April 2009 - Behold, the Bridegroom is Coming...
How much time does it take you to prepare yourself for your day, or for a special event? Is it more than just getting up, brushing your teeth and getting dressed? How much time does it take you to get ready to receive Holy Communion? Do you take time to review your life and then schedule Holy Confession as necessary? Do you fast properly? Do you spend extra time in prayer so that your soul is alert and ready to receive Christ? How much time does it really take to get ready for these things?
Over the past years I have had the opportunity to speak to various groups (both Orthodox and non-orthodox) on a wide assortment of topics. At one such group of Orthodox Christians, I happened to share the story of an encounter I had with God in church well before I went to seminary. It had to do with preparation for Holy Communion. The essence of the story was that it is possible to prepare for Holy Communion in as little as three minutes... I also shared another example that it is possible to call upon the Lord with a prayer of one word; “HELP!”
Just a few months ago, I received an E-mail from one of the people present at that group, who heard me speak of the “quick” preparation some years ago. They had just recently experienced a terrible tragedy in their family and my words came back to them to just call out, “HELP!” to God. And in the moment of that terrible tragedy, God was quickly present to aid and comfort them.
So, it is possible, in an emergency, to quickly prepare yourself to encounter God. But that is the exception, not the rule! Lent and Holy Week are annually-scheduled times for our spiritual cleansing and preparation for the resurrection of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Why are they so long? Simply put, because it takes that long for us to get ourselves out of God’s way in our lives! And why do we have the extra services each week during Lent? Well, besides the obvious (to aid us in our spiritual journey toward Pascha...), they help us prepare for even more services during Holy Week. If you were to attend all the services provided by the church during Lent, you would find Holy Week such a tremendous blessing, and the number and length of the services would be inconsequential to you... if you were to attend and fully participate!
A few days ago I was speaking to an Orthodox parishioner from another parish who was having difficulty explaining Orthodox Christianity to one of his protestant friends. He had a hard time figuring out how to share about the Church Fathers, Iconography, our worship services and other aspects of Holy Tradition. I gave him this example. Have you ever read a pastry recipe (for instance, Koulourakia) that said, “add flour until the dough feels right.” What does that mean? In order to understand the recipe, you have to experience the kitchen with someone who knows what they’re doing. In order to fully understand the Holy Scriptures, you have to experience the Church. And in order to understand the depth of our relationship with Christ, you have to experience Lent and Holy Week. You cannot just read about it; you have to come and experience it, taste it, touch it, spend time with it.
Ten virgins were present, waiting for the Bridegroom. Five were experienced, and prepared. Five were not. All were awaiting the festival, but only five participated in the joy of the celebration.
Emergencies happen. Lent and Holy Week are not emergencies. God expects us to take this time to set apart for Him. Please don’t wait until the last minute to try to do in a few hours or a day what the Church tells us takes much longer. The wedding feast draws near - you already know that! Don’t be caught outside in spiritual darkness because you neglected your spiritual responsibilities. There is still time for you to prepare yourselves.
Behold, the Bridegroom is coming... Are you ready to receive Him?