Great Lent is Upon Us

Mother Maria of Paris
Mother Maria of Paris

The weeks prior to the start of Great Lent are all about preparing us for what is to come.  I always like to say that in the Orthodox Church we prepare to prepare, and then we prepare, and then we celebrate and this is what we are witnessing in these preparation weeks. Each week has a theme such as humility, repentance, forgiveness and last Sunday’s theme, Judgment.  The Gospel pericope comes from the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Mark.  Jesus is telling those listening of what will happen on the last day as people are separated out from sheep and goats and the criteria for the separation.

‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

In the story, there is a question about when we saw you this way and did not help and Jesus’ response is that we should do this to everyone.  In the end, he says this as a judgment:

‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

During the season of Great Lent, we tend to focus on the superficial.  I am going to give up this, or I am going to give up that.  We give up nothing of consequence and as soon as the season is complete return to that behavior.  Why not give up being critical of others, or why not adopt a prayer routine or a Scripture reading habit.

In the Orthodox Church, we focus on the abstinence from certain food items, and it consumes us to the point that we miss the point entirely.  Why not fast with our eyes, with our ears, and with our tongues?

One of my favorite saints of the Church is Mother Maria of Paris.  I have written about her life before, so I will not go into that here.  There is one quote from her that has stuck with me, and I believe is the essence of the spiritual life of a Christian and I will end with the quote.

“At the last judgment I shall not be asked if I was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers. I shall be asked one thing – did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners – that is all I shall be asked.”

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