At the End of Great Lent and Looking Forward

By the time we serve Vespers this evening at 7:00 p.m., Great Lent will have ended. We have just been through the "sacred forty days" that will prepare us for Holy Week following the two great feasts of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday.

Looking back and assessing the recent past is not always that easy. What does it actually mean to have had a "good Lent?" What kind of balance did we maintain between the outward and inward? If we fasted from meat, did we also fast from sin? We can, of course, examine the patterns we maintained during Great Lent concerning our prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Was there a "lenten atmosphere" in our homes for forty days? We can also look back and ask ourselves about our participation in the lenten liturgical services. Did we make it to Confession and, if so, did we sincerely confess our sins? (And if we did not make it to Confession, then why not?)

Then again, perhaps we should look forward instead of backwards. Great Lent is over, but if, for the moment, we look beyond even Holy Week and the initial Paschal celebration, we will find ourselves in the post-Paschal season. What positive practices can we carry forward with us as we resume our Christian lives outside of the rarefied atmosphere of Great Lent and Holy Week? If, during Great Lent, we worked on overcoming a particular "bad habit," an unhealthy obsession, or one of the passions, are we determined not to allow that spiritual victory to lapse now that Lent is over? If we were less dependent upon food and drink; if we overcame this or that "addiction;" and if Great Lent was about acting in a particularly vigilant manner for forty days; are we to now act as if it never happened once we have our "Pascha bash?" I often wonder if Bright Week is all about forgetting what we may have learned in the "school of repentance" of Great Lent. As if we try and "catch up" with what we "missed" for Great Lent. In this way, Great Lent is reduced to being a pious interlude that brings to us a false sense of spiritual complacency because we more-or-less followed the rules.

I would encourage everyone to look precisely at those positive practices that were established with a bit of "blood, sweat and tears" during Great Lent, and try and carry them forward. We may no longer be fasting, but there must be some things that we have learned to live without - on the material, psychological and spiritual levels of existence - in a manner that was "good for the soul," to use that expression. Perhaps, with some serious reflection, we can make a choice about a new experience of freedom that we truly want to continue beyond Holy Week and Pascha. Great Lent is a time of recovery - beginning with a recovery of a sense of urgency in our relationship with God. An even greater struggle is now coming: with the "post-Paschal blues" that leave us rather empty and lacking in any vigilance toward the passions that undermine our recovery of God's loving and dynamic presence.

In short, I am hoping, on the one hand, to alert everyone to the danger of treating Great Lent as a limited season of abstinence that does not extend beyond the shaded areas on the church calender that represent "fasting days," and, on the other hand, to the great potential that those very fasting days revealed to us of focusing our lives on God in a serious manner, thus making Great Lent the entrance into a renewed and reinvigorated commitment to the life in Christ. We need to choose between mere formalism and the Gospel precept of placing God before all else. The choice is simple, though the "follow through" is challenging.



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