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
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
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