Lent Archive

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A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU – Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Day of Days

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Day of Days

               Our annual Great Lenten Journey is nearing its end. We are about to accompany our Lord and His disciples to Bethany – to the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.

…It seems that Lazarus has died. Our Lord delayed His return for four days. In fact, some around us, even Mary and Martha question why He hadn’t returned earlier. Could He not have healed him? Could He not have kept him from dying? We see Him greet and embrace Martha and Mary. He weeps. Oh, how He loves them and him! They together go to the tomb. As we follow, we hear His instructions to open the tomb. Are You sure, Lord? He has been dead for four days! Martha, as if she had to, reminds Him of the certain signs of his mortality. They’ve been through so much already. Are You sure, Lord?  But then…we hear Him, “Lazarus, arise!” Is this for real?! The mummy wrapped corpse steps forward from his tomb! He is alive! He is the Son of God! Oh, the joy! Wonder of wonders! Who could imagine?!

…Today He enters Jerusalem. Everyone is talking. They all want to see Him and Lazarus who He raised from the dead. Thousands are gathered. They come to the Passover. They come to receive the King. But wait – here He comes on the colt of a donkey – not on a great stallion. He has told us many times that His Kingdom is not of this world. He is so simple, so humble. But they greet Him with Palm leaves and shouts of joy: “Hosanna in the Highest…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John2:13). We notice that not everyone is shouting. Many religious leaders are not happy with Him. He knows. We know.

…He has told us that the Son of Man will be captured by sinful men. There is something evil in the air. He seems somewhat pre-occupied. He tells us to be ready. He shares a parable of the Bridegroom coming in the middle of the night and five wise and five foolish virgins. The wise ones were prepared to meet the Bridegroom while the foolish ones were not. Could He be the Bridegroom that He is referring to? If He is, we must – like the wise virgins be prepared to receive Him. We must be vigilant.

…We are in the Upper Room for the Passover Meal. We break Bread and drink Wine with His Blessings and His transforming words, “Receive and Eat, this is My Body…Drink from it, all of you. For this is my Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remissions of sins.” (Mt. 26:26-28). What does this mean? It seams so special. Then He washes our feet. Oh, what humility. But where is Judas? He left abruptly. We heard our Lord saying that one would betray Him. We all agreed that was not possible.

…We are at the Garden of Gethsemane. It is so late. We are so tired, He goes off by Himself to pray. He is troubled. There is something evil in the air…He has warned us to pray, to be vigilant. But we can barely keep our eyes open. We doze. We are startled. What’s happening? What’s the commotion? Who are the people? Why is Judas with them and why does he kiss Him? Oh, no! They’ve come for our Lord! Should we fight? He tells us no. But they are taking Him! What should we do?! What should we do? We scatter…John and some women are near by. Peter is close by. We are in chaos. What if they come after us, too?

…We hear that He is going to the Praetorium. Pilate is there. He is accused of being an enemy of the state. We know that they don’t like Him. He has challenged them too many times. Everything is moving so quickly. He is being beaten – flogged…we hear that He is to be crucified…They are jeering at Him. They’ve put a crown of thorns upon His head in mockery. Oh, the extreme humiliation. Oh, His extreme humility.

…He is carrying His cross to Calvary. Oh, the agony. He is innocent. “As a sheep is led to the slaughter…as a lamb is silent before his shearers, he opens not his mouth.” (Is. 53:7). We gaze from afar. As a notorious thief with thieves, he is crucified. It is mid-afternoon, but it seems like the middle of the night. Darkness has covered the Earth. A horrible storm approaches. He breathes His last breath. The earth quakes! Thunder bellows! Lightening strikes! Our Lord has died.

…A dark Sabbath, full of numbness, full of despair. Were You not the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Savior? Could you not have changed this? Could it not have been avoided? What shall we do? Where shall we go? After whom shall we follow?

…It is the First Day of the week. It is the Bright Day. The Myrrh bearers have returned from the Tomb with startling news: He is Risen! He is Alive! We see Him! It is our Lord! “Oh, death where is your sting? Oh, Hades where is your victory? Christ is Risen! And you are destroyed. Christ is Risen! And you are annihilated.” (St. John Chrysostom – Paschal homily). He is Risen and He is with us forever. “It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine forth in splendor for the Festival, and embrace one another. Let us say ‘o brethren’, even to those who do not love us, let us forgive all things in the Resurrection, and thus exclaim: Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down, death by death, and bestowing life to those in the tombs.” (Paschal Doxastikon)

Our Annual Pilgrimage is complete. He is the Lord of Lords. He is the King of Kings. His Resurrection is the Day of Days.

Have a blessed end of Great Lent, a heartfelt Holy Week and a Glorious and Life-giving Resurrection!

With our Lord’s blessings, Fr. Lou

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A Message From Father Lou – Repentance is the daughter of hope and the denial of despair…

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

“Repentance is the daughter of hope and the denial of despair. It is not despondency but eager expectation. It is not self-hatred but the affirmation of my true self as made in God’s image. To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings, but upward at God’s love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with trustfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I can yet become.” (Saint John Climacus)
Our God is an awesome God full of grace, compassion mercy and love. We have once again come to that annual special time of repentance and the journey of Great Lent. The above quotation articulates so clearly the Orthodox perspective of repentance which is all too often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Repentance is hopeful and positive, focusing on God’s grace and love rather than despondent and negative focusing on our limitations and shortcomings. Repentance (metanoia) is about redirecting our attitude in life away from self sufficiency to God-dependency. It is about acknowledging our limitations and sins in honesty but looking upward with hope at God’s grace and love. Simply put, repentance (metanoia) helps us to redirect our focus of life to the one who gives us life – our Loving Lord.
Please join with Father Paul, Father Jimi, Deacon John and me in taking advantage of the tools afforded us by our Lord and His Church to assist us in redirecting our focus away from ourselves and to God. Let’s utilize the “Three Legged Table” of Great Lent” FASTING, PRAYER and ALMSGIVING. Fasting helps us to discipline ourselves and say “NO” to ourselves. Through Prayer we say “YES” to God through private and corporate worship in love. Through “ALMSGIVING we say “Yes” to God by loving “the least of His brothers and sisters” In short we redirect our focus from ourselves through fasting and to God and others through prayer and almsgiving.
Finally, take advantage of the Sacrament of Repentance (Confession). This Sacrament is central to our Orthodox life in Christ. It involves humility, honesty and a willful desire to submit more to God. It is a sacrament of healing with a confessor called a “physician of soul”. Sin is the ailment. Forgiveness is the care. Why not make a “spiritual” doctor appointment for confession this Great Lent? You and I need it. We need healing from the Great Physician of our souls and bodies through the ancient sacrament of His Church. May our Good and Merciful Lord be with you the reminder of this Lenten period. May we all have a blessed Holy Week and a glorious life-giving Paschal celebration.
With our Lord’s Blessings,
Fr. Lou

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A Message From Fr. Lou – I see Your Bridal Chamber

I see Your Bridal Chamber

 

“I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter in; O Giver of Light, make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me.”

Exaposteilarion of the Orthros Service of the Bridegroom

Holy Monday – Holy Wednesday

 

               We have now passed the mid-point of our annual Great Lenten journey. Holy Week is just around the corner. The Exaposteilarion hymn above highlights a central theme of the first days of our Lord’s week of Passion. Our Lord is the Bridegroom and we, the Church, are His bride. The iconographic image utilized in this service portrays our Lord, the Bridegroom “decked out” not in fine linens and clothing usually associated with a wedding feast. Rather, He is clothed in the “purple of mockery”, with a crown of thorns serving to begin the flow of the blood He spilled for His “bride”. It is an Icon of Extreme Humility. It is within this Humility that our Suitor approaches us. His Love is an agape of self-sacrifice radically different than that of typical relationships. To be worthy of His bridal chamber, our love must be a reflection of His. The “vesture of our soul” is made radiant by His Grace in forgiveness. Unworthy though we be, He loves and forgives us. Forgiveness then of others, provides us with the proper “wedding garment”. Please read the following written by Fr. Thomas Hopko, from his book, The Lenten Spring:

“Love between sinners is essentially expressed in forgiveness.  There is no other way. It cannot be otherwise. Forgiveness is the singular expression of love in this fallen world. If, therefore, we desire to be loved and forgiven by God – and even more, if we know that as a matter fact we are so loved and forgiven – then we must love and forgive each other. The Lenten Season exists for this purpose; to express the Love of God for one another through mutual forgiveness. This is the teaching of Jesus Himself.” (pg. 36)

It is in the context of the Love lived out in forgiveness that our Lenten Journey annually begins with Great Vespers on Clean Monday eve and a “kiss of forgiveness”. As we, then near the end of Great Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, let us do our very best to live this love out as a reflection of Christ’s great Agape Love in forgiveness, by forgiving one another. Examine your conscious and let go of grudges, hurts and pains caused by others. Seek forgiveness from wrongs intentional or otherwise that you may have caused. Participate in the Holy Sacrament of Repentance (Confession) whereby in humility you acknowledge your imperfections and seek forgiveness. It is then that the original beauty of God’s Grace in our lives is revealed…It is then that we may be properly adorned to enter into His Bridal Chamber of Grace and Love. Have a blessed conclusion of Great Lent, Holy Week and remembrance of our Lord’s Passion and salvific crucifixion and a glorious celebration of His Life Giving Resurrection.

With our Lord’s Blessings,
Fr. Lou

 

 

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A Message from Father Lou – The Lenten Spring is Here!

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

The Lenten Spring is Here!

 

“The Lenten spring shines forth, the flower of repentance!
Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
crying out to the Giver of Light: ‘Glory to You,

O Lover of man!’”
(Cheesefare  Lenten Vespers)

Great Lent begins this year on Clean Monday, March 3. All too often we look at this period of the fast negatively.  That, however is far from the intent. Listen to the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Lenten Spring:

“The Church welcomes the Lenten spring with a spirit of exaltation. She greets the time of repentance with the expectancy and enthusiasm of a child entering into a new and exciting experience. The tone of the church services is one of brightness and light. The words are a clarion call to a spiritual contest, the invitation to a spiritual adventure, the summons to a spiritual feat…
The Lenten spirit of the church is one of splendor and delight.  It breathes with the exhilaration of those girding up to ‘fight the good fight’ for the One who loves them and has given Himself for the sake of their salvation…The Lenten spring is welcomed by Christians in the church not as a time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It is greeted as the sanctified season consecrated to the correction, purification and enlightenment of the total person through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God. It is received as the time for batting with evil spirits and blossoming with the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22). It is accepted as ‘the great and saving forty days’ set apart for complete and total dedication to the things of God.  It is the ‘tithe of the year’ which tells us that all times and seasons belong to the Lord who has created and redeemed the world.” (pg. 9 and 11)
As I reflect back on the many Great Lents that I have participated in – most of them as a clergyman – they’ve each proved to be incredible and growing experiences for me.  Of course the period brings with it challenges with the fasting, services, confessions, visitations etc. that add to my daily routine.  But what I have discovered is that above all, it is a time of renewal, excitement, resurrection in the Love of our Compassionate God.  Each lent brings something new to my consciousness – a new inner light dawns from the Light of Salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we enter into the sacred time again this year, let us enter with a ‘spirit of exaltation,’ with ‘the enthusiasm of a child entering into a new and exciting experience.’  It is a spiritual adventure connecting us by the Cross to a Resurrected life in the eternal Love of our Compassionate Lord.
Have a great Great Lent!
With our Lord’s blessings,
Fr. Lou

 

 

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Repentance – A Cord Of Three Strands Is Not Easily Broken

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU
“Repentance is the daughter of hope
and the denial of des- pair. It is not de- spondency but eager expectation. It is not self-hatred but the affir- mation of my true self as made in God’s im- age. To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings,
but upward at God’s love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with trustfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I can yet become.” (Saint John Climacus)
Our God is an awesome God full of grace, compassion mercy and love. We have once again come to that annual spe- cial time of repentance and the journey of Great Lent. The above quotation articulates so clearly the Orthodox perspective of repentance which is all too often misunderstood or misinter- preted. Repentance is hopeful and positive, focusing on God’s grace and love rather than despondent and negative focusing on our limitations and shortcomings. Repentance (metanoia) is about redirecting our attitude in life away from self-sufficiency to God-dependency. It is about acknowledging our limitations and sins in honesty but looking upward with hope at God’s grace and love. Simply put, repentance (metanoia) helps us to redirect our focus of life to the one who gives us life – our Loving Lord.
Please join with Father Paul, Father Andrew and me in taking advantage of the tools afforded us by our Lord and His Church to assist us in redirecting our focus away from ourselves and to God. Let’s utilize the “Three Legged Table” of Great Lent” FASTING, PRAYER and ALMSGIVING. Fasting helps us to discipline ourselves and say “NO” to ourselves. Through Prayer we say “YES” to God through private and corporate wor- ship in love. Through “ALMSGIVING we say “Yes” to God by loving “the least of His brothers and sisters” In short we redirect our focus from ourselves through fasting and to God and others through prayer and almsgiving.
Finally, take advantage of the Sacrament of Repent- ance (Confession). This Sacrament is central to our Orthodox

life in Christ. It involves humility, honesty and a willful desire to submit more to God. It is a sacrament of healing with a confessor called a “physician of soul”. Sin is the ailment. Forgiveness is the care. Why not make a “spiritual” doctor appointment for confes- sion this Great Lent? You and I need it. We need healing from the Great Physician of our souls and bodies through the ancient sac- rament of His Church. May our Good and Merciful Lord be with you the reminder of this Lenten period. May we all have a blessed Holy Week and a glorious life-giving Paschal celebration!
With our Lord’s Blessings, Fr. Lou

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RETURN – It’s the Soul purpose of Great Lent

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU RETURN – It’s the Soul purpose of Great Lent

That incredible time of Great Lent is nearing again this year with Clean Monday on March 18. In fact Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians began Lent on February 13, with an early Easter, March 31. Our Pascha this year will be celebrat- ed on May 5. So, just what is the purpose of Great Lent? It’s “soul” purpose is returning to God. It is a return to the original beauty in which we were created – a beauty of union in harmo- ny with God and then with one another. The consequences of the Ancestral Sin were the fall of humankind, a distortion of that original beauty, with a focus on the self and the material realm first – rather than God and the spiritual realm. It is a sep- aration first from God and in turn from one another. This sepa- ration from the “Life-Giver,” consequentially brings about death. The ultimate death, however, is not physical, it is spiritu- al. If not healed, this separation brings about the destruction of our soul.

And so it is that God, in God’s great mercy and love offers healing for our souls. First, through the “Word” – the Holy Scriptures, the prophets and the law and then the Word, Him- self enters into the world to reclaim our fallen race, by becom- ing one of us, taking our sins upon His shoulders, dying upon the cross – destroying the power of death and the evil one – and resurrecting – reclaiming the original beauty of the human race. And finally, by sending the Holy Spirit into the Church – the Body of believers to complete and live out this reclamation project of Return and re-union.

Great Lent is that annual re-telling of the story of our human condition and invitation to re-connect with God and our fellow humans. Of course, the yeoman’s portion of the work has been accomplished by our Merciful and Loving God, yet our free-will response, is a necessary component to our souls’ salvation. The central themes to our free-will response to God’s invitation are:

  •   A desire to be with God. This desire is predicated upon

    humility and an attitude of gratitude, a realization that our very life and all the good that entails are gifts from God. We are not self-sufficient. We need God to live;

  •   A resolve – a choice to return to the One who gives us life. This return requires a change of focus and direction from our self and the material realm, primarily to God and the

spiritual realm. This is against our fallen human tendency. This is repentance. It is understood in our Orthodox life as a life long journey often entailing hard work;

 Re-union with God. Sharing with Him in the joy of Pascha through which His Life-giving Resurrection is enlivened in us not only at the end of our life but in the midst of it.

The three legged stool of the Great Lenten journey is Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Prayer nourishes our desire and helps us re-connect with the Life-Giver, our Loving Lord. Fasting assists us in the turning primarily away from our selfish focus and to God. It involves struggle and commitment, perhaps a war. It is waged first in the physical realm because it is precisely there that we are too focused. The result of that over focus is a sick soul. Healing comes through re-focusing, returning to God. And finally, Almsgiving helps us to re-direct our focus to our fellow human beings. By loving “the least of God’s brothers and sis- ters,” we love him. (MT. 25:39-41)

Our Lenten Pilgrimage draws near. Let’s use the beauti- ful tools offered at this time of year to Return to our Loving Lord, dying more to our self-focus and living more in the Life-giving Presence, death on the Cross and Glorious and Life Giving Vic- tory in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Have a blessed Great Lent with our Lord’s Grace and blessings,

Fr. Lou

Listed on the following pages are Great Lenten opportu- nities for prayer, scriptural and spiritual readings, repentance and confession, retreats, charity and acts of kindness.

THE LENTEN PRAYER OF ST. EPHRAIM

(Said daily in Great Lent)

Lord and Master of my life, de- liver me from the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and gossip. (Prostration)

Rather, grant the spirit of wis- dom, humility, patience, and love to me your servant. (Prostration)

Yes, Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not to judge others. For you are

blessed to the age of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

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The Journey of Great Lent

by Fr. Lou Christopulos

Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent, is February 19 this year. Our Pascha is celebrated on April 8, the same day as Western Christian Easter. The 40-days of Lent is primarily about repentance – an attitudinal change, a shift of focus away from ourselves and to God, utilizing such tools as prayer, fasting and charity. When we focus on ourselves primarily and things of this world, we “miss the mark” or sin. When we redirect our focus primarily to God, we “hit the mark”, we live the way we were created to live.

Some important Lenten questions:

What is the Triodion? This is a period of time in the Church including the four pre-Lenten Sundays of preparation for Lent, Great Lent and Holy Week.

How long is Great Lent? It is 40-days from Clean Monday (February 19 this year) to the Saturday of Lazarus, before Palm Sunday. This Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week are NOT technically a part of Great Lent. Nevertheless, our fast continues through these days, with a partial relaxation on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, picking up in its strictness on Palm Sunday Night through Holy Week to Pascha.

Why do we fast? We humans are psychosomatic. We have a soul and a body. The true fast is psychic – a spiritual or soul fast from sin. The psychology of the Church teaches us that to get to this spiritual fast, we must go through our body. Thus, we fast from food to help us in our self-discipline. If we can say no to simpler things, such as food, it helps us to say no to more difficult things such as gossip and judging others. Fasting also helps us to redirect our focus on God. When I’m hungry, I am in need. I recognize that I am not self-sufficient. I need basic food to live. Basic food is from God. Another element of fasting is doing without for ourselves, so we can help others. Charity or almsgiving then is a direct result of saving money spent on food or things for ourselves, and re-directing that money to help others in need.

How do we fast? The ultimate fast is a fast from sin. This is the goal of fasting. The prescribed Lenten food fast helping us to that goal begins on Meatfare Sunday, eight days before Great Lent with a fast from meat and begins on Clean Monday with a fast through Holy Saturday, from meat, fish, dairy products, oil and wine – with some exceptions: a lessening of the fast on weekends (oil is permitted); and on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday (fish, wine and oil permitted). There are variations to this fast for a variety of reasons including health, age, children, travel and living in a non-Orthodox country. For variation questions, speak with one of our clergy. But remember, it is better to eat meat than to devour your brother or sister.

What about prayer? Prayer is one main way of communicating with God. We praise God, we thank God, we ask for help for others and ourself. WE ask for forgiveness, for guidance, for strength. Great Lent is a time for heightened prayer life – both personal and corporate. Weekly throughout Lent we have Compline Services on Mondays, Pre-Sanctified Liturgies on Wednesdays and Salutation Services on Fridays. Additionally, we are challenged to be more regular and focused in our personal daily prayer life. The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian sets the tone for our personal prayer approach to our Lord. Also, the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner,” is a formula for constant prayer.
What about almsgiving or charity? This is essential in helping us to turn to God directly and indirectly, by helping the “least of his brothers and sisters.” As was mentioned in “Why do we Fast?” turning to God involves turning away from ourselves, re-directing our attention to helping others. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving or charity are the three legs of the Lenten table.

What about Confession? Confession, or more appropriately, the Sacrament of Repentance, is simply knowing ourselves, recognizing the ways we miss the mark, acknowledging them and attempting to change. We can do this on our own, which can be helpful. Sacramentally, when we do this with a confessor, “two or more are gathered in Christ’s name” and the Grace of God is imparted in a healing and strengthening manner. Confession times are listed on the calendar. Take advantage of this healing sacrament utilizing honesty and humility as a garment of re-baptism and re-generation of our life in Christ.

May Great Lent be a time of re-focus in our life – away from ourselves and to God.
May we “die”
More to the un-Godly aspects of our life, in Christ’s death and live anew in His Glorious and life-giving
Resurrection.

Fr. Lou Christopulos

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim (said daily in Great Lent)

Lord and Master of my life, deliver me from the spirit of laziness, despondency, desire for power over others, and useless talk. (Prostration) Give rather to me your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love. (Prostration) Yes Lord and King, allow me to see my own sins and faults and not to judge others. For you are blessed forever and to the age of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

St. John Chrysostom on Fasting

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eyes and the ears and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers? May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us.

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Detach from the World to Attach to God


As we are now well into Great Lent, allow me to focus on one of the most challenging aspects of our spiritual journeys – detachment. Detachment is living in the world but not being of the world. We know that the Greek word for saint, “ayios”, literally is “one removed from the earth.” To be “holy” (the general way “ayios” is translated) infers this detachment. This is a major theme of the desert fathers and mothers and a core theme of Orthodox Christian spirituality. In fact, it is mentioned in the second and third rungs of the thirty rungs of the spiritual ladder in St. John Climacus’ book, The Ladder of Divine Accent. This classic is read at Orthodox monasteries throughout the world annually during Great Lent. What does this detachment mean for you and me?

Detachment means to not allow the things of this world to become too important to us and to, in their place, choose God. Now, when we speak of things of this world, we also refer to people. Of everything within this world, people are of course the most important. More important, however, than either things or people, is God. Detachment, quite simply is about balance and having the proper priorities in life – God first, others second and things third. Simple to say, but not simple to do. Do we live our lives in terms of time, talents and treasures with these priorities? Our human tendency after the Fall of Adam and Eve is not to. The pre-Fall human tendency was to focus on our soul first and then the body, to focus on God first and everything else second. The Fall skewed this perspective. The body and its pleasures (the material world) became primary and the soul, (the Godly spiritual world) secondary. Detachment is about reversing the order to its original beauty – to focus first on God and His Kingdom and not on the kingdoms of this world.

Practically speaking, it means that we are to detach from the “things” this world offers. We are also challenged even to detach from people. As we relate to them, we do so in the context of God’s love. Therefore, their love or lack of love towards us is understood in the context of God’s eternal love for us. We of course love people with kindness, respect and care. To do so is to be Godly. However, when someone praises us for doing something (presumably) well, we detach – offering the praise to God. Conversely, when someone criticizes us, we accept it and then let it go, in humility to God. If we do not detach and hang on to either a praise or a curse (criticism), we are in danger of placing too much attention on either the praise or criticism of an imperfect person. This in turn can take us to either vanity – thinking of ourselves more than we should — or worthlessness — thinking of ourselves less than we should. I should add that it could also lead us to judgment and bitterness of the person judging us. We then place ourselves above them. The sin in these three cases is pride. It comes from claiming our worth based upon imperfect and worldly opinions. Detachment places our trust in the Perfect God who provides the context for relationships and love.

All people, all things are validated through their relationship with God, their creator. As we continue in our Lenten Journey, may we focus first – in everything – on our Loving Lord. May we live in this world but not be of this world. May we live as strangers knowing that God’s kingdom is not of this world. May we remember that it is His Love for us as our true Parent that validates us. If He is for us, no one can be against us!

Have a blessed remainder of Lent, Holy Week and a Glorious Pascha,

Fr. Lou

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The Journey of Great Lent

Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent, is March 6 this year. Our Pascha is celebrated on April 23, one week after Western Christian Easter. The 40-days of Lent is primarily about repentance – an attitudinal change, a shift of focus away from ourselves and to God, utilizing such tools as prayer, fasting and charity. When we focus on ourselves primarily and things of this world, we “miss the mark” or sin. When we redirect our focus primarily to God, we “hit the mark”, we live the way we were created to live.

Some important Lenten questions:

What is the Triodion? This is a period of time in the Church including the four pre-Lenten Sundays of preparation for Lent, Great Lent and Holy Week.

How long is Great Lent? It is 40-days from Clean Monday (March 6 this year) to the Saturday of Lazarus, before Palm Sunday. This Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are NOT technically a part of Great Lent. Nevertheless, our fast continues through these days, with a partial relaxation on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, picking up in it’s stictness on Palm Sunday Night through Holy Week to Pascha.

Why do we fast? We humans are psychosomatic. We have a soul and a body. The true fast is psychic – a spiritual or soul fast from sin. The psychology of the Church teaches us that to get to this spiritual fast, we must go through our body. Thus, we fast from food to help us in our self-discipline. If we can say no to simpler things, such as food, it helps us to say no to more difficult things such as gossip and judging others. Fasting also helps us to redirect our focus on God. When I’m hungry, I am in need. I recognize that I am not self-sufficient. I need basic food to live. Basic food is from God. Another element of fasting is doing without for ourselves, so we can help others. Charity or almsgiving then is a direct result of saving money spent on food or things for outselves, and re-directing that money to help others in need.

How do we fast? The ultimate fast is a fast from sin. This is the goal of fasting. The prescribed Lenten food fast helping us to that goal begins on Meatfare Sunday, eight days before Great Lent with a fast from meat and begins on Clean Monday with a fast through Holy Saturday, from meat, fish, dairy products, oil and wine – with some exceptions: a lessening of the fast on weekends (oil is permitted); and on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday (fish, wine and oil permitted). There are variations to this fast for a variety of reasons including health, age, children, travel and living in a non-Orthodox country. For variation questions, speak with one of our clergy. But remember, it is better to eat meat than to devour your brother or sister.

What about prayer? Prayer is one main way of communicating with God. We praise God, we thank God, we ask for help for others and ourself. WE ask for forgiveness, for guidance, for strength. Great Lent is a time for heightened prayer life – both personal and corporate. Weekly throughout Lent we have Compline Services on Mondays, Pre-Sanctified Liturgies on Wednesdays and Salutation Services on Fridays. Additionally, we are challenged to be more regular and Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian sets the tone for our personal prayer approach to our Lord. Also, the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner,” is a formula for constant prayer.

What about almsgiving or charity? This is essential in helping us to turn to God directly and indirectly, by helping the “least of his brothers and sisters.” As was mentioned in “Why do we Fast?” turning to God involves turning away from ourselves, re-directing our attention to helping others. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving or charity are the three legs of the Lenten table.

What about Confession? Confession, or more appropriately, the Sacrament of Repentance, is simply knowing ourselves, recognizing the ways we miss the mark, acknowledging them and attempting to change. We can do this on our own, which can be helpful. Sacramentally, when we do this with a confessor, “two or more are gathered in Christ’s name” and the Grace of God is imparted in a healing and strengthening manner. Confession times are listed on the calendar. Take advantage of this healing sacrament utilizing honesty and humility as a garment of re-baptism and re-generation of our life in Christ.

May Great Lent be a time of re-focus in our life – away from ourselves and to God. May we “die” more to the un-Godly aspects of our life, in Christ’s death and live anew in His Glorious and life-giving Resurrection.

With our Lord’s Blessings,

Fr. Lou