Great Lent and Pascha are the brightest and most instructive times in the Orthodox Calendar. That season begins with Forgiveness Sunday (March 10), when we mutually ask and receive forgiveness of one another. It is a season filled with prayer, services, spiritual and physical struggles, a time that culminates in the celebration of Pascha, Christ’s Resurrection (which this year falls on April 28).
We present for your consideration responses to several questions that come up in connection with the podvig of Great Lent.
—Is watching television permitted during Great Lent?
—Some people keep the television turned off throughout Lent. Others watch only religious programming or news programs. However, if there are certain programs that the members of your family want to watch, in most cases there is little you can do about it. It is far more important to keep peace in the family than to obey some kind of ascetic directive. Something is wrong if turning off the television becomes a source of argument and dissension. In my opinion, if one of the faithful should come home and, on seeing everyone watching television, becomes indignant, says that it’s Lent, you should be repenting instead of entertaining yourselves, etc., and turns off the TV set, the effect will be the opposite of the one intended. That show of indignation may turn people against not only the Fast, but also the Church. Often, in an attempt to steer children onto the True Path, religious parents forbid them from watching television. This may produce in the child’s soul a growing powerful and bitter protest not only against his parents, but also against the Church in general, against the entire Church structure and way of life. A child should not be made to feel that he is deprived of what is available to other children. It is far more important to gradually instill in a child the sense, the meaning, of what is happening in Church, to reveal to him the meaning of the Fast in such a way as to make it a source of joy, something he himself would want to strive to observe.
—Venerable St. Makarios of Egypt would break the fast when people came to visit him, and would offer them everything he had to eat. Was he right in doing that?
—Hospitality is more important than fasting. If we impose the burden of fasting upon ourselves, we do so for our own spiritual development, as part of our striving after spiritual perfection. We are not to impose the burden of fasting on others, especially on those who are in need of hospitality. Of course, if one of the faithful who we know observes the Fast should come to visit, we would prepare for him the same kind of meal we would be having. However, if the visitor is someone who does not fast, or someone who is in need of food providing nourishment more substantial than, say, potatoes or cabbage, then certainly it would be no sin to break the fast.
—How should we treat “suppressed anger,” anger that later, after the Fast, bursts forth even more strongly?
—“Suppressed anger” is but a first step, the stage at which we are learning not to allow our anger to come to the surface. This must be followed by another step, at which one begins to work on his heart and to place not only his outward behavior but also his internal movement before the judgment [described in] the Gospels. If anger enters into your heart, remember Christ, Who was nailed to the Cross, and Who yet prayed for those torturing Him. Remember how the Saints, who in their lives experienced things utterly and incomparably more horrible, more tragic, than anything happening to us, nonetheless endured it with humility and love. Remember St. John Chrysostom, who was removed from his Episcopal throne, exiled, beaten by his guards, and starved to the point of utter exhaustion. As he, abandoned and betrayed by everyone, was dying, he said, “Glory to God for all things.” Many similar examples could be cited. We should bring them to mind whenever we are about to burst out in anger over some minor provocation –e.g. when we are served soup that is not hot enough, when someone is late for an appointment with us, or when a poorly worded document is presented for our signature.
One other point: It often happens that while you are irritated by one source, you pour out [our anger] upon someone else, for an entirely different reason. For example, you are late for your bus: its doors slam shut in your face, and a passing car splashes you with mud. When you get to work, you find it quite easy to take out your anger on your co-workers. After all, the bus and the car are gone, the things that provoked your anger are no longer there, but your co-workers are. The car has driven away, but the person is still there next to you; you can find yourself engaging in an extended battle with someone over the most trivial thing, a war that can last for years. No external factors should control us to the extent that they become a basis for anger or irritation.
—How do we make a distinction between the person and his actions?
—In the same way the father in the parable of the prodigal son did. The son behaved horribly, but the father continued to love him.
—How can we teach ourselves not to become angry at children?
—We need to remember that children are defenseless, but that they collect impressions of what is happening around them. Frequently, a child will endure things up to a certain age, and then suddenly will explode; everything that had been building up over the years develops into active opposition to his parents. Sometimes it will culminate in a total rift between parent and child, while other times, there will be a degree of estrangement between them. In general, one should always treat children with subtlety and tact. It seems to me that you can talk to a child about anything. You can speak plainly about his weaknesses, and can give him instructions that he will remember all his life. However, anger cannot ever serve as a foundation for child rearing. Words spoken in irritation are lost, and their effect will be the opposite of what was intended. Even if what you say is substantially true, its form of expression can render it incorrect. In that case, the child will never remember the message; he will remember only that a measure of anger had been poured out upon him.
—How can we teach ourselves to refrain from emotional outbursts?
—Just like good wine, every good word must mature and stabilize. More often than not, we repent of those words that we blurted out in an immediate response to something. Someone offends us, and we utter harsh words in response. Before uttering harsh words, weigh everything on the scales of reason, the scales of truth, the scales of action in accordance with the teachings of the Gospels. If, after having done that, there is still something to say to the person, do so—but in a friendly manner, speaking to the person so gently that he will listen to you without taking offense.
Over the course of Great Lent, we are called to watch ourselves, to not allow ourselves spontaneous emotional outbursts, but rather to give our emotions a chance to settle down. If we learn to react to external irritants in a calm, measured way, we will have brought ourselves up at least one step on the staircase leading to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Parish Life, March 2019, Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC