My favourite time of the year is here! Some look forward to the Christmas season, and while I admire the cooler weather, shorter days, and magnificent prospect of the Incarnation, it is the Anastasis—the Resurrection—and everything building up to it that I find most compelling.
As an Ecumenical Christian I am often asked (by others and myself), “What makes an Ecumenical Christian such?” I am excited to spend the rest of my life exploring this question, and one way that I can do that is by looking at the ways that the Church has historically rehearsed the Gospel, and one way to explore that rehearsal is through adherence to the liturgical year. Lent is upon us (when it began is dependent on whether or not you adhere to Western or Byzantine Lenten practice), a time in which Christians are challenged to participate in a communal fast. The whole concept of Lent, as you may know, is rooted in the narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus is baptized by John and is taken into the wilderness to be tempted, fasting for forty days and forty nights (3.13-4.2).
The severity and imposition of such fasts has changed dramatically throughout Church history. In 1966 Pope Paul IV issued the Apostolic constitution, Paenitemini, granting more freedom with regard to fasting based upon various economic situations. Paenitemini also orders that the abstinence that takes place during Lent ought to be substituted with “external acts of penitence” (Paenitemini, Chapter III). I find Paenitemini to be a very authoritative and valuable assessment of fasts, and so in my exercise of the Lenten fast I have made it my aim to first abstain with the trust that God will provide for my needs both physically and spiritually, and exercising discipline by the power of the Holy Spirit of God to give up some things and take up activities with the goal of very intentionally experiencing life in relationship with God. I believe that there are great benefits as one experiences life relating to God in the community of the Church, and essentially Lent is a great time to adhere to the Church calendar while practicing spiritual discipline (such as abstinence from food, communicating with God through prayer, spending time in solitude to meditate on the Gospel and God’s character, etc.).
I encourage you to take the time today, Ash Wednesday, to confess your sins before God and experience the great grace of the Gospel, one that invites us to participate in the mission of God—a mission fixed on recreating our hearts and minds as well as the hearts and minds of our neighbors—all for God’s glory. And maybe spend the next month-and-a-half abstaining from something you enjoy, replacing it with a focused practise to know God more intimately.
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant. Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian