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Archive for March, 2014

Over the past several years I have noticed an increase in the number of Protestants who desire to observe Lent but have no real training for how to do it. Now I am no authority on church matters, but in 15 years of being an Orthodox Christian I have learned a thing or two about Lent. We really do Lent. In our Lenten tradition we stop eating meat, dairy, eggs, fish, olive oil, and alcohol. We lessen our dependence on entertainment. We increase the number and length of our church services. The daily readings of the church, the tone of our music, and the prayers we say all change.

But don’t panic! My four point plan doesn’t look anything like that. Even we Orthodox ease into the more serious observances of Lent over the course of a lifetime. I hope you will indulge me as I share my thoughts on the main characteristics of Lent and how you can apply them to your life as you desire to prepare for Easter — the Resurrection of Christ.

Point 1: Choose something to give up that you will look forward to getting back at Easter.

This gets to the real heart of what it means to both fast and feast. You can’t have one without the other. Pick something to give up, or abstain from, that you particularly like and can anticipate celebrating its return joyfully at Easter. This is often food, but doesn’t need to be. The important part here is that you do it every day. Its absence colors your Lenten season and brightens your Easter season. Choose it, lay it aside, and meet it again at the resurrection.

A note on food: If, like me, gluttony is one of your big failings, it can be tempting to use Lent as a sort of diet period. Sometimes the results of abstaining from a food may result in weight loss, but do yourself a favor and put the scale away. Don’t also start an exercise program. Lent is a time when you dedicate your sacrifice to God. If you can’t add, “to the glory of God” to the end of the sentence, “I’m giving up _____” then pick something else.

Point 2: Cultivate a good habit.

Ideally your good habit would be church related. Maybe go to more church services, give money to charity, volunteer somewhere, or motivate yourself to do something else you have been meaning to do. It could also be home related, as your home is really a little church. As with Point 1, you just want to make sure you do it every day and with an eye toward Easter. (See above: this is not the time to start an exercise program.)

Point 3: Eliminate a bad habit.

This is what we all want to do for Point 1 anyway, so I’m putting it in here. Lent gives us an opportunity to examine our inner selves and figure out what we want to get rid of so we can live a more Godly life. You can use this time like a sort of boot camp. Christ endured spitting, scourging, humiliation, and the cross for you. Keep your eyes on that cross and let’s root out some bad habits so we can receive Him joyfully at Easter.

Point 4: Read something lovely or edifying.

While you’re doing your difficult inner work you are going to need to fill those newly emptied spaces with something beautiful. I like church writers for this time, but classic literature can work, too. Just make sure it is beautiful and true.

A note on community: Ideally Lent is celebrated as a community. It is wonderful when a group of people are all fasting the same way and can encourage each other. But even when that is the case, the real work happens in each person’s heart and is a very individual effort. If you find yourself fasting alone this year, know that God sees your effort and will sustain you. Know also that you’re not really alone — there are many of us out here doing the same work and seeking the same reward. You can do it!

The best part of following a plan for Lent is that when Easter comes you can feast! Celebrate the day with whatever you gave up. Enjoy the fruits of your newly cultivated habit. Notice the lessening of the habit you rooted out and the increase of beauty in your inner life. In the Orthodox Church we celebrate Easter (what we call Pascha) for 40 days, so there is a real balance between Lent and the Easter season. Once you’ve got the hang of Lent the real trick is figuring out how to meaningfully feast for 40 days! But that’s another blog post.

 

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