Sunday, March 16, 2008

Some thoughts on Great Lent

[Crossposted to LiveJournal.]

Used with permission, Creative Commons: treviño

On this day last year (according to the Church calendar) I left some words on the subject of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

I thought perhaps I should explain why we Orthodox are so obsessed with this whole Lent thing, that is, the forty days preparing for Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection. We take it so seriously. Whereas some choose something to give up (others nothing at all), we follow a prescribed regimen of preparation, abstaining from certain things every year in a remarkably non-arbitrary fashion.

But that's the point. It's not arbitrary. It's not about what I want to give up. It IS about submitting. It IS about obedience. It's about the replacement of my selfish will with the Will of the One who wants me. It is about rejecting that sentiment that got us human beings into trouble in the first place, the constant repetition of that age-old, infernal, insipid, ludicrous, pathetic, droning mantra...

I want, I want, I want.

We rephrase it sometimes. I'm entitled. I deserve it. I earned it. It's my right. I should have this. This should be mine. My life will be better when I have this!

What's the danger, the damage in this attitude? Why is it that we Christians get accused of being killjoys, of being against fun in any form? It is not because joy is something unfamiliar to us. It is because this quest for fulfillment through hedonism is akin to quenching thirst by gulping gallons of ocean water. The danger is in the consequence.

Receiving what is wanted is satisfying, surely. It is at times (perhaps even often!) to be considered godly. (Consider, e.g., "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him." [Mt 7:11].) But when my wants conflict with the wants of another, chaos ensues. When the receipt of my desire results in the jealousy of the one close to me, the damage can be irreparable. When my gain necessitates another's loss, I have failed in my charge to bear one another's burden, to love my neighbor as myself, and to seek first the Kingdom of God.

And so we have this season once again, a reminder, a chance to renew, reclaim our purpose to love one another, regain lost ground, a reminder that we CAN be renewed, no matter how foolishly and destructively pathetic we have been in the past year, a reminder that flesh can be restored to its purpose, to dignity, to hope, to the path to perfection once again.

Lent also places us in community. We aren't doing this alone. We have the support of entire congregations.

The Resurrection is upon us, and it is a microcosm of the resurrection we will all experience.