Writing to free the prisoner of one idea, crossing the bridge of paradox to truth, serving the legacies of Chesterton and Lewis who defended their faith in Christ
The season of Lent is the journey that has become synonymous with giving up “something” . For some, that is where the understanding ends. But for those interested in why such a journey has survived the early practice of Christianity in both the East and the West, I hope to share briefly here what the real purpose of Lent is.
Lent is not a celebration in the sense of Christmas or Easter but it is the journey from one to the other, from the birth of Christ, to His resurrection. Forty days counted somewhat differently between the East and the West, but both ending up at the same place, Easter, the day we celebrate, at last, the purpose of this journey of repentance!
And so the fasting, which you may have heard about. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is the question often asked. As journey’s go, most people pack up and prepare food to make it through the long journey to their destination. But with Lent is a journey of opposites, of freeing oneself up from the burdens of sin and our dependence on material food. We’re packing it up quick and traveling light for these 40 days.
This kind of repentance God is talking about strikes up a note of somberness, a type of sorrow that is different from worldly sorrow: a sorrow not worried about the loss or the punishment, but a motivating and godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:8-11) as Paul writes to the congregation in Corinth:
” Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”
“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” That is the aim of this forty day fast, to give up whatever is holding onto us and preventing us from getting to the point where we are earnest, eager, indignant at our own blindness and sin, ready to see justice done, to do what we can to make things right between ourselves and others, ourselves and God, to then be able to feel at last the real freedom we seek. Or as Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew puts it:”…[ To allow ourselves to experience ]a spiritual exercise designed to heighten our perception of basic reality: Sin is much more serious than we think, and God’s forgiveness is much more vast than we think. Left to ourselves, we go around with Playskool impressions of what’s at stake. So the goal of all spiritual disciplines are to cultivate charmolypi — to use a Greek term coined by the 6th-century abbot of the monastery on Mt Sinai, St. John of the Ladder. Charmolypi means the kind of penitence that flips into joyous gratitude, “joy-making sorrow,” repentance shot through with gold.”
Just as Augustine’s Confessions was a running dialog between himself and God recorded to book, St. Andrew’s Canon is a hymn, a very long and personal meditation that surveys both good and bad examples of people from both the old testament and the new testament of the Bible. It is a dialog between St. Andrew, who started as a monk in Jerusalem, and his soul, it is a “walk through the Bible” in such a way as to exhort oneself to do better to conform their life to the Christ, to get out of the way and let Him live through us that we may truly live the godly life we were made to live through the purchase of His blood on the Cross . And to this purpose, many people, whether Eastern Orthodox or not, read it during this time in order to guide their own thoughts and questions. In the Eastern Orthodox church the hymn is sung during the week of Great Lent in its entirety. But various Christian denominations also practice the disciplines of Lent and each does so with the hope that everyone who journeys there meets the Christ in truth and joy at the end.
As Mathewes-Green notes in her interview with The National Review about her book on the Canon of St. Andrew: “Orthodox don’t have a tradition so much of individually choose[ing] things to give up. Instead, we all take part in a common fast from meat, dairy, eggs, and fish; basically, a vegan diet. This recalls Daniel’s fast from rich foods in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. It’s a strenuous discipline, and can be adapted for health or spiritual reasons.
The fast is not self-punishment or payment for sin. It’s an exercise like weightlifting, designed to strengthen the willpower muscle. If you can resist a slice of pizza, you can resist the urge to yell at someone in traffic. ”
For more information about Great Lent, visit the following: