Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because he hour has come but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16: 22-22
Good morning Prayer Team!
One of the best descriptions I have heard used to describe Lent is the term “joyful sadness.” During Great Lent, we intentionally do things that subdue our mood. We abstain from foods that bring us joy. In church we wear vestments that are dark, keep the lights low, and use a censer without bells. The mood is somber at the Lenten services.
I always thought as a child that we put on dark colors out of sadness for the death of Christ. I remember hearing that we should wear black on Good Friday, the way we wear dark clothes when someone passes away. The sadness of Lent is not because of the death of Christ. He rose from the dead. He is risen from the dead. He lives and reigns now and to eternity. We know how the story of Holy Week will end, with the triumphant Resurrection of Christ.
The somber mood and the feeling of “sadness” that accompanies Great Lent is a sadness over our own sins and shortcomings. In the successful Lenten journey, we spend time reflecting on our sinfulness. We discipline ourselves through fasting. We go to confession. We repent. We relive the events of Christ’s Passion. These things will be physically, emotionally and spiritually taxing on us. They may cause us to feel sad, or at the least more sober about our state of sinfulness. However, Christ’s ability to receive us in repentance, to forgive and absolve our sins, and to again hear the story of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life will bring us to joy.
I try to choose an appropriate Bible passage each day for the Prayer Team messages. Today’s passage comes from the Gospel of John. Jesus is talking with His disciples before His Passion, warning them that what is about to happen will bring them great sorrow, but soon after, will bring them great joy. He compares what is about to happen with a woman who is about to give birth. We know (well moms know) that childbirth is very painful. However, children bring so much joy that the pain of childbirth is forgotten. While I’ve never given birth, I would imagine that the pain must be forgotten otherwise no one would have more than one child.
It is the same process that we use during Lent. Our struggle to grow spiritually will be forgotten in the joy of the Resurrection. Unfortunately, for some people, that will mean that they will forget all the spiritual growing they did during Lent. This is not the forgetting I’m talking about. When we seek to make strides in our spiritual growth and we achieve our spiritual goals, we will be filled with so much joy, we won’t remember the struggle to overcome the challenges on that road to achievement.
When I go to confession, as an example, I am very nervous before. Yet, right after I have gone, I don’t remember the nervousness. I only remember the joy of being cleansed spiritually.
Joy and sadness are opposites. However, you can’t have one without the other. We know what joy feels like because we know what sadness feels like. If you never feel sadness, you can never feel joy. Because joy all the time wouldn’t be joy. We only understand real joy because we have experienced the absence of joy, or sadness.
There is only joy on Pascha if we’ve gone through the sadness of Great Lent. If we pass Lent without any sober reflection or repentance, there will be no joy on Pascha. We need the juxtaposition of joy and sadness in order to have a complete life experience. We need the juxtaposition of joyful sadness in order to have a complete Lenten experience.
Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.” As for the saints in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows, their libations of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure. For You do not give me up to Sheol, or let Your godly one see the Pit. You show me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your rlight hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16)
Take another step in your Lenten journey today!
Photo credit: Saints Theodore Orthodox Church
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