GREAT LENT: A LIBERATING ACT TOWARDS COMMUNION

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VOLUME XXI SPRING 2017 ISSUE 2

GREAT LENT: A LIBERATING ACT TOWARDS COMMUNION

Guest Editorial for the 2017 Lenten Season
By Fr. Jerry John Mathew

(Chief Editor’s Note: We have decided to start off our Spring 2017 Issue with a guest editorial written by a young priest of the Church of Malankara – Orthodox Syrian Church of the East to mark the beginning of the 2017 Great Lent which is simultaneously observed by the East and West this year. A promising young priest of Holy Orthodoxy, Rev. Priest Fr. Jerry John Mathew holds his theological degree (B.D.) from United Theological College of Serampore College, and also possesses a Master’s degree in English language and literature and a Baccalaureate in Education. He is part of the English faculty at Hagia Sophia Public School at Ernakulam while maintaining his full-time pastoral position within the Metropolitanate of East Kandanad, Kerala, India. Currently on sabbatical leave in the U.S.A., Fr. Jerry is visiting the Orthodox Churches and enriching the Orthodox Youth through his teaching and preaching and religious services. We wish him God’s blessing in his call as a priest and success and advancement as an educator.)

Introduction

Great Lent is a period for self-edification offered by the Church to the believers in order to prepare them to be partakers in the mystic passion of Lord Jesus Christ. It disciplines a believer to have a spiritually elated experience by trimming off from the borders and pulling one’s own self into the center of one’s own spiritual existence. In that sense, great lent is a time of preparation for us to contemplate, and then eliminate the abrasions that might have happened in life because of our constant interaction with the world around, and to prepare a new space in our lives for the indwelling of God that would happen as a reward at its end. The word “lent” means “spring”, and the word “great” is added to it to distinguish it from all other fasting seasons. Penitential practices to grow in personal sanctity, intense private as well as public devotions, almsgiving and incessant prostrations are all some characteristics of the Great Lent in addition to abstinence from certain foods. As an opportunity for renewing the spiritual life, the pre-Paschal lent demands from us a fruitful time for repentance in order to
reconstruct ourselves in conformity with the deeds and sayings of Christ our Lord.

Lent: A Liberating Journey
In the space between crushing slavery and exhilarating freedom Israel had to wander for forty years in the lifelessness of the dry desert. Lent offers this dry space to a believer who wishes to escape from the captivity of this world into the spiritual promised land of Canaan. Hence lent is a journey, during which the pilgrims are to abstain from all the luxurious possibilities offered by the world. Like a pebble shedding off its outer border to become ellipsoidal in shape all through it journey from the fall to the ocean bed, lent demands trimming of our very being all through our journey to the oceanic Resurrection event of our Lord. It is an act of liberating oneself from the clutches of the world, renouncing the many “wonderful”, “awesome”, “comfortable”, and “amazing” experiences and opportunities offered by it and deliberately choosing the pain that is offered by the freedom. Journey to freedom or the liberating act has always been painful. History of all salvific movements started with the pain of a sacrifice and journeyed through many painful detriments before achieving liberation. Israel had to leave most of their comfort zones before they tasted the first sip from the nectar of liberation at Canaan. The people of Israel acknowledged that the seeds of liberation for them were sown by God at a time when they found life miserable in the bondage at Egypt. Lent is a liberating journey initiated by God for the believers who find this world as a miserable place filled with dangerous nooses of slavery.

Lent: An Act of Rebuilding Communion

Most of the practices in the Lent are considered routines of asceticism and so it is observed as a time for detachment from the world we live in. However, the world being the creation of God, the believer cannot hate this world, which in turn means that Lent is the time to rebuild the heavenly Eden that existed before the fall of humanity. Hence lent is the time for a believer to be in this world while being not of the world, deliberately executing the ordained role of being a steward to the co-creations, rather than mastering or ignoring or destroying it, just like what humanity was destined before its fall. Trace of lent, as abstaining from food, was installed in Eden too as an effective rule for a meaningful coexistence between God, man and the creation. The fall thus could have derived as the result of the failure in
observing the first ever lent. Breaking the rules of the lent broke the communion that existed between God, man and other creations, that kindled a sense of “otherness”, which resulted in the ‘Fall’. In other words, lent is installed within the church as a rule to rebuild the once broken communion between God and man and other creations. Lent thus provides an opportunity to execute our freewill once again, this time not to destroy the communion, but to restore the once lost heaven by abstaining from the temptations offered by the world by means of which rebuilding a communion with God and creation becomes possible.

Lent: An Act of Solidarity
The act of abstention is not merely a ‘keeping away from something’ but a call to renounce too. Carrying less baggage makes the journey more comfortable, which implies that renouncing what we have is an important need to make the journey comfortable. The widow at Zarephath had to renounce her food in her encounter with the prophet Elijah. Encountering Jesus induced change in Zacchaeus, which he celebrated by renouncing what he had to the poor. Jesus points out the need to renounce the earthly treasures for the sake of the needy as a criterion for His indwelling. Lent is not mere abstaining from food but renouncing it for the sake of the needy. Hence without an act of charity no lent can achieve its end. Doing charity is like placing a lighted lamp in the darkness. Our mission is not only to lead people out from darkness into the lights, but also to keep a light in the dark arenas of the world, thereby challenging the very existence of darkness. Abstaining from food must deliberately become an act of renouncing for the sake of those who suffer. Renouncing of food, time, effort and all that we have saved for our existence must be given off for rebuilding the world that we live in. This makes lent a more responsible social act than mere formal private practice of spiritual enhancement of an individual. The commitment of an individual is not merely aimed at one’s own selfish spiritual enrichment; rather it is an effort to a meaningful and creative socialized communal living.

Conclusion
Willed by God, lent is a social, spiritual as well as individual act observed by abstaining from and renouncing the “haves” to accomplish success in the liberating journey from being slaves of our destructive desires to being delivered into the realm of becoming divine. Lent offers a novel opportunity
for us to enter into the once-lost communion with God through the process of deification and with the other creations, by means of which the restoration of our communion with God and other creations is accomplished. In other words, lent is a socially and spiritually relevant practice installed by God within the Church for helping the believers live in a communal harmony with God and one another. Thus, lent is not a mere personal spiritual obligation installed by the church for an individual’s personal edification or faith-discipline, rather it is a God-given opportunity for the Church to make a deliberate responsive action to the promised Salvation, which at the encounter with Jesus Christ in the second coming would become fulfilled.

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