Brethren, the divine services of our Holy Orthodox Church cease not to inspire me from my childhood years. I remember with fondness many Clean Mondays. Each Great Lent remains with us to eternity. The struggle against the Passions engaged in during the Lenten Fast has eternal ramifications. Those who follow the Lenten Triodion carefully, day by day, would notice this sung on the Monday of Cheesefare, one week ago: If we embrace the Days of Fasting with perseverance, they will be profitable throughout our lives. Nothing is ever forgotten by God—not one kind word, nor one holy endeavor, nor the simple acts of charity and love and Christian virtue with which we should minister to the least of these. The Days of Fasting will be profitable throughout our lives if lived in a holy manner, in a prayerful manner, in a merciful manner, with contrite heart and lofty thoughts. Lofty not in the proud sense but in the spiritual sense, in the sense of sacrifice and honor. These Lenten Days are as the grain of mustard seed spoken of by Our Savior in the Holy Gospel. Should we preserve them, should we invest the most minuscule ascetic effort in these holy Days of Lenten Fast... then eternal rewards will be granted. Not necessarily rewards of any earthly significance or consolation but heavenly, everlasting investments in our abode near Christ. If we had this proper faith during Lent we would move mountains—not physical, but spiritual.
Fr. Alexander Elchaninov said that Lent strengthens the heart of man. In Lent, man goes out to meet the angels and the demons. Great Lent presents us with our true nature. We come face to face with ourselves during the Fast. This is the very effect of fasting. The abstinence from food combined with a genuine prayer life cleanses the interior man’s filth; his soul becomes as a clean mirror. He can see himself as he is in his soul’s reflection. He can see his failures and his passions. He comprehends the extent of sin’s influence in his life. Prior to this, he is under anesthesia. His conscience, laden with passions and sins, is muddled. He reads the Gospels yet they do not resonate. He attends services yet they seem mundane. He participates in the Holy Mysteries and he sees no spiritual progress, no ascent towards Christ. When man’s heart is strengthened by prayer, fasting, and Christian charity then the Gospel is infused with breadth and significance; man reads the Gospel and he sees the life of Christ unfolding within his soul’s innermost parts. Man attends the divine services, especially the rich services of the first week and the penitential canon of St. Andrew, and the hymns rouse in him the spirit of repentance. He affiliates with the persons mentioned in the Great Canon and assesses his life in the works of his ancestors. He realizes that sin is generational and that to conquer one’s passions means to influence not only one’s own salvation but also the salvation of one’s descendants and neighbors. All of us are responsible for the sins of all,—this Dostoyevskian sentiment reflects the responsibility we have before God, before ourselves, and before our brethren.
And all of us are responsible collectively for one another’s salvation. The bearing of one another’s burdens is the fulfilment of Christ’s law, the holy apostle Paul teaches. Let us bear each other’s burdens through this Lenten Fast and let us build up one another, in a spiritual sense, unto salvation. Whether this is lending an ear when someone is suffering or attempting to positively contribute to their life situation; let us engage positively in the building of the Church, the Body of Christ. Let no one be forgotten by us this Lenten Fast. Let us go forth to the service of neighbor as commanded in the Gospel—giving wealth, time, and energy to those who sincerely request and require it. This does not mean to carelessly squander our talents and gifts or possessions on those who are negligent and engage both in harm of self and harm of others. Discernment here is necessary. The multiplication of the talents and energies we possess must occur carefully, methodically, without damage to our own interior life. If the pitcher is cracked the water will seep out, and all will remain thirsty.
The stadium of virtues is open, those who will should enter eagerly, faithfully, to compete and to be crowned. We will obtain the victory in the stadium if we piously, with contrite heart and steadfast mind embrace the Holy Fast. For our aid, let us invoke the memories of previous Clean Monday’s. Let us remember our mothers and grandmothers who, though sickly and physically weak, ate nothing except their meagre lagana with dried olives, who, though illiterate, with compunction prayed the exquisite Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim, Lord and Master of My Life on this day of Lent’s inception. Let us remember our fathers and grandfathers who took us to fly kites on this day—a wonderful Greek tradition which teaches small children that the limits of man are with God, in the heavens, near the stars. The Greek word for kite is αετός, which also means eagle, reminding me of the following passage from Isaiah: They who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. Encompassing ourselves with Christ, our joy and our salvation, let us sail through the Lenten sky as eagles, invigorated, lofty, amidst the canyons and mountains which are the temptations of this life. And should this be the first Clean Monday of our Christian lives then, let us live it in such an eternally profound manner wherein it will be etched forever within the depths of our being, never forgotten, always treasured, always dear.