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OPINIONS

Reflection from Metropolitan Gerasimos for Great and Holy Lent 2024

March 22, 2024

 

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

Once again, we begin our annual Lenten journey that will take us to the celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at Pascha. Of course, this year, because of the way the Orthodox Church calculates the date of Pascha, our Lenten journey starts later than we are accustomed to, and we will celebrate Pascha at almost the last possible canonical date. And, our western Christian brothers and sisters will celebrate the resurrection just two weeks from now. This is worth noting because in 2025, we will celebrate the seventeen hundredth anniversary of the first ecumenical council, that of Nicaea in the year 325, which gave the entire Christian church the formula and process for determining the date of Pascha. Also, next year, as it happens every few years, all Christians will celebrate together.

Nevertheless, despite this calendar issue, we should embrace the season of Great Lent with joy because everything that the Church places before us these days nurtures our faith and devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We associate Great Lent as a time of askesis – discipline – the kind of discipline we can associate with training. An important element of askesis is restraint. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote the following about the discipline we should observe. He said: “Askesis is called frugality or self-restraint (enkrateia). We are to exercise a form of voluntary self-limitation in order to overcome self-sufficiency in our lifestyle, making the crucial distinction between what we want and what we in fact need.” (‘Encountering the Mystery’, p. 66).

Our ascetic practices usually begin with the food we eat. We cannot avoid that we are called by the Church to observe a fast. As a hymn during the early days of Lent says, “Let us begin, O you peoples, the pure Fast that is our soul’s salvation.” We will naturally associate this with abstinence from foods, meat, eggs, and dairy products. As we abstain from these foods, we have the opportunity to discern what we want and like from what we really need. I believe that even after a brief reflection, we will soon realize that we need far less than we think. As we abstain from these foods, we also have an opportunity to consider their sources – how they were produced, who produced them, how did they arrive at our stores, in order to consider the impact that our food choices have on the world around us.

But there are other ways we might fast that also require a great deal of discipline. Perhaps we might fast from technology – that is, we can put away our devices, using them only for what is needed. We can put them aside for an entire day, creating a technology Sabbath.

In short, we are being asked to sacrifice. Our Lenten fast is a training ground to learn how to sacrifice. His All-Holiness points out, “Many people… Imagine sacrifice involves loss.” But for the people of the Bible, “sacrifice meant not loss but gain… Sacrifice was … costly, but it brought not diminution but fulfillment.” (Encountering the Mystery, p. 67). Our sacrifice – in terms of our Lenten fast – becomes an askesis that leads to increase.

When we sacrifice the excesses of our life, we gain time, time for prayer, time for worship, for reflection and retreat. We gain time for increased study. Your parish, I am certain, will be offering many of programs, beginning with worship services, but also study groups, lectures, retreats, and service projects for you this season. Participate in them as often as you can. These can only deepen your knowledge and experience of Christ and His Church, thus enriching you spiritually.

When we engage in a technology fast, we can increase our time in face-to-face conversations with our families, with our neighbors, and with our parish community. Too often people say they have no time to talk. Usually, it is because they would rather text someone than actually sit with someone. (See Sherry Turkle, ‘Reclaiming Conversation’). If we were to sacrifice time on our phones or other devices and replace it with meaningful conversations with our children and friends, the sacrifice would have led to a great gain. I believe that we would all find greater benefit from a face to face conversation, over more text messages, even from our own loved ones.

Our Lenten askesis has an even greater purpose though. Our goal in this season is to prepare ourselves for Pascha, the Feast of Feasts. At Pascha, we celebrate the gain of the new life, given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church, on Clean Monday simultaneously tells us to begin our askesis so that we may experience the resurrection. One of the first hymns of the day says, “Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God… So, clothed in a garment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life.”

My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, let us heed the Lenten call of our Church to live an ascetic life of self-restraint. Let us reclaim our understanding of sacrifice, let us make something that is gloomy become joyful, as an act that brings great joy into our lives. Even as we decorate our churches in purple to remind us of the season, let us prepare the bright garments of the life-giving resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Kali Sarakosti, may God bless you, and may you have a blessed and soul-saving Lent.

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