This past Monday marked the first day of Great Lent.  Lent is a spiritual journey leading us to Pascha (Easter).  At Pascha we celebrate Christ's resurrection not as a mere historical event but as something that not only happened, but something that continues to happen to us!  In Christ's resurrection, He enables us to walk in the newness of life.  All of us received the gift of new life and we each have the ability to accept the gift and live by it.

While there are 6 weeks and Holy Week to prepare us for Pascha there are also 5 weeks to prepare us for Lent - each dedicated to a fundamental aspect of repentance:

  1.   Sunday of Zacchaeus  (Luke 19: 1-10) - focusing on the desire to do the right thing
  2.  Sunday of the Publican & The Pharisee  (Luke 18:10-14) - focusing on humility
  3.  Sunday of  the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) - focusing on return from exile or repentance
  4. Meat- Fare Sunday (Matthew 25: 31-46) -  focusing on The Last Judgment & Christian Love
  5.  Cheese-Fare Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) - focusing on Forgiveness

Lent actually begins during Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheese-Fare Sunday.  This is one of my favorite services of the season.   It begins with a solemn Vespers service, but when the announcement of the evening Prokeimenon is made (usually symbolizing the end of one day and the beginning of another), it is also the beginning of Lent. At the end of this service, all of the faithful go up to the priest, one by one, and the priest and each person ask one another for mutual forgiveness, and continue around the church asking each person present for mutual forgiveness.

Each Lent I make goals for the Lenten Season.  Last  year, I didn't fare so well.  Hopefully this year will be better.  My personal goals involve reading -  I had actually started the reading during the two weeks prior to Lent beginning so hopefully I will attain the goals! The books I am reading for Lent are as follows:

1.  Help! I'm Bored In Church : Entering Fully Into The Divine Liturgy  - I'm not sure that I would say I am bored in Church, but I do feel that the last year or so have taken its effect on me and that I am not as attentive as I should be.  I'm hoping this book, written by an Orthodox Priest,  will help refocus me.  I'm not that far into it but am enjoying it thus far.

2.  Forgive Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate - I saw this book 'advertised' on a blog site and couldn't resist.  It is said to help forgiveness with all relationships, not just parental figures.  So far, I'd say it is well written.

3.  One Thousand Gifts Devotional - I read One Thousand Gifts a couple of years ago for Lent and began my own gratitude journal.  I have not yet reached 1000 but am working on it!  This devotional covers 60 reflections including one on anxiety that really spoke to me!

4.  Great Lent:  Journey To Pascha -  I have tried to read this one several times...for some reason I never seem to get through it- another reason I started early this year!  I am already through the parts I've read before so it's looking good! 🙂

4.  The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Woman's Monastery  -  Assuming I finish the first two on the list, this is the next in line for me.  It's been on my Amazon wish list and I finally bought it.  Apparently, the author,  Constantina Palmer made frequent pilgrimages to a women's monastery in Greece and writes of the nuns' particular approach to their spiritual life.  It sounds magnificent!

5.  The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor - I doubt that I will finish this bible commentary by Lawrence Farley during Lent but I haven't read one in a while and decided Lent was a good time to do so!  I only read a few segments a day because I like to mull it over before going on.

What goals or activities do you like to do during Lent as you prepare for Pascha (Easter)?

1

Christmas Day may be over but the season is not.  And the reason we celebrate the Holy Day is never gone.

Let us remember the reason of establishing the Feast of the Lord's Birth on December 25th:  In the 4th century, there were heresies being taught.  Followers of Arius were denying that Jesus was God made flesh. In accordance with this teaching, Christians could not celebrate his birth.  In order to fight this error, it was agreed in the Church that the commemoration of the Birth of Jesus, Our Lord, would be separated from the Feast of His Baptism ( Until the 4th century, this Feast was celebrated on January 6 along with the remembrance of Theophany - the Baptism of Our Lord - and was held on the 6th day of the year in relation to the "Sixth Day" when Adam was created because according to ancient tradition, Christ is the "Second Adam").  December 25th was chosen out of several suggestions made at the time as a date for this separate celebration in order to remove temptation from the Christians of that time. The Romans had a pagan festival on this day and it was usually spent in merrymaking and immorality.  Choosing December 25th as the day, therefore, assisted the Church to teach the rejection of pagan ideas and demonstrated that Christ had come to replace those lifeless and immoral teachings.  Most importantly, in choosing a date to separately celebrate the birth of Christ, the Church clearly confessed her faith that God had indeed taken flesh and chose to live here among men.

The sun sets on the night of Christmas Day but the celebration is not over.  There are 12 days of Christmas of course, as I discussed in my previous post on the Russian Orthodox Traditions of Christmas, leading up to Epiphany in which we celebrate the Birth of Our Lord and Savior with family and friends.  And there is the rest of the year to come in which we recall not only the Birth of our Lord, but His life on earth, His teachings, and, most importantly, His suffering, death and RESURRECTION!                  His birth leads to His RESURRECTION - which gives us eternal life.   wpid-IMG_20131210_153127_002.jpg

That can't be over in one day.

Continue the celebration.  Keep the LOVE of CHRIST in your heart..keep the magic in your heart - keep the spirit of wanting to give, wanting to smile, wanting to celebrate Christ alive in your soul not just on Christmas Day, but today, tomorrow and all the days of the rest of your life.  May God grant you many many many years to do so!