The Time of Lent (Part III)

Nine Martyred Brothers of Kola

Nine Martyred Brothers of Kola

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.

THE TIME OF LENT (Part III)
The Entry into Lent

Divine Services in Holy and Great Lent

The Second Sunday of Lent--Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent ended with an allusion to the ministry of Angels. And Angels are also called to mind by the Epistle for this day (Hebrews 1:10-2:3). The sacred text compares the ministry of Angels with that, which is so much greater, of the Savior Himself. If disobedience to the messages to us by the Angels is justly punished, how much greater will be the punishment of the man who neglects the salvation that is announced and brought by Christ. For 'to which of the Angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool'?

The Gospel for this day (St. Mark 2:1-12) tells of the healing of the man sick of the palsy at Capernaum. Jesus forgives him his sins, and, as the scribes are astonished that anyone other than God can forgive sins, He answers: "Whether it is easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins...I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.' The central theme of this episode is the power both pardon and healing that the Lord Jesus possesses. Then there is the affirmation--even more, the demonstration--that healing and the forgiveness of sins cannot be separated. The man sick of the palsy, lying on his bed, has been put down at the feet of Christ. Now Jesus' first words are not: "be healed', but: "thy sins be forgiven thee". In our physical illnesses, before imploring actual release, we must ask for inner purification and to be absolved from our offenses. Finally, Jesus tells the man who was sick with the palsy to take up his bed and to go to his house. On the one hand, the crowd will be more fully convicted of the reality of the miracle if this man is now seen to be strong enough to carry his litter; and, on the other, he who been forgiven, and inwardly changed by Jesus, must show those of his house, by some unmistakable sign (not only by carrying his litter, but by words, actions, behavior), that he is a new man resuming life in his own surroundings.

One notices that neither the Epistle nor the Gospel for this day have any bearing on Saint Gregory Palamas, with whose name the calendar none the less associates the Second Sunday in Holy and Great Lent. This is because the commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas was only introduced in the 14th century, when the liturgical structure for this Sunday had already become established along different lines. The memory of Saint Gregory Palamas (Archbishop of Thessaloniki 1296-1359 A.D.) is, however, evoked in the divine services for Vespers (Esperinos) and Matins (Orthros). Saint Gregory Palamas expounded and defended, in the course of heated controversy, the theological doctrine relating to divine 'light.' The texts of the services do not go into detail or give explanations of the concepts attributed to Saint Gregory, but speak in general way of Light and of Him Who said: "I am the Light of the world". In a considerably abridged form, one of the texts for Orthros (Matins) bring together three ideas: that of Christ Who illumines sinners, that of Lenten abstinence, and that of the word "arise", which the Savior spoke to the man sick of palsy, and which we now address to him: "To those who live in the darkness of sin, Thou has brought light, O Christ, at this time of abstinence. Show us therefore the glorious day of Thy Pasion, so that we may cry to Thee: Arise, O God and have pity on us". (The Year of Grace of the Lord)

"This commemoration forms a continuation of the feast celebrated on the previous Sunday: Saint Gregory's victory over Barlaam, Akindynos and the other heretics of his time is seen as renewed Triumph of Orthodoxy. In the earlier period there was on this day a commemoration of the Great Martyr Procopius (+ 155 A.D.), whose feast was transferred from the fixed calendar (23 February). This commemoration, like that of Saint Theodore, underlined the connection between Lenten Asceticism the martyr's vocation. The Second Sunday also takes up the theme of the Prodigal Son as a model of repentance, with the first of the two Canons of Orthros (Matins) being devoted to this parable." (Lenten Triodion).

Participation in Lenten Services

(Source: Great Lent by Fr. Alexander Schmemann)

No one can attend the entire cycle of Lenten worship. Everyone can attend some of it. There is simply no excuse for not making Lent first of all the time for an increased attendance of and participation in the Divine Liturgy of the Church. Here again, personal conditions, individual possibilities and impossibilities can vary and result in different decisions, but there must be a decision, there must be effort, and there must be a "follow-up." From the liturgical point of view, we may suggest the following "minimum" aimed not at the spiritually self-destructive sense of having fulfilled an obligation, but at receiving at least the essential in the liturgical spirit of Lent.

In the first place, a special effort must be made on the parish level for a proper celebration of the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers. It is indeed a tragedy that in so many churches this service is either not celebrated at all, or not given sufficient care and attention. It must become one of the great "parish affairs" of the year and, as such, well prepared. The preparation must consist in training the choir, explaining the service by means of sermons or parish bulletins, planning it for a time when the greatest number of parishioners can attend; in short: in making it a true spiritual event. For, once more, nothing better than this service reveals the meaning of Lent as the crisis of repentance, reconciliation, as embarking together on a common journey.

The next "priority" must be given to the first week of Holy and Great Lent. A special effort must be made to attend at least once or twice the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. As we have seen, the liturgical function of these first days is to take us unto the spiritual "mood" of Holy Lent which we describe as "bright sadness."

Then, throughout the entire Holy Lent, it is imperative that we give at least one evening to attend the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with the spiritual experience it implies--that of total fasting, that of the transformation of at least one day into a real expectation of judgment and joy. No reference to conditions of life, lack of time, etc., are acceptable at this point, for if we do only that which easily "fits" into the conditions of our lives, the very notion of Lenten effort becomes absolutely meaningless. Not only in the 21st century, but in fact since Adam and Eve, "this world" was always an obstacle to the fulfillment of God's demands. There is, therefore, nothing new or special about our modern "way of life." Ultimately it all depends again on whether or not we take our religion seriously, and if we do, or ten additional evenings a year at church are truly a minimal effort. Deprived of that evening, however, we are depriving ourselves not only of the beauty and the depth of the Lenten Services, not only of a necessary spiritual inspiration and help, but of that which, as we shall see in the next section, makes our fasting meaningful and effective.

(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