March 2008 - Lent: A Return to our Spiritual Roots
Dear Parishioners and Friends of All Saints Church,
The following article is reprinted (with minor modifications) from a booklet entitled Lenten Reflections, sponsored by the Archdiocesan Committee on Spiritual Life and Renewal of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, 1981. I wrote the article while at seminary...
The period of Lent provides perhaps the most opportune time for a rekindling of the fire of Christ in our hearts. This spiritual enrichment can be experienced in a particularly meaningful way through recalling our spiritual roots as manifested in the unique liturgical services of Orthodox Lent.
In the Great Compline and the Pre-sanctified Liturgy we hear readings from Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and Genesis as well as numerous other Old Testament passages. At no other time of the year do we come into such frequent contact with our Judaic roots. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent,” says, “The 40 days of Lent are, in a way, the return of the Church into the spiritual situation of the Old Testament – the time before Christ, the time of repentance and expectation, the time of the ‘history of salvation’ moving toward its fulfillment in Christ.”
Lent is also an opportunity to look at our Christian faith in a fresh spirit of spiritual discovery. We see ourselves as catechumens, as pagans preparing to get ourselves ready to receive the salvation of Christ. Fr. Schmemann again remarks on this point in his book, “Of Water and the Spirit”;
Not many (Christians) know that the liturgy of Easter is primarily a baptismal liturgy; that when on Easter eve they hear the biblical readings about the crossing of the Red Sea, or the three children in the furnace, or Jonah in the whale’s belly, they listen to the most ancient ‘paradigms’ of Baptism and attend the great baptismal vigil.
In the same text he points out how Lent was originally intended as a liturgical preparation for baptism at Easter. It was a time of catechumens being aware of their separation from Christ, yet looking forward with great expectation to being resurrected with Him on Easter eve and experiencing the reality of the resurrected life.
The whole Church community took part in this vigil with those about to enter the Body of Christ and experienced with them the ecstatic joy of salvation. The carrying of lighted candles and the singing of the hymn, “As many of you who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ,” are remnants of the baptismal character of the Resurrection service.
It is of great importance to us who live in a fast-moving and hedonistic society to draw ourselves away from the world as did the catechumens; to fast, to meditate, to return ourselves – mind, body, soul – to those events of Holy Week which are the basis of our heritage and life in Christ. To truly experience the fulness of Christ’s victory over death we must bring ourselves into remembrance of why such a great price had to be paid. It is because of our sins that God, through His great love for us, chose to allow the death on the cross of “One who knew no sin.”
At lent we must return to the ancient heritage and teaching of our Orthodox Church. Without the journey backwards to our spiritual roots, how can we look realistically at our present spiritual condition? Without remembering Whom we worship and why, our worship will be but a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Without remembering where we come from and how we became the Body of Christ, we will have only a nominal Christian identity. Without remembering that we have no way into the Kingdom of God but through Christ, we will ease to feel our need for Him and we will die a spiritual death.
During this lenten season, let us rekindle in our hearts the fire of the Prophets, the fire of the Catechumens, the fire of the Confessors, and the fire of the Martyrs. Then we can fully understand both the sadness of the Crucifixion and celebrate with increased joy and gladness, the Resurrection.
Frank A. Milanese, Seminarian