Entries with tag the ladder .

How Lent Can Guide the Rest of the Year

Whether or not we were ready for it, Great Lent is here! The Church gave us three weeks to prepare, and now we’re well on our way towards Pascha. Like many of the great figures in Scripture, we are given forty days to guide us closer to God. The forty days from Clean Monday through Lazarus Saturday are meant to be a period of change and transformation. What we learn about ourselves, the growth that we make during this period, and the passions that we gain victory over during Lent shouldn’t stop at Pascha. In other words, we shouldn’t be the same people after Pascha as we were before Lent began.

 

But how can we hold on to the growth we make during Lent? How do hold on to that spiritual high that comes at Pascha? Great Lent is a training period for the whole year as it guides us to support each other, to have an increased tolerance for spiritual practices, and to rely on God’s strength.

 

1. Supporting each other

 

Great Lent teaches us to rely on each other and to support one another in our common effort. This was one of the things that most appealed to me when I was first becoming Orthodox as a teen; our spiritual effort is a team effort. The entire Orthodox Church fasts together. We pray the same services throughout Lent and we have the same Holy Week services all over the world. We have one fasting rule, though each person’s personal fasting rule can be adjusted with the help of their Spiritual Father. We share in the one Lord through our one faith and share in one chalice at Holy Communion.

 

We have a shared fasting discipline; each person doesn’t give up something different during Lent. If I were giving up coffee, whereas you were giving up social media, and our mutual friend was giving up chocolate, it’d be hard for us to support each other in our unshared disciplines. So when I get together with my Orthodox friends during Lent, there’s already a mutual understanding of what sort of places we might go to or what food we’ll have at each other’s homes. We don’t have to explain ourselves or worry if we’ll have anything to eat. When we fast together, we can better support each other.

 

This principle of supporting our brothers and sisters in a common effort ought to inform the rest of our year. We all have days where we can barely stand spiritually, and though we know we need to rely on God’s strength, it helps to know we have church friends to help us, too. If I’m sensitive to my friend’s fasting needs during Lent, am I sensitive to what might be going on in their lives? Am I open to my friend’s helping me when they see that I need help? My friends are the hands and feet of Christ; they are reminders that God is just as present with me as they are.

 

2. Increased tolerance in spiritual things

 

The more we accustom ourselves to spiritual practices, the more they become a part of our lives. What we did last year during Lent might not be sufficient for the spiritual growth that has taken place in our lives over the last year. And once I’m used to fasting during Lent, it will feel more natural to keep the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year.

 

This is the principle of tolerance, usually spoken about in the context of addiction. The more a person does something, it takes more of the habit or substance to get the same effect that it once took. In a spiritual context, we can see how Lent can guide us to have an increased tolerance for fasting, prayer, worship, and service. If before Lent, I only prayed once a day but prayed twice a day during Lent, I will be inclined to desire more prayer after Pascha has come and gone.

 

But it doesn’t always happen that way, does it? During Lent, it can feel natural to go to church, to pray more, to fast. And then Pascha comes and so does the temptation to let prayer slip a bit until we’re right back where we were before Lent. What we need is to be more aware of ourselves.

 

Lent helps us to be more watchful of our thoughts so that we can follow the Lord’s command to stay alert (Mark 13:37). St. John Cassian writes, “We are told to fast not only to mortify our body, but also to keep our intellect watchful, so that it will not be obscured because of the amount of food we have eaten and thus be unable to guard its thoughts” (“On the Eight Vices,” The Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 75). The more I’m attentive to my thoughts, the more I spend time reading Scripture and less time on social media during Lent, the more this will begin to feel normal. But in order for this to happen, I have to be watchful during Lent so that I can see when I start to slip back to the way things once were.

 

When we’re watchful, the spiritual progress we make during Great Lent can guide us to a new normal for life after Pascha.

 

3. Relying on God’s strength

 

One of the paradoxes of Great Lent is that by learning self-control, we learn to rely not on our own strength but on God’s. The more I learn to say no to meat, the more I can say no to my passions. The more I can say yes to reading Scripture, the more I can say yes to letting Jesus guide my life. What I always have to remind myself of though is that Lent isn’t about being perfect. We do not fast so that we can prove to ourselves, to God, or to anyone else that we’re good at self-mastery.

 

We fast so that we can remember that God is the Lord and Master of our lives; we fast to remember that we are not God.

 

St. John Cassian, when writing on the passion of lust, speaks about the ascetic work one takes and the importance of relying on God instead of on one’s own power. He writes,

 

We should not trust in our own strength and ascetic practice, but in the help of our Master, God. No one ceases to be attacked by this demon until he truly believes that he will be healed and reach the heights of purity not through his own effort and labour, but through the aid and protection of God. For such a victory is beyond man’s natural powers. (“On the Eight Vices,” The Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 75)

 

No spiritual task we undertake during Lent – fasting, prayer, reading Scripture, serving the poor – is done of our own strength nor should it be for our own glory.

 

During the year, we can easily fall back into the habit of relying on our tried and true friend “me, myself, and I”. We can forget that our labor doesn’t put food on our table; God puts food on our table. Anxiety and stress cannot solve a problem; God is the solution to every problem. During Lent, I find it easier to remember God because I’m keeping Him in mind each time I choose my meal and each time I go to church throughout the week. So once I hit the spiritual highs of Holy Week and Pascha, I have to hold on to the good practices I learned during Lent. At the start of each day, I can choose to keep God at the forefront of my mind, and throughout the day, I can remember that I can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5).

 

Then, Lent stops being just a period of days every Spring and becomes a way of life. Lent is a guide to rely on God instead of relying on ourselves.

 

*****

 

Lent is not meant to be a practice disconnected from the rest of our spiritual lives during the year. It is meant to inform our daily practice by teaching us to be ever more attentive to our thoughts and actions. As we fast together and support one another during Lent, we learn to continue to support each other spiritually throughout the year. As we increase our spiritual efforts during Lent, we should raise the bar for ourselves afterwards too. And as we rely on God during Lent to strengthen us in our fast, we should remember to always rely on God.

 

How can you let Lent guide you even after Pascha has come? How have you made spiritual progress since last Lent?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

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

______________

Remember The Good

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

A.A. Milne,  Winnie-the-Pooh

 

The beginning of a new year always makes me reflect.

 

And I’m not alone.

 

It’s why new year resolutions are so popular: you start to think about all the things you accomplished (or didn’t) in the past year and want to project yourself on a better (or just different) path for the year ahead.  

 

And I love the opportunity to try and set myself up for success and new beginnings.  The new year is a fresh start and a time to be concrete about how you want to improve.  (It’s particularly helpful if you’ve forced everyone to write their resolutions on a poster board in glitter paint.)

 

But it’s more than just a time to look forward; the new year gives us a special opportunity to look back on everything that has happened in our lives.  It’s a great time to see how we want to change, sure, but it’s a perfect time to acknowledge all the blessings we’ve experienced in the past year.  

 

It’s the perfect time to express gratitude to all the people who helped get us through.  

 

That gratitude, rather than regret, helps us lean into the things that are going well in our lives.  Rather than focusing on the mistakes I made last year (there are more than a few) I’m trying to focus on all the things that I’m doing right, and working on offering thanks to those who have helped get me there.  

 

Instead of trying to fight all my terrible habits, I’m going to try and build upon my good ones.  

 

Instead of being disappointed in the difficulties of last year, I’m going to be thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and all the incredible people I’ve encountered.  

 

Because as St Porphyrios said, it’s easier to build our love for Christ rather than to spend our energy fighting against sin. “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul.  Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

 

We can’t spend our lives simply running from sin; that’s incomplete. The more important (not to mention easy and fulfilling) thing is to spend our lives running towards Christ.

 

And an important part of building up my love for Christ is expressing gratitude.

 

I like to think the people I love know how much I love them.  But I also know that, despite my best efforts, I occasionally take them for granted.  It’s easy to fall into a rhythm when someone is there for you all the time.  We come to see their presence in our lives as a guarantee rather than a blessing, and forget to be appreciative of who they are and what they do.

 

And that starts with acknowledging that there are things you couldn’t do without them.  

 

Not only does acknowledging and offering thanks remind those in your life how much you need them, but it also reminds you that there are people who love you enough to offer you their time and energy.  It reminds you that even when you have rough moments in the upcoming year (as I’m sure we all will) there are also incredible things in your life.  Remembering that, and expressing that freely, strengthens your relationships with the people you love.  It helps them know they are wanted and needed.

 

Actually looking someone in the eye and genuinely thanking them for all they have done for you reinforces your relationship and helps you both appreciate each other.  

 

As important as it is to express gratitude to the people in our lives, and show our appreciation for all that is done for us, it is just as important to be grateful in our spiritual lives.  

 

More often than I care to admit, I find myself forgetting to be thankful in my prayer life.  I pray for what I want, and for those who I want God to help, but I forget to also be thankful for all that the Lord has already given us.  

 

While I remember the blessings of my life, and acknowledge them as blessings, I don’t always remember where those blessings are coming from.  And how important it is to express thanks for them in my prayers.  

 

The good things in my life aren’t by accident.  The people who help me every day (for whom I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing. The opportunities I’m offered (for which I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing.  And it’s not enough to simply be appreciative, I have to actively express that appreciation.  

 

Expressing our gratitude floods our memories with these blessings and we start to remember more of the good and less of the bad.  Our past year begins to look brighter than it once did, and our outlook on the future improves.

 

And instead of just focusing on the glitter pen resolutions, I can also focus on what how much God has already given me, and how completely He loves me and us all.  

 

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

______________

For more:

For more on exploring Orthodoxy, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

Death, David Bowie, and False Immortality

A few days ago I opened my Facebook to find it flooded with some disappointing news: David Bowie had passed away.  

 

I saw post after post mourning the loss of a spectacular artist.  People across the world were sharing how he impacted their lives, memories of the first time they ever heard a David Bowie song, and what they loved about his art.  They were sharing in the collective mourning that seems to only happen at the loss of a celebrity.  

 

It was tragic.  It was beautiful.

 

And it reminded me how much of our society is built on celebrities.  How much we rely on the production of art and culture to impact our lives.  How devastating it is when those whom we idolize leave us.  

 

Celebrities affect the way that we see and interact with the world.  They influence the way we understand ourselves and how we experience the world.  This influence makes us feel as though we have an intimate relationship with people we have never met, and as a result it often makes their deaths more difficult to process than we might have expected.  

 

It’s disappointing when those we idolize pass away because we wish they could continue contributing to the world.  We are heartbroken that the only way we will be able to interact with them is through what they left behind.  It’s almost unfathomable to imagine what life will look like without their influence, without a new song or movie to shape our understanding and impact our lives.  

 

We know that their creations will continue to live on forever, so it’s difficult to imagine that they will not.  

 

And while David Bowie wasn’t a particularly large influence in my life (though I have seen Labyrinth a few hundred times) seeing all of my friends share his work reminded me that in some way he will remain with us indefinitely.  The impact that celebrities have will live on, and their time here on earth is not limited to their earthly life spans.  

 

Celebrities become, in a sense, immortalized through their work.  

 

The collective consciousness that is created by openly mourning a loss together is incredibly comforting.  But it also leaves us with the temptation to suspend that person in time. With celebrities, rather than mourn their loss on earth and expect salvation, they live in perpetuity through their art.  

 

They live eternally on earth, and we will not.

 

And we should be comfortable with that, because that isn’t our ultimate objective as Orthodox Christians.  But the fixation we have with celebrities, and the fake immortality that we credit to their earthly presence, distracts us from the fact that we all live eternally through Christ.  And only through Christ.

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  (John 11:25-26)

 

When society glorifies celebrities we make their limited time on earth more important than their inevitably eternal life.  We prioritize a false immortality, which preserves shadows of people in music and movies rather than true, complete persons; a false immortality that is only available to the elite, to those clever or beautiful enough to be worth remembering. We construct a false paradise made in the image of our broken world, and forget that what we do on this earth, while important, is all in the service of something more important.   

 

I love media, I love art, and I find the loss of artists who inspire me just as heartbreaking as everyone else.  I’m appreciative for what they’ve offered me.  And I struggle to remember that I’m not going to be able to exist beyond my lifetime here on earth, at least not in the memory of pop culture.  But I do my best to remember that I’m not chasing that type of immortality.  

 

When we are mourning the loss of anyone, celebrity or otherwise, it is comforting to know there are others that share in the loss.  It is also comforting to remember that their existence will not only live on in our memories, but that they will be protected and saved by Christ in perpetuity.  

 

We pray that the memories of those who have passed on will be eternal, because that means that we too will have our memories preserved eternally.


I’m hoping to spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. And I hope to see everyone there.  

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

______________

For more:

For more on eternal life, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

On God and Gilmore Girls

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Gilmore Girls is being revived for a final four episodes (thank you, Netflix!) at the end of the month.

 

And in case you don’t know me, I don’t love many things in this world as much as I love Gilmore Girls.

 

I can’t even begin to explain all of the ways that the show resonates with me. But here’s a start. There’s a point during which Lorelai and Rory, the two main characters, are watching a TV show with Rory’s boyfriend and he asks, “So, it’s a show?” and they respond, “It’s a lifestyle,” and, “It’s a religion.” And many Gilmore Girls lovers have taken to having that as their tagline for this show, which is fitting.

 

While I obviously do not consider Gilmore Girls to be my religion, I do know the show like the back of my hand (seriously...ask me anything). Because when you love something so much, you take as much time be acquainted with it as I have with Gilmore Girls.

 

And when you love something, it becomes a part of you, even long after it’s gone. I mean, Gilmore Girls has been off the air for almost ten years, and there is still something magical about it every time I watch. I can still even remember the last time that I watched it on live television: the series finale, during which I sat in my basement, on the couch, bawling.

 

Every time I turn it on now, I see something new in every character, event, and episode. That’s how it’s retained it’s magic for me for so long. I am excited for the fact that it is being brought back but, to be quite honest, my hopes aren’t that high because the show has already worked it’s magic on me. As corny (or crazy) as it sounds, Gilmore Girls has affected my worldview. For example, almost every life situation that I have, or that someone else has, conjures up an image of Gilmore Girls for me. Some people appreciate it when I share the parallels, and others don’t, but it’s where my mind goes regardless.

 

I’m not quite sure how this can happen with something like a TV show. I mean, it’s a completely intangible thing. I can visit the set (and I have!), I can meet the actors, writers, and producers involved, but I will never be in Stars Hollow, I will never meet Lorelai Gilmore.

 

It’s kind of like my faith in that way. It’s intangible, but I know that it’s there. In an even more real way than Gilmore Girls. And although I haven’t directly interacted with Christ, the way that His presence shapes me is undoubtable.

 

And His words, which I can still read, and His acts, which I can still read about, are such a big part of me having faith.

 

I was sitting in Liturgy a few Sundays ago, when we read the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and I heard something new in the story that I had never focused on before. While I don’t know everything about the Scriptures, this is a story that I thought I knew well, and yet I still found something new in revisiting it. I kept thinking about how if I had just ignored this story, had glossed over it because I’ve heard it before, I would have missed something that resonated with me moreso on that day than it ever had.

 

As we continue to go to church week after week, we are going to hear the same things year after year. So it’s up to us to find something new, something to light a spark in us and keep our faith alive, in every passage of Scripture.

 

The fact that I can learn more about Christ by attending Divine Liturgy every Sunday, by reading the Scriptures, and by simply allowing Him to enter my life is amazing. And, unlike Gilmore Girls, of which there is a finite amount of knowledge that I can gather, I will not run out of things to learn about Christ. This fact really keeps me going through the good times (season 1) and the bad times (season 7).

 

Regardless of what happens in the future, if my faith in Christ wavers or if I hate the revival episodes of Gilmore Girls, I can look back on my life and say that I have learned a lot about, and loved, both of these things wholeheartedly. And that fact will be enough to keep me coming back to old episodes of Gilmore Girls, and to church, where the Scriptures will show me something new every time I sit down in the pews.

 

______________

Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

______________

Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

______________

A Small Act of Sharing and Caring

I was raised in a way that has made my faith pretty private.

 

What I mean by that is that I came into my faith on my own; I was never asked or pushed into practicing Orthodox Christianity. And I was never really encouraged to share my triumphs and struggles in the faith. Obviously, our faith is a shared faith, but for a long time I kept mine very private; I didn’t realize how much there was to be shared.

 

Personal anecdote time. A few weeks ago, my grandfather was in the hospital, and there was an interfaith chapel down the hall from his room. My grandmother took me into the chapel to pray for my grandfather. It was a repository of icons, bibles, and other symbols of different faith traditions, but we didn’t see any representations of Orthodoxy. So I went into my bag and looked to see if I had any of the small icon cards that you can pick up at parishes, and I found one of St. George, so I left it in the chapel.

 

Now, I can’t really explain why, but in that moment, I felt that St. George was watching over me, and I felt so compelled to do a little research on him (I’m not very versed in the lives of the saints, and while I knew the basics of his life, I wanted to go into a little more detail). The next day, I uploaded a picture of an icon of St. George to Instagram.

 

A few weeks later, my mom asked me, out of the blue, having no idea of the events that transpired, “Now, why do you feel that St. George is watching over you?” It was honestly the first time in a long time that I can remember being asked about something going on in my spiritual life that directly. Because of the relationship that we have established with our faith in my household, I was going to say, “I just do,” and leave it at that.

 

But I took a deep breath after realizing...she asked. This is not something that happens often, if at all. So I answered. In detail.

 

I realized how stubborn I was being to not want to answer my mom in the first place. Like, “my faith is personal, and I don’t want to share it with her right now.” Yet I sucked up my pride and decided to share it anyway.


Generally, I think that I am pretty open about my faith now. I don’t try to hide it from the people I meet, like I used to. I know that if the fact that I am Orthodox bothers someone, then that person probably isn’t the kind of person that I want in my life.

 

But it got me thinking about when people ask me about my faith. I want to be the type of person who is open, who gets people thinking, who has stories to share that can keep them engaged. The type of person who is excited to talk about Christ because of the amazing effect that He has had on my life, and because of the fact that He gave me life. And I want to be asked questions about my faith. Personally, and on a more general level. So why was I scoffing at my mother when she asked?

 

Just as we have to open ourselves to Christ in order for Him to be able to come into us, to guide us towards His Kingdom, we have to be open to talking about Him.

 

Even though it’s not what I’m used to in my family, I want to be more open to changing what I’m used to, for the benefit of all involved. Talking things through and talking about our faith, about the saints who are active in our lives and about how Christ is active in our lives, is the most important way to share Him with others.

 

______________

Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

______________

Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

______________

Sam Williams
Posts: 53
Stars: 0
Date: 3/8/17
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 22
Stars: 10
Date: 3/3/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 22
Stars: 0
Date: 3/3/17
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 21
Stars: 1
Date: 2/23/17
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 73
Stars: 8
Date: 2/7/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 2
Stars: 0
Date: 2/1/17
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 7
Stars: 0
Date: 1/27/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 7
Stars: 0
Date: 1/25/17
Constantine Sirigos
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 12/3/16
Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 12/2/16