Life is full of surprises. Some merely disrupt our daily routines while others can cut to the core of our being and essence of our lives. Some are pleasant, others painful.
The outbreak of the pandemic was a huge surprise – but so was the rapid development of the vaccines.
Clean Monday on March 15 marked the beginning of the period of the Great Lent, the long march which is going to lead us to something astonishing – the shock of an empty tomb, the tomb of the Resurrected Christ.
It is really inconceivable as to how and why the ‘Real Life’ – Christ – could be buried in the earth, in a tomb. It is the exemplary act of a loving and salvific divine self-emptying.
Great Lent is a march to into our inner self. I think it is good and beneficial from time to time to open a dialogue with ourselves. It is even better if we invite God and make it a dialogue. God and man, the two of us, in intimate relationship.
After all, this is what Faith is all about: the establishment of a loving and trusting relationship that leads to the ‘knowledge of God’ based on love. What poet Kostis Palamas said is true: “the more you know [someone] the more you love [him].”
I have the sense, however, that a march toward the self means moving away from the earthly realm and toward another level, with the Church leading the way
Please let me explain that I don’t mean ‘Church’ as the hierarchical or clerical administration, but Church as the place and the way where God and man meet. When I say ‘man’ I mean human beings, male and female. There is no discrimination whatsoever: “all of us are one in Jesus Christ” as St. Paul said so clearly and beautifully.
Great Lent is a march towards an encounter with Christ, who comes to us freely, lovingly, and willingly as a Bridegroom in the middle of the night, because He loves us with extreme passion and He reminds us that we are children of God, that we are His brothers and sisters.
This sacred and unique period of Great Lent has nothing to do with pietistic sentimentalisms or fundamentalist religiosities, rather it is an invitation or calling – if you truly wish to live and experience the Church.
It is a calling to the self-realization of who we are and Whose we are. That we have been called to become more human, more divine, godlier, every day – in other words, to become saints in freedom and free in sainthood.
Heaven starts here, and in that respect death is temporary because Christ’s resurrection pulverizes it.
Salvation, about which many sermons will be delivered these days, is not an abstract idea, or a theory of psychological therapies. Our salvation is God.
It starts from the moment of the renunciation of our self-justifications and efforts of self-salvation. In this way, this biological phenomenon that constitutes our earthly being, which is of limited duration from our birth to our death, which we call life, acquires meaning. And death, which is our unavoidable common tragedy becomes less tragic.
Our encounter with Christ takes place in the Church. It is not a theoretical encounter but an ontological one. It is a nearness or rather a unity between God and man, man and God, through the communion of the Body and the Blood of Christ, Who is the One of the Trinity.
The Church is convened in the Eucharist, which is the Paschal Supper through which we become “of the same body and the same blood of Christ” as St. Nicholas Kavasilas, who was the par excellence Liturgical Father of the 14th century, has said. Thus, we become brothers and sisters partaking of the same-food and the same-way of existence, and we don’t merely exist, we co-exist by loving others and by being loved by them.
Actually, this is the only relationship that should exist among the members of the Church. Many times I wonder how distant we are from all these truths! The hierarchical religiosity and the institutionalization of faith has totally confused us about what the Church is and what the Church is not.
Today, we seem to place more emphasis on the man-made ritualistic rubrics, canons, rules, and regulations, and tangled up in those we lose the spirit and the message of the Church. It seems to me that many times these canons and canonicity, the regulations and the imposed pseudo-pietistic moralism overshadow the Grace, the love, and philanthropy of Christ.
Our churches are empty because we have lost “the mind of Christ.” The time to rediscover the essentials of the Orthodox Church is long overdue. I think Great Lent is a good opportunity to do so.