In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Between the two readings taken from the Old Testament during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the priest turns towards the people with a candle and the censer in his hands (in the ancient Church it was the deacon that performed this particular rite, but in modern practice it’s the priest), and he says the words: “The light of Christ illumineth all.”
In one very simple sentence, we can get to the heart of our endeavors throughout Lent, and, of course, of what God does for us. We often overly rely on our own human endeavors. We rely upon our abilities, we rely upon what we think are good intentions, and so on. And yet, during Lent, we should remember that it is God Who illumines all. We do nothing according to our own merits.
God has embedded within us the ability to do good, which is part of being human. But part of being human is also that we carry around within ourselves darkness. Each of us should be introspective at times; we should look deep into ourselves and root out that darkness. But we can root it out truly and definitively only in and through Christ—only through His light.
We begin the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with Lenten Vespers. The service is, according to the tradition and the canons of the Church, an evening service. It is a time when we say farewell to the physical, earthly light that comes to us from the sun, and which nourishes us, and we greet into our lives the spiritual light, the light that casts aside the darkness around us and, more importantly, the darkness within us.
This word “light” permeates all of our theological and liturgical texts, especially during this time of Lent. To become enlightened, to become illumined, means to live in Christ, to be uplifted, to be inspired. We are set afire in much the same way as when iron is put into a furnace it glows and casts off light. And if we repent, if we remove our sinful disposition from ourselves, then that light of Christ can also illumine all of us, and hence all of those around us.
Let us remember that every time we hear these sacred words that the priest pronounces. Let us remember where all holiness and all goodness come from, and let us remember that if we are with and in Christ, then the whole world is in the process of being saved.