drawing near to an end. This reminder however, through Christ's trampling down upon death, is not a source of despair or hopelessness. On the contrary, the Church, through the texts of the Great Canon, tells us that it is not too late to repent and change our selfish ways, but rather this opportunity for spiritual renewal and everlasting communion with God is at hand. As we move into Holy Week, singing the well known hymn 'Behold, the Bridegroom comes..' the Parable of of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) is brought to mind, as we are urged to be watchful and prepared, 'not weighed down with sleep' but rather in a state of prayer and readiness for meeting our Creator and Lord 'crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy are You our God." Physical death is always nearby, but the Great Canon boldly, yet compassionately tells us that 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand' (Matt 3:2) therefore we must repent, submit our lives to the Prince of Peace and Lord of all nations, for He is truly with us.
Many of us may, admittedly, feel as though this Lenten journey has not been quite as fruitful as was hoped for. Perhaps we have tried, struggled, yet still spoken unjustly to our neighbour; overeaten and overindulged; wasted important and precious time; and have failed to offer our efforts or money to the poor and suffering. St John of the Ladder (commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Lent) highlights that pride is that which blinds us into thinking of ourselves as being better than we really are. Humility is the virtue in which assists us in seeing 'our own faults,' and in fact seeing ourselves as the greatest sinner of all. St John writes: 'Humility is constant forgetfulness of one's achievements..that one is the least important and is also the greatest sinner..that one is weak and helpless...' For this reason, it is undoubtedly beneficial for us to see ourselves as having truly failed during this Lenten period; not in the emotional or superficial sense, but in the sense that we will persistently carry on this never-ending struggle, fighting the good fight (1 Tim 6:12) having grown, albeit slightly, from this humbling and unique period of the ecclesiastical year.
Sources (quoted in italics) :
- The Catechetical Paschal Sermon of St John Chrysostom
- Great Compline & Canon of St Andrew
- The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
- Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian
- St John's Ladder of Divine Ascent
- Service of the Bridegroom
- Scriptural references used from RSV