At Matins this morning we heard the following words read at the eighth ode: Let us enrich our powers of perception through fasting. Selections from Genesis are read in sequence each day during Great Lent at Vespers. We are nearing the account of the Fall which will be recited tomorrow. At the Fall, because our first parents did not fast, they did not keep the Divinely-appointed ordinance of abstinence, they fell and lost a very specific perception: the part of the soul, the nous, which is the connection each man and woman has to God—the eye of the soul wherein we perceive Heavenly mysteries. This intimate link was damaged, though not irrevocably so. We are called to the healing of this condition, and Lent is the hospital provided by God towards the treatment. And yet many make plans to make Lent suit them, and not to make themselves suit Lent! Fasting cook books, vegan recipes, and in our time, online services on livestream in lieu of live worship. The Church has blessed live stream services for a specific purpose: for those who are elderly or shut-ins, or those who have some serious condition and thereby they should not put themselves at risk for infection. These are examples of those who cannot attend the Divine services in person. Also, for doctors and nurses and medical staff, or soldiers who, in Orthodox countries, often tune in as a means of receiving encouragement and Divine inspiration in their difficult duties. Church livestreaming is not for healthy young men and women who are too indolent to drive to church.
Such a “Lenten outlook” will not assist one’s spiritual growth during this Great Lent. One’s perception of the Heavenly realities will not improve, in fact, the opposite will occur: It will fade and wither. The spirit of idleness and curiosity which we pray to be delivered from will simply infect the soul, and one’s Lenten dispositions will be plagued with every sort of noetic disease. The demons then, finding a clean and tidy abode will come in greater numbers with lofty plans and ambitions for the souls in question, all towards our detriment. Those who do not observe the law of Lent as we were taught in Cheesefare Week will become food for demons. This image of food—let it remain sharp in our minds. He who eats and enjoys will be consumed by the unsleeping worm in the next life. So arise and observe the Lenten fast carefully and attentively, pray fervently the prayer of St. Ephraim morning and evening and at every opportunity throughout the day, work on obtaining holiness in the fear of God, with true saving repentance. Attend the services without making any excuses as to the journey or the time or the inconvenient hour or the lack of good singing or that particular individual in the parish who tries your patience. Immerse yourself in the observance of Great Lent unto your soul’s sanctification.
For true healing and progress to be made we must look to the ancient paths. We must forget the individualistic excuses of convenience which plague modern man. Our forefathers walked hours through the mountains in the darkness out of pious vow and obligation to attend the night service. Perhaps this is not relatable to many in our society today; one cannot expect a picky child to eat broccoli because children in Africa are starving. The child has no context to situate this analogy in his existential musings. He does not know where Africa is. He does not know the conditions which prevail there. And he has not felt what effects starvation have on the human condition. And that exactly is what must trouble us deeply: that there is a disconnect between the piety of past generations and the Christianity of those generations with our own Christianity. This disconnect, which is fueled by rationalism and the skepticism which plagues logical, modern man, guarantees that we believe in a different manner. If we believe, we believe differently from how our ancestors did. This means we approach the topics of faith with human reason and with our comfort and beneficial prospects in mind. Does this priest say things that makes me happy? Is this Liturgy at a convenient time for my comfort? Perhaps the parish is ten minutes further than I am willing to travel? Or perhaps, it’s in that neighborhood I don’t particularly enjoy. These, and many more excuses are made by our convenience-loving generation.
Let us recognize this fact. Let us lay aside our earthly cares and conveniences and embrace the all-encompassing Lenten fast as a gift from God for the soul’s healing—without pretentiousness and without excuses. This way, Christians build spiritual character, and a proper disposition of soul by God’s saving grace. If we only prayed to have the simple faith of our ancestors... If we only sought the simple faith we see alive in the Gospel by the woman with the issue of blood and the centurion who said, Lord just say the word, then, let us ask ourselves: Would these trivial obstacles, these self-created mountains and barriers which we internally erect unto our own soul’s destruction, not suddenly disappear? Would we not perceive Christ with the noetic eyes of the soul, coming forth from the Tomb as from a bridal chamber on the resplendent, eternal night of Pascha?