Lent : Traveling toward Easter


In the Orthodox liturgical tradition, each major feast (Easter, Christmas…) is announced and prepared in advance and it is the same for Lent.


« Because the Church has a deep psychological understanding of human nature.

Grasping our lack of concentration and the dreadful « worldliness » of our life, it understands how we are unable to change quickly.

And thus, for a long period before the start of the effort peculiar to Lent, the Church centers our attention on the seriousness of this time period and invites us to meditate on its meaning »(The Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, Alexander Schmemann, St Vladimir's Seminary Press) 

Preparing for Lent lets us acquire the necessary attitudes for the trip toward Easter.

The Oriental tradition suggests five Sundays of preparation and for each there is a special Gospel that underscores a basic aspect of repentance, of the road to conversion toward God :

 Desire  (the Sunday of Zachaeus, Lk 19:1-10). The desire of Zachaeus to see Jesus is the basic condition for the man who truly wants to find God.

Humility  (the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Lk 18:10-14). This second aspect frees man from believing that he can find self-fulfillment apart from God.   

 The return from exile (the Sunday of the Prodigal  Son, Lk 15:11-32). This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to let re-emerge the feeling of being exiled from God, far from joy and communion with Him, far from real life. The prodigal son has left for a « far away land ». It is the realization of finding oneself in a « far away land » that urges us to walk toward God.

 The final judgment (the Sunday of abstinence from meat, Mt 25:31-46). For this Sunday, the Church prescribes a limited fast, the abstinence from meat, to gradually start to introduce us into an approach to Lent. When Christ will come to judge us, what will be the criterion for His judgment? We find the answer in the parable of the Gospel : love.

 Forgiveness (the Sunday named from « the expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of delights », Mt 6:14-21). Man was created for Paradise. His sin deprived him of this blessed life and his very existence is now an exile. The Lenten Season liberates us from the slavery of sin. The Gospel of this Sunday lays down the conditions for this liberation: fasting and forgiveness.

What is the goal of the Lenten Season?

It does not consist in the imposition of some external obligations, but rather to soften our heart so that it is able to open itself to the realities of the Spirit and experience a secret hunger and thirst for communion with God.

We are called upon to practice three things in a special way in the course of our trip toward Easter: love of neighbor, fasting, and prayer.

Love of neighbor leads us to forget ourselves in order to place the other at the center. Before they can become concrete practices of help and attentiveness toward our others, gestures of solidarity must find their source in a spiritual disposition that invites us to be see our poverty in order that God may enrich us. This follows the logic of Christian love.

In the Oriental Tradition, fasting has a privileged palce that is not always understood by Christians of other traditions. In fact, this practice is nonsensical if we reduce it only to an external precept.

The biblical basis for fasting is found in the story of original sin (Gen 3:1-24) and in that of the temptations of Jesus in the desert (Lk 4:1-13).

It is easy, even for those who are not very familiar with the Sacred Scriptures, to notice the many affinities between these two stories. What strikes one very strongly is the dynamic of « eating / not eating » (the word "eat" is used more than some fifteen times in the story of Genesis 3).

Adam, who is tempted by the serpent, eats and goes through the experience of « death »; Jesus is tempted by the devil, but He does not eat as He says : « Man does not live on bread alone ».

The practice of fasting invites us to reflect on man’s true hunger, on the true food that gives life. The fact that one gives up material food (incapable of giving life) is closely linked to the perception that I need another food, which will give me eternal life.

Prayer : In the Oriental Tradition, the Lenten Season is called the time of painful joy. The prayer of the heart is above all a road to conversion. A turning away of one’s looking at oneself in order to meet the gaze of God directed to us.

This approach involves a descent into the obscurities of our heart, where our humanity is broken by the evil of mistrust, rivalry, jealousy, fear, egotism, and self-love.

Each of us is a broken creature, full of wounds, separated from God, others, and oneself because of sin.

To descend into the depths of our heart means to experience the helplessness, the inability to fight against the evil that dwells in us.

No one can free himself of this condition of being a slave by his own efforts.

Our freedom is always a gifted freedom, the salvation of man always comes as a salvation that is offered and as a discovery of the wounds of our heart. It is only by accepting light to be shed on these sufferings that we can let God look after them with the balm of His love.
It is by starting with this reconciliation concerning our own limits and our need to be loved that the second movement of the prayer of the heart starts, that of our ascending.

To be loved while not being judged, to be loved in our human poverty, in our sinfulness, is the power that attracts us to God and that is at the origin of our ascending and our joy.

« Invoke the Lord with fervor :
« Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner! »
Say it incessantly :
at church, at home,
on the road, during work
and during your meal,
in your bed;
in a word from the time that you open your eyes
until you close them;
It’s like exposing something to the sun,
because it’s being before the face of the Lord,
who is the sun of the spiritual world.

(Theophane the Recluse )