The Time of Lent

St. Leo the Bishop of Catania in Sicily

St. Leo the Bishop of Catania in Sicily

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

When the Son of Man Shall Come in His Glory

Meat-fare Sunday

In the same way as on the previous Sunday, fasting figures as a secondary theme in the Divine Liturgy of the day. This Sunday is called 'Meat-fare Sunday', because it is the last day on which the consumption of meat is authorized. From the next day, Monday, one should, if one can, abstain from meat until Pascha. On the other hand, the use of milk, butter and cheese is allowed during all the days of this week, including Wednesday and Friday. During the Divine Liturgy a portion of the first epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (8:8-13 and 9:1-2) is read in which the holy Apostle, in substance, says the following: Eating or not eating meat in itself is not a matter of importance, but this liberty which we have must not scandalize or be a stumbling-block to the weak. A man who believes in the only God and does not believe in the reality of idols may, with a clear conscience, eat the flesh of beasts sacrificed to idols; but, if one of his brothers is less enlightened and thinks that this means some sort of association with the worship of idols, then he should abstain from doing this, and respect the conscience of those brothers for whom too, Christ died. And so, if we are inspired by Saint Paul's idea, someone who feels he has valid reasons for not fasting, or for modified fasting during Lent, will all the same be careful to avoid anything that might scandalize or offend the conscience of those who are less strong.

The gospel for the Divine Liturgy (St. Matthew 25:31-46) describes the Last Judgment. 'When the Son of man shall come in His glory', with all the holy Angels, all the nations will be gathered before His Throne. He will separate the sheep from the goats, setting the righteous on His right and the sinners on His left. He will invite those who have fed, clothed and visited him in his human guise to the poor, the prisoners and the sick, to enter the Kingdom of the Father. He will exclude from the Kingdom those who have acted otherwise. This description of the judgment obviously is partly symbolic. We pass judgment on ourselves when, voluntarily, we adhere to God or reject Him. It is our love or our lack of love which will place us amongst the "blessed" or amongst those who are dismissed (or perhaps deterred). Even if we do not have to interpret the details of the judgment literally, exactly as the Evangelist describes them, we must listen very carefully to what the Savior says about His presence in those who suffer, for it is in them alone that we are in any way able to help the Lord Jesus.

The prayers at Vespers (Esperinos) this Saturday evening and at Matins (Orthros) for the Sunday give a general impression of terror in the face of God's judgment. There is mention of open books, of fearful Angels, of sound, and many sayings in the Gospels urge us to be converted (repentance or metanoia) before it is too late. But this shadowed side, the darkness into which a stubborn sinner can choose to throw himself, must not make us forget the side of light and hope. Here is a phrase from one of the chants at Vespers in which these two aspects find themselves well united:

"O my soul, the time is near at hand; make haste before it is too late, and cry aloud in faith: I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee; but I now Thy love for man and Thy compassion, O Good Shepherd..."

Forgiveness--Cheese-fare Sunday

This Sunday is the Fourth of the Sundays which prepare us for Holy and Great Lent. It ends, and is the last day of this period of preparation. From the following day, Monday, we shall be in Holy Lent itself. This Sunday itself is called 'Cheese-Fare Sunday' because, beginning with the next day, the Tradition of the Church is that we should abstain from eggs, milk, butter and cheese.

The Saturday preceding this Sunday is dedicated to the memory of those saints, men and women, who have given themselves to the ascetic life. At the threshold of Lent, we honor them as inspirers and intercessors in this difficult way of penitence.

The epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (13:11-14. 4), read at the Sunday Divine Liturgy, exhorts us to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light, to walk honestly as in the day, fleeing drunkenness, debauchery and the lusts of the flesh. Saint Paul links this theme of the flesh to the theme of fasting. One person believes that he may eat all things; another eats only herbs. Let not him that eats despise him who does not, and let not him who does not eat judge him who does. Who are you to judge another? Both you and he are dependent on the same Master.

The Gospel for the Divine Liturgy, taken from Saint Matthew (6:14-21), opens with the precept of forgiveness: "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you forgive not men their trespasses." The fact that the Church has chosen this saying to introduce the Gospel for the day shows that she intends to make forgiveness the dominant theme for this Sunday. It is true that the rest of the Gospel for this day speaks of fasting; but the Greek particle which joins the verses about fasting to the verses about forgiveness seem to assign to the former a position of dependence on the latter. The Lord Jesus advises those who fast not to look gloomy or to be of a sad countenance like those hypocrites who want to be noticed when they fast. "Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face." The Father, who sees in secret, shall reward thee openly. Let thy treasure and thy heart be not on earth, but in heaven.

The chants for Vespers (Esperinos), the evening service, and Matins (Orthros), morning service, contrast the blessedness of paradise, with the wretched state of man after the fall. But Moses, through fasting, so purified his eyes that they were able to see the divine vision. In the same way, may our fasting, which will last forty days as did that of Moses, help us to repress the passion of the flesh and free us to that we may "with light step…set out upon the path to heaven." Let us pay attention to the words "with light step." Our penitence must not be something heavy and burdensome. We must go through Holy Lent lightly and airily, in a way which somehow makes us kin to the Angels.

The Entry into Holy and Great Lent

The Monday (Gk. Kathara Deftera) that follows Cheese-fare Sunday is the first day of Holy and Great Lent itself. We have now begun on this succession of forty days which prepare us for the time of the Passion and for the time of Pascha. But before going into the details of these weeks of Lent, let us give a little time to the consideration of some of its general characteristics.

The first of these characteristics is, of course, the fast. One cannot ignore or treat the question of fasting from food lightly, and we have devoted a special note to this. The Holy Fathers of the Church and the collective conscience of the faithful have discerned clearly the spiritual value--a value which is both penitential and purifying--of abstention from certain foods. It would, however, be a serious mistake to think that this abstention constituted the only observance necessary to Lent. Bodily fasting must be accompanied by another fast. In the first centuries the discipline of the Church prescribed conjugal abstinence during Lent; it forbade participation in feasts and attendance at public festivals. This discipline has perhaps become weakened, and is not presented to believers quite as forcefully as in the times of the Holy Fathers. All the same, it remains as a precious indication of the spirit, the intention of the Church. But most surely, this intention is that during Lent we exercise much stricter control over our thoughts, our words and our actions, and concentrate our attention on the person of the Savior and what He requires of us. Almsgiving (philanthropy or charity) is also one of the forms of Lenten observances that the Holy Fathers recommended most highly. A fast that is pleasing to God is therefore a "whole" which cannot be separated into inner and outward aspects; of the two the former are certainly the most important.

A second feature of Holy and Great Lent lies in certain characteristics of ritual, and we will now say a few words about these.

First of all there is the reciting of 'great compline' ('megas apotheipnos'). We know that the office of Compline (in Latin completorium, that which completes; in Greek apodeipnon, that which comes after supper), is the last of the daily offices. Ordinary Compline, or 'little compline', is a fairly short office. But on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays of Holy and Great Lent, it is replaced by 'Great Compline', with a fairly long reading of psalms and troparia, amongst which will be noticed a long biblical prayer: Manasseh king of Juda's, prayer of penitence.

Furthermore, the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated on Sundays during Holy and Great Lent is not the usual Divine Liturgy attributed to Saint John Chrysostom. It is the Divine Liturgy attributed to Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea, in the 4th century. This Divine Liturgy is longer than that of Saint John Chrysostom and the text is sometimes slightly different.

On Wednesday and Friday during Holy and Great Lent, the Liturgy called 'Presanctified' is celebrated, that is to say the Liturgy for which the Holy Gifts have been consecrated in advance. It is not a Eucharistic liturgy in the full sense, as there is no consecration. It is a communion service in which the priest and congregation take communion with the elements which were consecrated during the previous liturgy of Saint Basil or Saint John Chrysostom and which have been reserved since then. The liturgy of the presanctified is added on to Vespers. That is why, in principle, it should be celebrated in the evening. It includes certain psalms, certain special biblical readings, and certain prayers borrowed from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The latter is celebrated every Saturday morning. (Source: The Year of Grace of the Lord)

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George