Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Happy Lent!

My perrennial Lenten reading for the past two decades has been The Lenten Spring: Readings for Great Lent, by Father Thomas Hopko. If I'd looked this up earlier to see the long shipping time, I would have posted this a bit earlier ---- but maybe your local public library can fix you up with a copy this season. It's totally worth the effort to find, read, and pray with.

Here's a sample: "Let Us Begin with Joy" [pages 12-15] [I've taken the liberty of inserting minimum references from the footnotes in brackets.]

Joy is at the heart of everything in the Christian life, and Great Lent is no exception. The hymns and verses of the church services call Christians to begin with rejoicing.

Let us not be sad.
Let us cleanse our faces with the waters of dispassion,
blessing and exalting Chrst forever. [first Friday matins]

Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we may all be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God
and His Holy Pascha,
rejoicing with spiritual joy. [Forgiveness Sunday vespers]

Jesus commands all those who fast to be joyful. He condemns sadness and grief, especially the outward appearance of fasting before men. He orders His people to hide their sorrow and to cover their sadness over sin. He directs them to hide their acts of penitence, to keep their mortifications secret, to appear shining and bright to the world.

And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt. 6:16-18)

Sadness for Christians is a sin to be repented of --- not a virtue to be cultivated. Blessed mourning over the tragedies of this fallen world is possible. Those who mourn for this cause are promised comfort by the Lord. And godly grief over sins for the sake of leading us to conversion and repentance is possible. The apostle Paul refers to this in his second letter to the Corinthians.

....I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7-9-10)

In the lenten season the Christian struggles to put aside all "worldly grief" and to embrace the "godly grief" which St. John Climacus calls the "blessed joy-grief of holy compunction," which inspires "spiritual laughter in the soul," since "God does not ask or desire that a person should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather that out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual joy."

As I ponder the true nature of compunction, I find myself amazed by the way in which inward joy and gladness mingle with what we call mourning and grief, like honey in a comb. There must be a lesson here and it surely is that compunction is properly a gift from God, so that there is real pleasure in the soul, since God secretly brings consolation to those who in their hearts are repenting. [The Ladder of Divine Ascent]

These words of one of the severest of saints recall the teachings of St. John Cassian, who lived about three hundred years earlier.

The only form of dejection we should cultivate is the sorrow which goes with repentance for sin and is accompanied by hope in God. It was of this form of dejection that the apostle said: "Godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret" (2 Cor. 7:10). This "godly sorrow" nourishes the soul through the hope engendered by repentance, and it is mingled with joy. That is why it makes us obedient and eager for every good work: accessible, humble, gentle, forbearing, and patient in enduring all the suffering or tribulation God may send us. Possession of these qualities shows that a person enjoys the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith, self-control (see Gal. 5:22). But from the other kind of dejection we come to know the fruits of the evil spirit: listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, sluggishness in prayer. So we should shun this second kind of dejection as we would unchastity, avarice, anger, and the rest of the passions. It can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on holy scripture and by living with godly people. [On the Eight Vices]

These lessons from the saints are the teaching of the Church herself in her services for the lenten spring. Repentance and joy, compunction and consolation, godly grief and spiritual rejoicing are joined together in perfect union in the person who fights for the Lord.

Receive Lent with gladness, O people!
The beginning of spiritual warfare arrives.
Forsake the indulgences of your flesh
that the gifts of the Spirit may abound in you.
Embracr your share of suffering, O soldiers of Christ!
Prove yourselves to be children of God!
The Holy Spirit will take up His abode in you
and your souls will be filled with His light. [Cheesefare Tuesday matins]

"Only one day," He said,
"is the life of those on earth."
For those who make the effort in love
there are forty days of the Fast
for us to accomplish with joy. [first Monday matins]


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Bunny Stealthness said...
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