Sunday, April 09, 2006

Lent in "Point Form"

I recently was asked to speak at the annual Metropolis Sunday School Teacher's retreat which was held in February. The topic was "Lenten Spirituality." As most of my speeches go, I like to improvise a lot while following basic pre-planned points. Here is a summary of what I said at the retreat, although it is only in point form without much elaboration. However, I do think that one can follow the main points of the argunent quite easily. Enjoy!

Metropolis Sunday school Teacher’s Retreat
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Presentation on: Lenten Spirituality
By: Theodore Paraskevopoulos B.Th., MA.Th.
Lent Segregated
- There is no Lenten spirituality only Spirituality
- We see this part of the year as holier or more special than any other part
- We think that Pascha is somehow holier than any other Sunday
- This separation makes us feel that we have to be holier and make more of an effort during this season
- Most Orthodox only Commune at Easter and so this is seen as the best time to “clean up our act” so that we can be worthy to take communion
- This separation sets up a false dichotomy between Lenten behavior and non-Lenten behavior, a disconnect between how we live our lives during Lent and how we live the rest of the year
- Lent is seen as the culmination of all we believe and strive for spiritually
- Everyone talks about the resurrection of Christ as being synonymous with our resurrection
- We see Pascha as the end of our spiritual struggle
- Yet we fail to realize that it is not our resurrection that we are commemorating at Pascha, but Christ’s
- Ours is still yet to come
- The apostles didn’t understand the message of Jesus until after the resurrection and even then they still had to face trials and tribulations

Lent as a Beginning
- The resurrection of Christ was not the end but the beginning of their spiritual journey
- Lent has to be the beginning of a whole year of praising God
- The early Christians did not have Lent or a yearly celebration of Pascha because they lived as holy people all the time
- It is better to think of the whole year and our whole lives and Lent’s role in that larger picture
- When we are born through baptism into the church we begin a journey
- Like the apostles climbing mount Tabor, we too are climbing a mountain
- The summit is Christ
- Christ’s resurrection is the belief, the reason for the journey, the reason for our faith while our resurrection to eternal life is the summit

Spiritual Worthiness
- There are only 2 ways to go on a mountain: UP or DOWN
- And this is the key question for us as Orthodox Christians: UP or DOWN?
- Are we moving towards the summit or are we moving away from it?
- When we sin, we slow down but then we repent and we increase our speed
- The key is not how many sins we commit, for God knows that we will always sin
- Therefore worthiness cannot be measured by the quantity of Sins we commit
- Worthiness is measured by our Orientation
- Sin will always happen no matter what
- It is where we go after we sin that makes the difference
- We should not measure our sins and think in terms of worthiness, as if by the end of Lent we are any worthier to take Holy communion
- If this were the case, then why is it that, during Lent, the church makes Holy Communion more frequent than at any other time in the year?
- We are supposed to be communing
- In preparation for lent we hear about the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Last Judgment. But the last Sunday before Lent, what do we hear? Forgiveness
- That’s what it’s all about

The Ultimate Reason for Lent
- The church gives us Lent not as a specially pious time to get ourselves ready for the one time we take communion in the year, it gives us Lent as a reminder of what we should be doing the rest of the year
- If we fast more during Lent, it is because we should be fasting all year
- If we pray more it is because we should be praying daily and at all times
- If we commune more, it is because we should be communing every Sunday
- We are not doing these things and that is why we see Lent as something so different from the rest of our lives.
- Lent should be a reminder of what we have been doing all along, not a change from the ordinary
- If we are climbing the mountain of faith, Lent is the sign that reminds us which way s UP
- It is not the end of journey, but the reminder why we began the climb in the first place
- Christ taught us to constantly love one another all the days of our lives, not just in the spring
- And so Lent is only effective, only useful when we remember its place within the whole spiritual struggle, when it reminds us that every Sunday is a resurrection, everyday must be one of prayer, and our Lenten Spirituality should be a life long spirituality.

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