Father Alexander Schmemann
My source for both posts is St Elias Blog
In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent – the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated – is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses..." (Mark 6:14-15)
Then after Vespers – after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: "Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!", after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special memories, with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations – we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.
What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a "good deed" required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But, the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:
In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast.
Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, Whom He sends to us, so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a return to it, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for the Lenten season.
One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no "enemies"? Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions, is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true, that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But, the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them -- in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being "polite" and "friendly" we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual "recognition" which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.
On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As l advance towards the other, as the other comes to me – we begin to realize that it is Christ Who brings us together by His love for both of us.
And because we make this discovery – and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists – we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year, "opens to us the doors of Paradise." We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage. Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting – true fasting; our effort – true effort; our reconciliation with God – true reconciliation.
The above video of Bishop Anthony is superb!
The following is by Archpriest Daniel Gurevic, pastor of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, PA
There is no doubt for the majority of Catholics Lent today has become irrelevant. Most do not do extra prayer or fasting. The regulations of the Church have been notably reduced. Some Catholics, of course, observe the faith to the minimum. Church and religion have become Sunday morning events, and the rest of the week is devoted to secular pursuits. Some are only “ cultural” Catholics, who would answer that they are Catholic, if asked, but are not active in the Church at all. Others may be people of faith, but affected by the spirit of the times. We live in a consumer culture that does not support practices of self-denial or penance. The very concept of a “Lent,” of a period of repentance and humility before God, seems to belong to the past. They may say that penance is “old-fashioned,” and should be replaced by positive good works done to benefit others. The ancients, they may add, fasted only because they did not have access to the foods that we do, that is, they fasted only because they had to. On the other hand, many have rediscovered the value of the Great Fast, and it is probably observed more than in the materialistic period after World War II.
The historical reality is different than it seems on many points. It may be true that the origin of Lent was as a preparation for baptism, but the way of life that it taught to the learners - the “catechumens”-can be practiced by the faithful after initiation. Indeed, the faithful also prayed and fasted during Lent with the catechumens, to give them support, to witness to the value of self-denial and repentance, and to renew their own baptismal fervor. The initiation of new Christians was an exercise of the whole Church, and so Lent was practiced by the neophytes aspiring to become good Christians, and to the life of faith and wished to grow closer to their goal of deification. It is simply untrue that did not have access to the kinds of food we have now, and, in some ways, they were better off, though they didn’t understand all the principles of nutrition. They deliberately chose to fast and abstain from certain foods, a choice which has become very difficult in the kind of culture in which we live. The difficulty of observing Lent points out the real need for it.
In the Byzantine Liturgy, Lent is called the season of “Alleluia.” This is contrary to the practice of Western Liturgy, where the singing of “ Alleluia, “ a hymn of joy, is forbidden during Lent. In fact, the issue became a point of contention between the Churches during the Middle Ages. It was not the most serious issue, however, because the real differences were matters of the organization of the Churches and the underlying problems of ecclesiastical structures. East and West became antagonistic and intolerant and looked for issues to disagree upon. Today this practice is no longer a problem. In reality, both Churches are saying the same thing in different ways. Lent is a period of sobriety and penance, and our joy is muted and moderated. The Western Church expressed this in their ritual by suppressing the singing of Alleluia: the Eastern Churches expressed this same reality through the practice of kneeling, which they forbade during the fifty days from Pascha (Easter) to Pentecost.
There is a liturgical reason why Lent is called the period of ‘ Alleluia.” At the Office of Morning Praise, called Matins, the usual opening hymn, “God the Lord has revealed himself to us,” is replaced by the triple “ Alleluia.” The singing of “ Alleluia,” also replaces the Prokeimenon at Vespers in the lesser fasting periods ( The Apostles, Dormition and Phillips Fasts) and is sung solemnly at funerals. This might seem odd, as “Alleluia” has become almost exclusively a song of joy. Its original meaning, though, is simply “Praise the Lord,” “Allelu Yah”, in which “Yah” is the name of God revealed to Moses, “I am.” Because it uses God’s name, it is a very solemn hymn, one that the early Christians did not translate from the Hebrew. By its meaning, it does not denote joy exclusively, but praise and glorification of God in all situations. In death, therefore, we praise God who has given us the gift of life and also of death as the passage to eternal life. Even though there may be an element of sadness, God is still to be glorified in all his words, since they are all done out of love for us.
The same is true of Lent. Self - denial and mortification do not give us pleasure of happiness, but they do bring with them a spiritual joy. We can sing “ Alleluia” while repenting, because through this exercise, we are drawing nearer to our God, who is the source of all joy and happiness. St. Paul compared asceticism to a race, a physical struggle, adding, “Run so as to win.” (1 Cor 9:24)
When we are getting our bodies into condition, we have the famous slogan, “ No pain, no gain.” Physical fitness requires struggle and pain. Spiritual fitness is no different. To become spiritually healthy we need to do penance and practice self-denial, so that we can learn to love others and become less selfish. While there are many concerns in modern society over our physical fitness, we should be even more concerned over our spiritual fitness. Lent has never been more necessary. The analogy holds also in the joy that comes from physical fitness. After much training, we can win the race, so also, if we train our souls well, we can win the kingdom of God. For this reason, Lent, while being a tie of struggle with ourselves, is also a joyful journey that can be made with the singing of “Alleluia.”
at 8:46 AM
The Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian
By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Of all Lenten hymns and prayers, one short prayer can be termed the Lenten prayer. Tradition ascribes it to one of the great teachers of spiritual life - St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here is its text:
O Lord and Master of my life,take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power, and idle talk?But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to your servant?Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressionsand not to judge my brother,for blessed are you for ages of ages. Amen.
This prayer is read twice at the end of each Lenten service Monday through Friday (not on Saturdays and Sundays for, as we shall see later, the services of these days do not follow the Lenten pattern). At the first reading, a prostration follows each petition. Then we all bow twelve times saying: "O God, cleanse me a sinner." The entire prayer is repeated with one final prostration at the end.
Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the entire Lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the "negative" and "positive" elements of repentance and constitutes, so to speak, a "check list" for our individual Lenten effort. This effort is aimed first at our liberation from some fundamental spiritual diseases which shape our life and make it virtually impossible for us even to start turning ourselves to God.
The basic disease is sloth. It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us "down" rather than "up" -- which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds "what for?" and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.
The result of sloth is faint-heartedness (despair). It is the state of despondency which all spiritual Fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul. Despondency is the impossibility for man to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. It is truly a demonic power in us because the Devil is fundamentally a liar. He lies to man about God and about the world; he fills life with darkness and negation. Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it he is absolutely unable to see the light and to desire it.
Lust of power! Strange as it may seem, it is precisely sloth and despondency that fill our life with lust of power. By vitiating the entire attitude toward life and making it meaningless and empty, they force us to seek compensation in, a radically wrong attitude toward other persons. If my life is not oriented toward God, not aimed at eternal values, it will inevitably become selfish and self-centered and this means that all other beings will become means of my own self-satisfaction. If God is not the Lord and Master of my life, then I become my own lord and master -- the absolute center of my own world, and I begin to evaluate everything in terms of my needs, my ideas, my desires, and my judgments. The lust of power is thus a fundamental depravity in my relationship to other beings, a search for their subordination to me. It is not necessarily expressed in the actual urge to command and to dominate "others." It may result as well in indifference, contempt, lack of interest, consideration, and respect. It is indeed sloth and despondency directed this time at others; it completes spiritual suicide with spiritual murder.
Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, man alone has been endowed with the gift of speech. All Fathers see in it the very "seal" of the Divine Image in man because God Himself is revealed as Word (John, 1:1). But being the supreme gift, it is by the same token the supreme danger. Being the very expression of man, the means of his self-fulfillment, it is for this very reason the means of his fall and self-destruction, of betrayal and sin. The word saves and the word kills; the word inspires and the word poisons. The word is the means of Truth and it is the means of demonic Lie. Having an ultimate positive power, it has therefore a tremendous negative power. It truly creates positively or negatively. When deviated from its divine origin and purpose, the word becomes idle. It "enforces" sloth, despondency, and lust of power, and transforms life into hell. It becomes the very power of sin.
These four are thus the negative "objects" of repentance. They are the obstacles to be removed. But God alone can remove them. Hence, the first part of the Lenten prayer; this cry from the bottom of human helplessness. Then the prayer moves to the positive aims of repentance which also are four.
Chastity! If one does not reduce this term, as is so often and erroneously done, only to its sexual connotations, it is understood as the positive counterpart of sloth. The exact and full translation of the Greek sofrosini and the Russian tselomudryie ought to be whole-mindedness. Sloth is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness. If we usually mean by chastity the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust -- the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us and He does so by restoring in us the true scale of values by leading us back to God.
The first and wonderful fruit of this wholeness or chastity is humility. We already spoke of it. It is above everything else the victory of truth in us, the elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility alone is capable of truth, of seeing and accepting things as they are and therefore of seeing God's majesty and goodness and love in everything. This is why we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.
Chastity and humility are naturally followed by patience. The "natural" or "fallen" man is impatient, for being blind to himself he is quick to judge and to condemn others. Having but a broken, incomplete, and distorted knowledge of everything, he measures all things by his tastes and his ideas. Being indifferent to everyone except himself, he wants life to be successful right here and now. Patience, however, is truly a divine virtue. God is patient not because He is "indulgent," but because He sees the depth of all that exists, because the inner reality of things, which in our blindness we do not see, is open to Him. The closer we come to God, the more patient we grow and the more we reflect that infinite respect for all beings which is the proper quality of God.
Finally, the crown and fruit of all virtues, of all growth and effort, is love -- that love which, as we have already said, can be given by God alone-the gift which is the goal of all spiritual preparation and practice.
All this is summarized and brought together in the concluding petition of the Lenten prayer in which we ask "to see my own errors and not to judge my brother." For ultimately there is but one danger: pride. Pride is the source of evil, and all evil is pride. Yet it is not enough for me to see my own errors, for even this apparent virtue can be turned into pride. Spiritual writings are full of warnings against the subtle forms of pseudo-piety which, in reality, under the cover of humility and self-accusation can lead to a truly demonic pride. But when we "see our own errors" and "do not judge our brothers," when, in other terms, chastity, humility, patience, and love are but one in us, then and only then the ultimate enemy--pride--will be destroyed in us.
After each petition of the prayer we make a prostration. Prostrations are not limited to the Prayer of St. Ephrem but constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire Lenten worship. Here, however, their meaning is disclosed best of all. In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. The catastrophe of sin lies precisely in the victory of the flesh -- the animal, the irrational, the lust in us -- over the spiritual and the divine. But the body is glorious; the body is holy, so holy that God Himself "became flesh." Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and the life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul. Christian asceticism is a fight, not against but for the body. For this reason, the whole man - soul and body - repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the "psycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the lenten rite par excellence
THE CANON OF ST ANDREW OF CRETE
The Great Canon is served during the first week of the Great Lent. During Great Compline on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, one portion of the Canon is sung after the Little Doxology (Greek practice) or Psalm 69 (Russian practice) is read. On Wednesday of the fifth week of the Great Lent, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt is read together with the entire Great Canon at Orthros (sometimes Thursday proper in Slavic tradition). This practice was implemented during the life of St. Andrew, who was also the author of St. Mary’s hagiography. A basic distinguishing feature of the Great Canon is its extremely broad use of images and subjects taken both from the Old and New Testaments. As the Canon progresses, the congregation encounters many biblical examples of sin and repentance. The Bible (and therefore, the Canon) speaks of some individuals in a positive light, and about others in a negative one—the penitents are expected to emulate the positive examples of sanctity and repentance, and to learn from and avoid the negative examples of sin, fallen nature and pride. However, one of the most notable aspects of the Canon is that it attempts to portray the Biblical images in a very personal way to every penitent: the Canon is written in such form that the faithful identify themselves with many people and events found in the Bible. for source, click here
The last video is Russian with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev serving
GREAT LENT: GIFT OF GOD IN CHRIST, part 1
click above for mp3 recording (Orth.)
GREAT LENT: GIFT OF GOD IN CHRIST, part 1
click above for mp3 recording (Orth.)