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One Man's Journey Thru Lent
By Mike Bauml

I look upon our lives as Christians as a journey towards Christ, with everyone at different points along the journey. Some are further along, some are standing still, and unfortunately some are moving away from Christ. Each year, an important part of this journey consists of lent, culminating in Pascha.

Lent means different things to different people; each approaching it on an individual basis. For many, lent is equivalent to "fasting." As Orthodox Christians, we have a relatively strict and defined fast, while other Christians may choose to give up specific items such as candy or soda pop. I remember my grandmother telling me that during lent you should avoid entertainment such as dancing and television, as well as fasting from foods. I not sure how well this would go over today.

Fasting should be a private thing, not done for praise from others, and it also should not be done grudgingly. Personally, I am not good at fasting. It is something I need to work on. Perhaps because of this, I began to feel that I needed to do something more or different. Five or six years ago, I decided to make it my Lenten commitment to attend as many of the services during lent as possible.

At first it was an effort, but as each year came and went it became gradually easier and a routine part of my Lenten experience. I began to look forward to the services and found that each year I learned more and more about my faith. I found a beautiful and moving aspect to my faith that was unfamiliar to me. Many times I am stressed and agitated before attending one of the Lenten services, only to find a sense of peace by the time the service is concluded. After about the third year of attending these Lenten services, I found myself disappointed when Pascha was over. It was as if church had become so much a part of my life during lent, that once it was over, something was missing. I spoke with Father Andrew about this and he explained that this was familiar to him and in a sense was a form of withdrawal. Lent and Pascha give us a taste of the life to come, and it is natural to miss this once it is over for the year.

Lent begins with Forgiveness Vespers. During this moving service, the verses sung refer to beginning Lenten fasting, overcoming sin and of spiritual growth. At the end of the service each person makes a prostration before one another and they ask and grant each other forgiveness.

The first week of lent continues with four days of The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. The Canon of St. Andrew, written in the 7th century, is divided into four sections, which are read on Monday through Thursday during Compline of the first week of Lent. St. Andrew, in composing the canon, traces the lives of people in the Bible who lived according to God's commandments with those who failed. By doing this, St. Andrew reminds us of our failings and need of repentance. These services help to set the tone for the rest of the Lenten period. If you attend these four services and don't feel that you need to make some changes in your life, then you were not listening.

I will not go through the rest of the services here, but we have a complete section on these services on our web site that is updated every year. Simply go to the web site and click on Pascha for a complete description of all the Lenten services.

Let us take a look at the numbers. From Forgiveness Vespers thru the Agape Service following Pascha, there are 50 days and 50 services. This includes Sunday Matins and Divine Liturgy and Saturday Vespers. The total time involved in attending all 50 services is 76.5 hours. Let's round that off to an even 80 hours. In 50 days there are 1200 hours, if we allow 8 hours each day for sleeping we can subtract 400 hundred hours leaving us with 800 hours left over. This would mean that if we attend all 50 services we would be in church 10% of our waking hours. In essence, by attending all these services, we are tithing 10% of our time.

The content and sequence of the Lenten services were set up by the church fathers to help us in our journey to grow ever closer to Christ. If we do not attend these services, we do not get the benefit of the lessons that they contain.

As a child, my early memories of lent and Pascha were of fasting, Easter baskets and the strange services that my parents made me go to with all the bowing and the sad music. While I am sure I didn't then, I thank them now for making me attend these services, as I believe this in part caused me to make attending them my Lenten commitment. If we don't encourage our children to attend these services, how will they even realize they exist?

As a result of attending these services over the years, I now have many different images of lent and Pascha, in addition to simply fasting. Images such as: Father Andrew leaving the altar during the Presantified Liturgy carrying a candle and chanting "The Light of Christ Illumines All"; on Holy Thursday, Father Andrew carrying the Cross around the church, as Simon carried the cross for Christ during his walk to the crucifixion; our young ladies singing of the "Wise Thief" and reminding us that if we are repentant we too can be with Christ in paradise; the women of our parish preparing the tomb for the burial of Christ; the processions around the church as our handmaidens stationed in the bell tower ringing the bells; Holy Saturday Liturgy and Father Andrew's dramatic Gospel reading about the thee holy youths being saved from the fiery furnace; and on and on. If we fast and attend the resurrection services, it is good and commendable, but if we do not attend all these other beautiful services, we miss out on so much.

I encourage all to attend as many of these wonderful services as possible and pray that the Lord allows us all to make yet another journey through lent next year.

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