Just What is Great Lent Anyway?
By Alexandria Lukashonak
It's here again: Great Lent, the time when Orthodox Christians
prepare for Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the time of Great Joy. We are called upon to fast, attend numerous church services,
give alms and, in general, to live more Christ-centered lives. For some Christians
it has somehow become reduced to "giving up something," to sacrificing for Christ
(who, by the way doesn't need our "sacrifices"). So how come the Church refers to it
as the Lenten Spring or Bright Sadness?
In his book "Great Lent," Father Alexander Schmemann, of Blessed
Memory, reminds us that the purpose of Lent is not to force formal obligations on us
but to soften our hearts....to experience the hidden thirst and hunger for communion
The main reason I have heard for not fully following Great Lent is
that it is impossible and interferes with the many obligations of our "regular, daily"
living. Funny, but that's what it should do. It takes us from this noisy, superficial
and fast-fleeting existence to another world.
Scripture admonishes us "When you fast, anoint your head and wash
your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:18)
And again...."When you give alms, do not let your left hand know
what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father
who sees in secret will reward you."(Matthew 6:4)
I can honestly say that I never knew what Great Lent was until I
read the book by the same name by Father Schmemann. I never experienced it until I
attended the Lenten Services which somehow brought Holy Scripture alive as no "Bible
church" could ever do; and I never realized that we are not "home" but on a journey,
until I heard the plaintive Psalm 137, "By the Waters of Babylon...."
It moves us from frantic activity, from a place where "I" am the most
important to a better place where "Love" is the most important, and Who is Love,
if not God? Through the Lenten lessons we learn love for God, for each other, for
creation and for the beauty of all He has given us.