Great Lent: A Refining Crucible

Great Lent: A Refining Crucible

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After a time of emotional and spiritual unrest, culminating in a conscious feeling during the Nativity season that my spiritual life needed attention, this Lenten journey heralded in a “new beginning” for me. The details of life are unique for each of us, but the goal for Christians is simple and singular: prayer. It is by prayer that one’s will turns to God, and He can begin to put the broken things in one’s life back together.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is dependent upon our inner prayer life, and it is life because from this Source alone can we learn to see with spiritual discernment. The honest perspective gradually acquired heals, but it seems to simultaneously also break: tearing apart the sinful illusions that mask reality. The illusion of self-help conceived by worldly counsel begins to fall away, and prayer makes clearer and clearer the one thing needful.

I can’t get to God outside of prayer, and, as I’m currently realizing more, I can’t get to deeper prayerfulness without others: the Saints, especially the Theotokos, others also striving in Christ: spiritual fathers and mentors—the entire Church that calls all of my senses to attention on God. This Great Lent, prostrated on the ground and covered with the rising grace of incense and protected by the prayers of those far stronger than my little nervous self, I am rescued, I am saved.

Seeking Peace

The first week of my Lenten journey was marked by finally catching my heart. It turns out, I have been consumed with a distracting ambition centered in earthly cares. They are “good” cares: the will for health and helping others; the will to tell people the truth about things that are harming us all. Nonetheless, this mission of mine has become a distraction from the stillness and quiet prayerfulness that leads me to God.

I began attending a small monastic skete in a nearby town, and am now encouraged and challenged by a spiritual father there. At the start of Great Lent, I was so in the dark that I did not realize my heart feeling like a feather easily blown to and fro was a direct result of my attention to Facebook and nonsense that I invited, daily, into my life. First lesson: cut the draining social media, at least for a time. I wasn’t told what to do but asked what I thought I should do. Rather than planning on what I would not do, my focus this Lent has turned to reading spiritual works, holding to a better rule of prayer, engaging the fast. A hunger for Christ and the Church has increased, but not without serious consequences.

“The Cross comes out, and the demons shout!” I’ve been told. At first, I thought little about this jingle. It seemed true, but my reality had been more worldly, less spiritual. As I spend more time in church and attend to the Jesus Prayer, the spiritual realm is reality and the world only muddies it up, covers it over. Yet, even as I write this, it is obvious that understanding is fleeting, and mostly I’m surviving with a lame prayer along the lines of: “save me, O Lord, whether I want it or not!”

The Strength of Sacrifice

The Cross is power and truth and antagonizes those opposed to God. This Lent, I’ve believed more: I cross my bed, especially over the side where my husband sleeps. I cross the kids’ rooms believing that there is power and protection in doing so. I have found the string used for easily misplaced necklaces and re-roped the five kiddos with our salvation. Lord have mercy. My family has not understood my spiritual hunger, and there has certainly been resistance.

Despite the tug-of-war that occurs about us and within us: “Lord, Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance!” It is His grace that I have rested in, when I have rested, but this Lent has felt less about resting and more about an awakening will within me. He saves those who will for Him—and yes, despite “wanting” Him one may will for Him. The question that calls to me at this juncture of Great Lent where we have two weeks left is how do I will for our Lord?

Despite how life and its myriad situations (relationships with people, mainly) may seem in a moment, we must preserve the journey to worship and holiness. This is the framework given to us by the Church to embrace us and protect us from the distractions we have from reality. If we abandon the services, fasting, the way of Great Lent that has been preserved from ages to ages, then we run a great risk of abandoning ship. I think this is so because reality begins to seem the world, and things of Christ and His Kingdom become just additional choices and not essential to one’s personal life.

During the Nativity fast I vacationed in Hawaii, enjoying earthly beauty but feeling spiritual sacrifice that left me empty. When I mentioned this to my spiritual father, he said that one is not spiritually stagnant, as I had thought I was. A person is either growing in Christ or backsliding. The words are the beginning, but the experience of witnessing others with greater faith calmly hymn, “Your Resurrection, O Christ Our God…” is saving grace.

The blood of Christ that washes through me and cleans my soul, allowing me to taste and see that He is good, enables me, with the angels, to sing, “The angels in heaven sing; enable us on earth to glorify You in purity of heart.”

This Great Lent, with efforts to deepen prayer and to attend a holy place in worship at a monastic skete, I am encouraged to feel the difference between perceiving the world as reality to the Kingdom of Heaven as reality and to offer this limited response to my experiences.

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About author
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Lea Povozhaev

Lea Povozhaev earned a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Kent State University in 2014 and an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Akron in 2007. She spent a semester abroad in Russia studying at Nizhni Novgorod State University in 1999, where she was first introduced to Orthodox Christianity. Lea teaches writing part-time as she focuses on writing and presenting her current research on wholeness of body and soul. Two of her recent works reflect the culmination of her writing pursuits as a creative non-fiction writer who believes in merging reflection on one's personal life with current social events. She recently (June 3, 2016) had an interview with Ancient Faith Radio on her memoir: check it out! Lea aims to continue writing, researching, and presenting and invites inquiries from the audience to share her work ranging from academic (Medical Rhetoric—arguments in current health care and their implications for those who value the sanctity of life), creative and personal (focusing on family life and Orthodoxy). She lives in Ohio with her husband and their five children. Read more about Lea and her work here.