By Mark Bach
Great Lent is a very special time for me - my favorite time. Everything helps me to focus on myself - what I have done, what I have failed to do, and how I affect others, both positively and negatively. There are so many unique opportunities for personal growth, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. Great Lent enables careful introspection, learning more about yourself and your role in lives of others.
Great Lent starts with Forgiveness Sunday. The canon, the Expulsion from Paradise, chanted during matins invites careful evaluation of one's life. Each chanted verse of the canon causes one to pause and to think - is that me? The chant continues, verse after verse, leading to the conclusion - YES, THIS IS ME! I AM A SINNER!! It is as though your vision is starting to focus, you begin to see your transgressions more clearly.
The Canon of Saint Andrew follows. After each verse, the choir sings "Have mercy on me oh God, have mercy on me" as you prostrate. The image of your transgressions becomes more definite, but there is no despair because God is merciful. And then the choir sings "My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things." Your mind wonders, have I been sleeping too long? Have I been ignoring my spiritual life too long? Your introspection increases.
All the introspection pays off with repentance and confession. We are reminded of this after the Gospel reading at matins on each Sunday during Lent, when the following is chanted: "When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am, I tremble at the fearful day of judgment, but trusting in Your loving-kindness, like David I cry out to You. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy."
Great Lent is a great help to all of us, helping us progress toward salvation. With each service, we help ourselves and each other so, as a community, we will not be confounded.