Sunday, January 13, 2008

Preparing for Lent - Triodion

The following is an expansion on an article submitted to a local newspaper.


For Western Christians, Lent is a time of ‘giving up’. It has become an exercise in self-denial more than a preparation for Easter. As such, Ash Wednesday has become almost symbolic of the beginning of a “party’s over” somber time. This is somewhat fostered by the “party till you drop” mood of Mardi Gras. Indeed, for many “Fat Tuesday” has become a time to eat, drink, dance, sing, drink, and engage in any and every conceivable excess. (Oh, and did I say, “drink”?) This is not what the Church intends, but it is how many have come to see it.

For the Byzantine Churches, those Churches of the East, Lent is seen differently. In fact, Lent, or the “Great Fast”, is preceded by a period often called Triodion that heralds the Fast from a very different stand point. Eastern Christians begin the path to Calvary four weeks before the beginning of Lent with a Sunday known as the Pharisee and the Publican (this year, celebrated January 13th). This parable of Jesus (Luke 18:10-14) emphasizes the need for humility and recognition of God’s generous grace in loving the sinner. Rather than counting our accomplishments and virtues, we are bidden to recognize the love of God that forgives, heals and strengthens us. It inaugurates a week of simple living, with no fasting or abstinences. True faith is not about boasting but mercy.

Next comes a Sunday called the Prodigal Son (celebrated next week on January 20th) from Luke 16:11-32. Our reflection on humility leads us to recognize our need for God who Himself is ready and waiting to accept our repentance with joy and compassion. At the same time, we are warned not to judge those who may have much to repent and to not let our own self-righteousness become a barrier that separates us from our brothers and sisters. True humility and repentance open our eyes to see the solidarity of all people as children of God, who loves, cares for and welcomes each and all.

The following Sunday is devoted to the Last Judgment from Matthew 25:31-46. Here we are warned that the hands of God at work in the world are our own and how we treat others reflects the true reality and nature of our faith. God will not accept pious words that are betrayed by callous regard for those who suffer need and want. One might say that like Marley in A Christmas Carol we must recognize that “mankind is my business” and if we truly desire to live as God’s people the desire to help and comfort others should honestly and generously lead us to action. We note that these actions may be the same as those of the Pharisee, but originating in genuine and self-sacrificing love, not in the vainglory charity of praise and recognition. Tradition calls for abstinence from all meat products after this day, as we like lambs seek to live a more caring and innocent life.

Finally, the Sunday of Forgiveness, with the Gospel from Matthew 6:14-21, reminds us that we cannot progress spiritually if we hold grudges or are willing to live in the animosity our actions cause others. We must be pro-active to seek reconciliation, not only with God, but with our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, even our enemies. In Byzantine and Orthodox Churches, the Sunday of Forgiveness culminates in a forgiveness ring in which we seek and proclaim mutual forgiveness between ourselves and every member of the community.

The day after Forgiveness Sunday is called Clean Monday and is the traditional first day of Lent for Eastern Christians. From Clean Monday Tradition calls for abstinence from all dairy products. We are called to eat simple foods and so share table with the poorest of the world’s poor. Prince and pauper experience solidarity in the food of the poor: grains, vegetables, and fruit. Thus, we begin Lent on equal footing with every other human being who stands before God in need of mercy and salvation. Illusions of grandeur and false pride have no place in our Lenten journey.

This four week period prepares Eastern Christians for a Lenten observance with a deep spiritual focus. We meditate on the mercy of God and our need to move beyond ourselves with our limited and narrow views of freedom. Instead, we are offered to reflect on a God who is Love, who will literally shed his blood and offer his body for our sakes. Byzantine Lent is not about giving up, but about discovering. It is a journey that holds before us the Cross of Christ and his glorious Resurrection.

We invite all people to join us this year and make Lent a time of personal and spiritual growth. We encourage you to not wait; start today, and make your Lenten journey truly fruitful. God love you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Father. They are refreshingly beautiful. I am a convert and I love the Eastern Rite spirituality.
I came upon your blog while preparing for my catechism class.
Mrs. Deacon John