Entries with tag great lent .

Being a Lenten Apprentice

Great Lent is often called a time to return to basics because we focus on central dimensions of our Christian faith: we read from Scripture to remind us of the need for a Savior; we become more focused on matters of prayer and worship; we increase our philanthropic and charitable efforts; and, of course, we follow the ascetic discipline of fasting from certain foods.

In some ways, we return to being novice Christians, doing things we were taught years ago. To borrow a concept, we become apprentices once again. According to the dictionary, an apprentice is someone who is “learning by practical experience from more skilled workers.” Parish life could and perhaps should be thought of as an “apprenticeship program” in Christian life.

We learn how to be an Orthodox Christian by participating in the life of the Church with more experienced teachers. The experienced share what they have learned with new generations of participants. The wisdom of experienced people is really important. They have internalized the wisdom of the community through their practice of the Faith. This is best shared in face-to-face encounters.

Who are the “more experienced” in our parishes?  First, of course, are the clergy. They have been educated in the Faith at a fairly high level and should be considered the chief teacher of the Faith in a parish (of course the bishop is the chief teacher in the Church). Second, there are the adults in the community who have years of experience living as Orthodox Christians. Don’t underestimate the influence of grandparents and senior citizens. Studies have repeatedly shown that grandparents have enormous influence on the religious lives of the young. Third, there are the teachers and youth advisors. They are a specialized group because of their focus on intentional instruction, class work, discussions, and activity.

Who are the apprentices? First, the young. They are learning and need a great deal of guidance. Second, there are the new to the Faith. They may have read about Orthodox Christianity in a book, but are now trying to apply what they’ve read to their lives. Finally, all of us are apprentices to one degree or another. We are continually learning. We are always disciples – students -- of Christ and the way of life He invites His followers to observe.

 

How we do this?

Work together, alongside one another. We don’t just bring prosforo to church; we can bake it together. It’s learning by doing.

Advice and guidance. There’s a great deal that is learned “on the job,” especially what’s unwritten or can’t be explained easily. Apprentices are often observed performing their jobs by more experienced teachers, and if possible, being corrected or reminded of things along the way. To continue with the prosforo baking example, someone probably has to show us when the dough has been kneaded adequately. That part of the process can’t be found in a book.

Small jobs, in time, become large jobs. Being a GOYA officer can lead to Parish Council membership. Serving on a committee leads to chairing the committee. Small liturgical roles can become larger ones in time. In this approach, the lived work of the Church is handed on to newer generations, little by little.

Classes are useful. Apprentices often take classes, to learn the theory about their job and to deepen their knowledge of an area. It’s often in preparation for performing a new task. Let’s not underestimate the power of teaching groups. Jesus often His disciples, privately, apart from the crowds. He explained his teachings to them.

Great Lent offers opportunities to place all of these qualities into practice in our parishes, teaching one another, but especially the young and new to the Faith, the way of Christian living.

 

Prepping for Our Journey to Pascha

If you’re anything like me, the fasting periods of the Church seem to just sneak up on you. It feels like it was just Christmas, and suddenly we’re preparing for Pascha! But despite the surprise every year, Lent comes at a time when I always find that I most need it. And like we prepare by stretching before we exercise and we pack before a journey, the Church gives us a period called Triodion before Lent begins to get us spiritually prepared.

 

For three weeks, we ease into fasting and we set our eyes on the goal of Christ at Pascha. On the first Sunday, we heard the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee – a reminder against pride and a for humility in anticipation of the Fast. On the second Sunday, we were reminded that that we – like the Prodigal Son – are on a journey to the Father’s House. And the final two Sundays of Triodion we bring to mind the Last Judgement and the importance of forgiveness.

 

Interwoven into these four Sundays are three themes that help us to orient our minds towards Christ and to put us in the right spirit as we approach the Great Fast. During Triodion, we are reminded of the importance of humility, of forgiveness, and of being concerned for our neighbor.

 

1. Humility

 

Humility is a virtue which prepares us to receive God and opens us up for compassion towards our neighbor. So it’s natural that humility is woven into each of the four Gospel passages chosen for the period of Triodion.

 

In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the humble and honest prayers of the Publican justified him before God. He was honest with himself and the state of his life and poured out his heart to God without trying to justify himself. The Prodigal Son was humbled by his poor choices and was willing to return to his father’s house even if he had to be a servant. In his humility, he confessed his unworthiness, and his father clothed him in a robe and received him as his son.

 

The theme of humility is especially fitting for us as we prepare for a fasting period because the temptation is so very real to become prideful in our adherence to regulations and our spiritual practices. It is so easy to forget that we worship the God who says on Judgement Sunday, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” We worship a God who not only humbled Himself by becoming man and dying on the Cross for us, but one who continues to identify with the humble and lowly among us.

 

So we hear the words of Christ on Forgiveness Sunday that “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:17-18). You see, it wasn’t a matter of if you fast but when you fast. There was no concept that the followers of Christ wouldn’t keep this tradition. The issue for us is how to go about fasting, how we present ourselves before others, and whether we reflect the humility of the God we worship or the pride of our own egos.

 

2. Forgiveness

 

As we approach Great Lent, we remember that we worship a God who forgives. But forgiveness is connected to our own personal repentance, which is a journey in itself. Each one of us becomes more aware of the things that are barriers to our relationship with God the closer that we come to Him. Lent is a time of special vigilance, a time when we become more attentive to ourselves and our spiritual lives. So the Church reminds us both of the forgiveness that God offers us, but also of our responsibility to forgive others as well.

 

With the image of the merciful father of the Prodigal Son in mind, we remember that God offers us a restored relationship with Him when we return to Him. But on Forgiveness Sunday, we also hear the words of Christ about our role in forgiving others. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). We hear the same thing in the Our Father when we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

In the days that remain of Triodion, we can seek to have forgiving hearts. Holding on to resentments and anger from today or yesterday or years past only holds us back from being able to receive the grace of God.

 

3. Concern for our neighbor

 

The scripture readings during Triodion call us to have a real concern for our neighbor. From the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we encounter the merciful father. We learn not only that our God is a merciful father to us, but also that this should affect our relationships with those around us as well. Christ tells us, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Do we show this mercy to those who have offended us? Do we show concern for our loved ones and parishioners who no longer come to church? Do we show concern for our friends who do not know the Father’s House and have never encountered Him in the Orthodox Church?

 

Are we as merciful to our least favorite person as God is merciful to us?

 

On Judgement Sunday, also known as Meatfare Sunday (because it’s the last day we eat meat until Pascha), we hear the words of Christ who says,

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. (Matthew 25:35-36,45)

Our Lord tells us that when we serve those in need, we serve not only them but Christ Himself. In contrast, if we do not serve the hungry, the thirsty, the naked or those in prison, we are neglecting Christ.

 

Lastly, as we begin the fasting period, we are reminded not to let what we eat be a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8). In other words, we need to be aware of how we are conducting ourselves during the Great Fast. We should not bring undue attention to ourselves just so that we can keep the Fast, but neither should we scandalize our brother or sister by eating meat or dairy in front of them if we are not fully keeping the Fast.

 

*****

 

Lent is our journey back to the Father’s house. Through these next weeks, we take a journey of fasting, of learning how to say no to good things like meat and dairy, so that we can have the strength to say no to the passions that lead us away from God. We learn to say no to our sins so that we can say yes to Christ.

 

But the period we are in today is preparing us for this journey. It is time for us to pack by practicing humility and forgiveness and to get ready for how we will serve Christ and our neighbor during Great Lent.

 

How are you preparing for Great Lent? Who do you need to forgive and how is Christ calling you to be of service during the Fast?

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Three Ways to Spot Authentic Forgiveness

“I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget!”

How many times have we heard (or said) something along those lines? We think we’re doing our part by forgiving a person, but that’s not what’s really happening in our hearts.

The Christian call to forgiveness goes much deeper than a nod to society’s expectations and a desire to keep up appearances. It’s more than saying “it’s okay” when we’re told “I’m sorry.”  And it’s certainly more than acting like everything is okay without having resolved the problem.

That’s avoidance, not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the watchword of the Christian life, and especially of Great Lent. It’s the defining attitude that we are trying to learn in relation to others, as we accept and experience the forgiveness of God. The Church even calls the last Sunday before Lent “Forgiveness Sunday” so we can start Lent on the right footing.  And, by no accident, “forgiven” was the first word for the new Y2AM Instagram challenge called #JourneyToPascha (Learn more about that here).

So what does forgiveness look like for a Christian?

1. What Jesus taught

Over and over again, Jesus taught a radical form of forgiveness. But He didn’t just talk about it, He practiced it. After all, He forgave the ones who crucified Him. And He expected His disciples to follow suit, just as He calls us to this same forgiveness today.

We might be thinking: “But I’m only human, I’m not perfect. Jesus was God! I can’t be expected to forgive like He did…” Yet we as Orthodox Christians believe that our God became human so that we could become like Him. Jesus didn’t simply come as a teacher, a guru, or an activist. He came to make it possible for us to return to Paradise. And that return begins in this life.

That journey begins now, with forgiveness.

Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness are beautifully presented in the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, He invites us to ask God the Father to, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After Jesus teaches this prayer, He goes on to say “for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” Matthew 6:14-15).

God forgives us, but it depends on our attitude of forgiveness.

When we say “forgive us AS we forgive” we are saying, “forgive us AS MUCH AS we forgive” those who have harmed us, angered us, or frustrated us. As we saw on the Sunday of Judgment, the things we do to people are things we do to God. Refusing to forgive people and pushing them away means that we’re pushing God away as well. We are essentially making it impossible for God to forgive us if we haven’t yet forgiven others. That’s tough medicine to swallow.

Yet, there’s hope. In Christ, we have someone to whom we can give all of our resentment. We have someone who can bear our burden willingly, and can take it away.

2. Giving up resentment

It’s all too easy to hold on to our hurt or anger when we are harmed. Remembering our pain, we either refuse to forgive, or we wait until the other person comes forward.

But what do we get from refusing to forgive? What good comes from resentment? The temptation is to look at forgiveness as an award we give to someone when we think they deserve it, when they have proven they are sorry. We might treat forgiveness as some sort of legal pardon, as something that we grant to someone when we feel they’re ready.

Is that fair on our part, though? What is the example that God has given us?

“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

We have done nothing to deserve God’s forgiveness, and yet He died on the cross for us. There’s nothing we can do to repay that. So if we can ask God to forgive us, and we realize that His forgiveness is a gift that we didn’t earn, then why do we treat forgiving others any differently? Forgiveness is a gift, something we give without expecting anything in return. We forgive not because the other person deserves it, but because they don’t. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a gift.

When we don’t forgive another person, it’s like we have them on trial in our own hearts. We’ve become their judge, jury, and executioner. We become like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35. We forget the words of scripture, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4). Unknown to us, resentment locks us in the chains we had reserved for the other person.

But more than that, resentment is a weight we aren’t strong enough to bear. Eventually, our resentment eats away at us and we become bitter, angry, and unhappy. It saps the joy from us, as we begin to live our lives as victims of real and imagined wrongs from nearly anyone and everyone.

In forgiving others, we free up space within ourselves to love, instead of closing ourselves off with resentment. And when we’re prepared to forgive, we’ll be quicker to ask forgiveness, too.

3. Asking forgiveness

The other side of the coin of forgiving another person is the humility to ask someone to forgive you.

Very rarely is a situation so black and white that the offended person did nothing wrong. As Christians, we are called to be introspective, to be aware of our thoughts, attitudes and words. We cannot go back and change the past, but we can learn from the past to live better in the present.

As Great Lent begins, the Orthodox tradition is to ask all of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to forgive us for anything we may have done that year. In response, we remind the person of God’s mercy when we say, “Christ forgives”. With that in mind, I ask for your forgiveness. Whether I know you in person, or if you are one of our readers here on The Ladder, please forgive me for my sins and shortcomings. Pray for me as I pray for you this Lent.

*****

Forgiveness is not easy. It’s more than words; it’s an attitude and a way of living out our Christian life. Jesus taught us to forgive freely, without any expectations. And when we let go of our resentments, we’ll have the humility to ask for forgiveness from others whom we’ve hurt along the way.

Do you struggle with resentment? How does pride or fear of getting hurt keep you from forgiving others?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit:

Forgive 

Chain of Resentment 

The Meaning of Forgiveness Vespers 

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When Simba Came Home - Sunday of the Prodigal Son

You are more than what you have become.
- Mufasa to Simba, The Lion King

I was nine years old when I saw The Lion King for the first time. The death of Mufasa was unbearable (it isn’t much easier now), so I cried. I still watch the movie and weep, but as I’ve gotten older, the reason for my tears has changed.

When I saw the movie for the first time, I wept for the loss of Mufasa. When I watch it now, I weep for the loss of Simba. In losing his father, Simba loses himself. It is the prophetic Rafiki that tells him, who reminds him, “You’re Mufasa’s boy.”

So who is Simba after Mufasa’s gone?

At first, Simba ran away from the pain and loss of his life to embrace “Hakuna Matata,” a life with no worries, further losing himself. But in the end, he had to confront himself and his father, and he had to reckon with his past.

This tragedy finally begins to be healed when, after a sprint through the jungle, Simba finds himself confronted by his departed father, who reminds him once more, “You are my son, and the one true king…You are more than what you have become.”

And this is the part that causes me to weep today.

Mufasa graciously gives Simba back the gift of his person. Simba, a lion without a father, has forgotten who he is; but in remembering his father, he remembers himself. There is something deeply powerful about this. And it is only then that he has enough courage to return to Pride Rock and claim his place as king.

I have a lot in common with Simba. I, too, often try to flee into a “Hakuna Matata” way of life that neglects reality, and in so doing, I lose myself. Hiding behind comfort, behind good food, behind good television, I fail to attend to the reality of my life, and I forget who and Whose I am.

At the beginning of the Triodion period, as we prepare for Lent, the Church, as she does every year puts the Prodigal Son before us, reminding us that we, too, are far from home.

Like Simba and the Prodigal Son, we have left the land of our Father, and have settled for a way of life that is unbecoming for us, eating grubs and pig food (slimy, yet satisfying).

Like these two, we also are more than what we have become.

The Prodigal Son, shows us, however, that the path home is not simply a return to a place: it is also a return to oneself. In this return we are reminded of who we really are: Children of the Merciful Father, who treats even His servants better than we deserve.

This Sunday, the Lord is inviting us to confront ourselves. He is inviting us to “come back to ourselves,” to realize that we have abandoned the house of our Father, and that He is graciously welcoming us home. And now it’s up to us to turn back to the Father and to reckon with ourselves.

As we stand at the entry to Great and Holy Lent, we may be tempted to think that our first move should be to accuse ourselves of being sinful. But the parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us that the first movement of Great Lent in our hearts ought to be a reaffirmation of the Goodness of the Father.

The son does not despair of his hope but, trusting in the mercy of his father, he is emboldened to go back home. And it is precisely because of this confidence, because of his assurance in the mercy of his father, that the son feels brave enough to confess his sins.

We, too, are called back to the home of the Father: not to pretend that all is well, but to trust that He is gracious enough to forgive all that has happened! The goal of Lent is to return to oneself, to understand that one is not simply a sinner, but a forgiven sinner.

We must reckon with ourselves as we stand in the confidence that God has forgiven and continues to forgive us.

This Lent, I want to seek further self-understanding. I want to grapple with the depth of my sinfulness, not because I want to roll in the muck with the pigs, but because I want to know how much the Father loves me, which I see as He lovingly embraces me when I return home covered in pig muck. 

I want to plumb the depths of my own heart, not because I’m excited to see the darkness, but because I want to see how far the Lord has descended into the crypt of my soul in order to raise me from the dead.

This Lent is an opportunity for us to see the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. That God is merciful, gracious, and kind. That we are silly, stupid, and sinful.

We are more than what we have become. We are children of the Father, and this Lent He is calling us Home. Let us return quickly and confidently, trusting that as we draw near to Him, we will see that He has been waiting for us all along. 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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The Final Countdown and the Final Judgment - Meatfare Sunday

Meatfare Sunday is a sad day for Paleo eaters everywhere. It marks the beginning of a period of time marked by hangry feelings and achy joints, largely because it’s much harder to turn away from bread during such a dire time. It seems I’ve only a few days left of hamburgers, bacon, and happiness.

Of course, I don’t want to seem like all I’m thinking about is the new Taco Bell “Quesalupa” (which hasn’t appealed to me, and probably won’t until the Fast actually begins). Meatfare Sunday, after all, is also the Sunday of the Last Judgment, which is far more sobering than being told to resist those chicken nuggets.

THE GOSPEL READING

The Gospel reading for Sunday is a familiar one, I’m sure. The Lord tells a parable of a King who separates sheep from goats, and he (He) tells the sheep on his right hand that they are to be rewarded for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and visiting those who are sick and in prison. Conversely, the goats are sent into punishment for not doing these things.

The kicker of the story, of course, is that the King identifies with those who are identified as needy here, telling the sheep and goats that insofar as they did or did not to the “least of these, my brethren, you did it unto me.”

This Gospel reading, however, has become so familiar to me that I now find myself thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’m supposed to be like Jesus and serve those who are poor. I’m not doing a good enough job of it, so I really should get on that. Got it.

While there is no doubt that this reading ought to be read as a call to action; I’m not sure that’s all it is.

Repeat After Me: “I AM NOT THE SAVIOR”

I’ve often heard people speak of serving the poor as “being Christ to those in need.” This is actually a pretty bold claim. To think that I the wretched one could dare to identify myself with the Savior? Isn’t it somewhat bold to assume that what I’m doing in offering a morsel of bread to someone is actually salvific for them?

There certainly is an element of truth to this, that we are called to minister to those in need, just as Christ ministers to us, who are also in need. Yet I sometimes think that this is all part of my tendency to self-aggrandize, seeing myself as having some sort of cosmic significance, the star of my own reality TV show.

When I look at the Gospel reading this time, I’m struck by the fact that in this parable, Christ does not identify with those who serving, but rather with “the least of these,” those being served.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I bear this in mind, it seems even more preposterous to conceive that my act of serving the poor, of serving Christ, is somehow salvific for them. After all, I have never saved Christ; it He who does the saving.

Perhaps our service to “the least of these” is more for our own salvation than anyone else’s. Perhaps it is we who need to be saved from our self-aggrandizement.

REPENTING OF MYSELF

I know that I’m likely to get swept away by service because of “how good it feels” to “give back a little.” We often talk about how it’s “more blessed to give than to receive” or how engaging with those who in need really helps us “feel more grateful for our blessings.” These positive feelings really build up after a nice stint of “feeding the homeless.”

While all these things might be relatively innocuous sounding, I think beneath them is still our sinful self-obsession. Central to each of these things is a sense that what really matters is what we get out of the encounter. “Feeding the homeless,” you see, is not meeting a need. It’s an easy way of feeling like we’re doing a good deed. To meet the truest and deepest need of a particular homeless person would be to provide a home, or at least some friendship to break the loneliness that builds up from years spent alone on the streets.

Whether we leave feeling like we’ve done a good deed or a little more grateful for what we have, when we approach service to the poor with these motives buried (and yes, they are buried deep) in our hearts, we are not actually serving those in need.

It will be no wonder, then, when we stand before Christ, we will hear that we, like the goats, did not do these things for Christ because we were too busy doing them for ourselves. We want to feel like the savior, we want to feel like we have our lives together, and so we try to take care of others, “giving them a hand up!”

I don’t mean to sound like a bummer in any of this, nor do I mean to discourage us from engaging in the almsgiving and service to those in need that is such an important part of Great Lent. I am encouraging us, however, to look into our hearts and repent of the self-aggrandizement (whether big or small) that partially fuels our care for those in need.

When we look at our neighbors in need, we are to look for Christ, trusting that He is beckoning us out of ourselves, so that we can actually become concerned with the need of another rather than our own. In this way, we are saved by actually encountering those in need.

Great Lent is a time of taking up the Cross, giving ourselves away for the life of the world. It would be a shame to have even our best intentions thrown off by impure motivations.

This Lent, I’m going to try my darnedest to step out myself, observe the need in front of me and attend to it the best I can. This is the path toward salvation, and I intend to walk it. I hope you’ll walk it with me.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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