2009-02: Why Do We Need to Prepare
Question: In keeping with this month’s commentary on the Preparation for Lent, I would like to put the following question before you: Why is preparation so necessary for our spiritual life and growth?
Answer: Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book Of Water and the Spirit, says the following about the aspect of preparation in the life of the Orthodox Christian:
We must realize first of all that preparation is a constant and essential aspect of the Church’s worship as a whole. It is impossible to enter into the spirit of liturgy, to understand its meaning and truly to participate in it without first understanding that it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, and that this rhythm is essential to the Church’s liturgy because it reveals and indeed fulfills the double nature and function of the Church herself.
On the one hand the Church is preparation: she “prepares” us for eternal life. Thus her function is to transform our whole life into preparation. By her preaching, doctrine and prayer she constantly reveals to us that the ultimate “value” which gives meaning and direction to our lives is at the “end,” is “to come,” is to be hoped for, expected, anticipated. And without this basic dimension of “preparation” there simply is no Christianity and no Church. Thus the liturgy of the Church is always and primarily a preparation: it always points and tends beyond itself, beyond the present, and its function is to make us enter into that preparation and thus to transform our life by referring to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.
Yet, on the other hand, the Church is also and essentially fulfillment. The events which gave her birth and which constitute the very source of her faith and life have taken place. Christ has come. In Him man was deified and has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit has come and His coming has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Grace has been given and the Church truly is “heaven on earth,” for in her we have access to Christ’s table in His Kingdom. We have received the Holy Spirit and can partake, here and now, of the new life and be in communion with God.
If today the liturgy of the Church has ceased to be for so many people the deepest need and joy of their life, it is, above all, because they have forgotten, or maybe have never known, the essential liturgical law of preparation and fulfillment. They experience no fulfillment because they ignore preparation, and they ignore preparation because they desire no fulfillment.
In these words, Fr. Schmemann quite eloquently hits the nail on the head with regard to our spiritual life in the church. If you do not know what is available to you spiritually you will not prepare for it because you will have no desire for fulfillment from that which you do not recognize as important. As a result, your participation in the life of the Church will be nominal, your spiritual growth will be minimal, and your ability to fight against the forces that seek to keep you from reaching Heaven will be weakened. All these things point to spiritual disaster for each of us who find our self in this state.
But this state is not permanent. We can change it if we are willing to trust God and truly desire a deeper spiritual relationship with Him. The Church offers us the means to get closer to God and to reach Heaven, and your time to prepare yourself is now. It’s not too late... yet...