Meditation of His Eminence Archbishop NICOLAE at the start of Great Lent 2009

Ten weeks before Pascha, the Orthodox Church enters the Triodion, a season completely set apart in the ecclesiastical year. It is a preparation in different steps, a spiritual ascent toward the Resurrection of the Lord. Firstly we spend three weeks before the Paschal Lent, a period in which we are guided toward humility, as the publican of the parable, toward return to the heavenly Father as the prodigal son, and taking stock of our actions and thoughts, realizing that we will reach the Judgment before the Lord. Secondly we step into Lent, a season of abstinence from foods that originate from animals, and abstinence from bodily passions, both completed by spiritual pursuits. The special food consumption makes no sense in and of itself, unless it is completed through labor of the soul, prayer, repentance, and works of mercy.

St. Ignatius Briancheaninov, in his sermon on the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, leans toward this spiritual understanding of Lent. And his point of departure is a statement of the Savior, different than the words He gave as answer to the temptation of the evil one on the mountain of Karanthania. Quoting St. Ignatius: “The struggle of lent is not only of the body, it is useful and beneficial firstly for the mind and the heart. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing and drunkenness. The Savior has revealed through these words a consequence of our unreasonable use of food and drink, an unprofitable consequence for the soul. Gluttony of the stomach weighs down the heart with rudeness and insensitivity, and the mind lacks its freedom and spirituality – man becomes solely a physical being.”

St. Ignatius tells us that the struggles of lent refer to the body, but the benefit of lent pour out upon the heart. The soul becomes heavy together with the body, and the heart becomes hardened. Eating inappropriately and without moderation, we condemn ourselves to absence of sensitivity of the heart and to spiritual misunderstanding of our lives and the world. We lose our sense of existence on earth, because food, or matter in general, surrounds that which is non-matter and it alters its function of knowing.

If the command to keep lent was heard by Adam in Paradise and was disobeyed, lent is all the more necessary after the fall of the first man. St. Ignatius continues: “We are nailed to the earth, we are bound to it with the entire soul, not just the body; we have become completely of the body, lacking spiritual feeling, unable of heavenly ponderings. The command to keep lent is again revealed as the first command, absolutely useful for us. Only through the help of lent we are able to tear away from the earth! Only through the help of lent we are able to withstand the powerful attraction of the earthly passions! Only through the help of lent we are able to break our bond to sin! Only through the help of lent our reasoning is able to rise up from the earth, facing high toward God!”

The Church Fathers have called lent the foundation of all virtues, because through lent our mind is kept in its appropriate purity and awareness, and the heart is kept in its appropriate astuteness and spirituality. He who shakes the foundation of virtues, shakes their entire building.

Let us be attentive to these words of the Church Fathers and let us keep the lent so that we may become worthy of its fruits!

1 Comment

  1. Your Eminence: It is very true that we are more than physical partakers of life, and lent awakens our minds and spirits to that awareness. Otherwise, we would be like the animals, living without purpose and hope. It is hard to believe that this is just the beginning of another joyfilled season of repentance, that hopefully will bear much fruit. Thank you for your meditation.

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