What is Great Lent?
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14: 26
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today we begin a new unit on the journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. On weekdays from now until Holy Week, I will be writing on various topics related to Great Lent. And on weekends, I will be writing on the Scriptures of the Sundays of Great Lent.
Every year, we take a journey called Great Lent, which culminates in Holy Week and Pascha (the Orthodox word for Easter is Pascha, which is what I’ll refer to Easter as throughout these writings). We take this journey in order to remember what the Lord did for us. And we take this journey so that we can grow closer to the Lord. In many religious corners, Lent is seen as a period of deprivation, where we “give up” something so that we can feel some sense of suffering, only to have that thing back and our suffering relieved once Easter comes.
I prefer to look at Lent from the perspective of a couch potato who wishes to run a marathon. The marathon is 26 miles. One doesn’t go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight, no matter how much will power he has. Because running a marathon takes training. One must first run a mile, and then add a second mile and then a third, etc. When one is able to run a mile, he does that for a while and then he challenges himself to run a second mile, and he does that for a while, and then increases to three miles, etc. The changes are small and incremental. However, they build on one another.
If you were to make a graph of your Lenten experience, the “giving up something” model might not show growth over a period of years. You’d give up something, then get it back, then give up something, then get it back, etc. The Lenten model I encourage you to use is the marathon model—“add” one small thing to your life to during Lent and then maintain that over the course of the year. Then next year, add something else. And after years of small adds, while maintaining these “adds” during the year, will allow you to grow spiritually over a period of years. If the goal of life is to grow ever closer to God, then Lent is the period where we add our growth elements each year. It is said that it takes six weeks for something to become a habit, and Lent is roughly six weeks long. Add something to your life and in six weeks, it will become a healthy habit.
I’m starting this unit exactly one week before the start of Great Lent, to help us come up with a Lenten plan before Lent begins, so that next Monday we can hit the ground running. This week will be about making small but incremental plans for Lent. Next week and throughout Lent, the goal will be to actualize those plans. And the goal for after Pascha will be to maintain what you did during Lent, and then make another incremental jump next year.
The goals of Lent are to:
Remember what the Lord did for us.
Repent, or re-orient ourselves to the Lord by adding/changing at least one habit.
Retraining ourselves to follow our goals and changes.
Retaining and maintaining what we’ve learned long after Lent ends.
Lent is not a period of deprivation but rather a period of growth, with the rest of the year being maintenance of that growth.
Lord, thank You that I’m alive to see another season of the Great Lent. Help me this week to take some time and evaluate my Christian journey and to find ways that I can improve my relationship with You and with others this Lent. Give me wisdom and focus to identify things I need to change and the discipline to change them. Amen.
Start thinking about what you’d like to change about your life this Lent.
Photo credit: St. Willibrord Orthodox Church
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