Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Lenten Journey to Pascha

As we approach the 'radiant triumphal feast' of Pascha, the Church invites us on Christ's very journey; from His entry into Jerusalem, the anointing and kissing of His feet, His rejection and betrayal, His Mystical Supper, the Crucifixion and Burial, to His descent into Hades, and rising from the dead, offering us eternal life.

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.

If all this is truly done in our efforts to love Christ our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Lk 10:27) then He will surely accept our gradual steps along this path of repentance, as they are done in His name. Christ the Bridegroom, having received us, His Church, in marriage, 'polishes her, bathes her, nourishes her, raises her and guides her.'  It is only through acknowledgment of our unworthiness and failure that we can truly prepare ourselves for the Paschal feast - celebrating the fact God has defeated death and evil, offering us eternal life, despite our wrongdoings. As we strive to follow Christ, we realise He has 'brought us out of nothing into being' and when we fall away He rises up again with Him.  On this joyous and glorious feast of His Resurrection, let us all therefore rejoice together, with faith in the Risen Lord, the Source of life, Who 'shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first' for He 'accepts the deeds and welcomes the intention, and honours the acts and praises'  we offer to Him. St John Chrysostom, in his Paschal sermon, invites us all to partake of this eternal and sweet banquet, where there is no room for bitterness, pain, sorrow or death for it has been overthrown, but calling us to 'enjoy the feast of faith; receive all the riches of loving-kindness.. for the universal kingdom has been revealed.' May we all receive Christ, Who enlightens all in darkness, following Him all the days of our lives, and rising with Him unto the Jerusalem on High.

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

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