How to prepare for Great Lent in 2018

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St. George Orthodox Church in NYC, featuring Christ the Pantocrator icon on the ceiling

The Orthodox mind is a prepared mind. We never just “do an event.” We prepare for the event. And we never just prepare for an event, we prepare to prepare to prepare for the event!

The fulcrum of our liturgical year is Pascha. Holy Week Prepares us for Pascha. Lent prepares us for Holy Week. And the week following Zaccheaus Sunday is when we prepare for Lent. So, today is the day we prepare to prepare to prepare for Pascha. 

What follows are six questions we can ask ourselves to see if we’re truly ready for Great Lent.

1. What will we read?

Let’s carefully choose what we put into our minds, hearts and souls this Lenten period. Here are five excellent suggestions for spiritual reading this Lent.

Orthodox Lenten Study Guide

We are reading through the
Orthodox Lenten Study Guide
with our families this season.

The congregation of The Good Shepherd is encouraged to purchase and use the Orthodox Lenten Study Guide this Lenten period.

The Orthodox Lenten Study Guide has daily and weekly readings in a really easy-to-use format. It makes it easy to sit down with the family and reflect on the daily readings.

It’s really important for families to make the lenten period a time for togetherness, and this Study Guide helps us do that.

But it’s not just about communicating Tradition. It also tells us about some engaging and heart-warming tradition. Just check out the “Kyra Sarakosti” recipe and associated activity!

Get Orthodox Lenten Study Guide

 

The Bible and the Holy Fathers

The Bible and the Holy Fathers
provides Patristic commentary
on each day’s lectionary reading.

Have you ever wanted to read Scripture through the eyes of the Holy Fathers? That’s exactly what The Bible and the Holy Fathers makes quick and easy.

The Bible and the Holy Fathers provides the epistle and the gospel of the day, together with commentary from selected modern and ancient Church Fathers.

Scripture is the sparkling jewel at the centre of Orthodox Tradition. To read Scripture through eyes, ears and minds of the Church Fathers is an enormous blessing.

This is an excellent way to build “an Orthodox mind,” which really, is the Church’s collective understanding of “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Get The Bible and the Holy Fathers

 

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

Journey to Pascha
is an Orthodox classic!

Do you want to understand the meaning of Lent in your life?

Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s classic Journey to Pascha examines the the meaning of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, the Canon of St Andrew of Crete, and unpacks what the Church’s worship means for us today.

Fr. Schmemann unpacks the “bright sadness” that Lent kindles within our hearts, as we regain our longing for the remembrance of Christ.

May the flame of the Holy Spirit be lit in our lives as we are led to the brilliance of the Resurrection.

Journey to Pascha can open our eyes to the wider beauty of the Lenten season.

Get Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

 

Meditations for Great Lent: Reflections on the Triodion

A must have, especially for
newly baptised Christians.

Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou has written a lovely booklet entitled Meditations for Great Lent

The booklet is a short series of reflections on the readings in the season of the Triodion which comprises the four weeks before Lent, Great Lent, and Holy Week.

Fr Vassilios’ writing is clear, erudite, and pastoral. He shows clearly how the Church has arranged the season to guide the faithful through self-awareness and repentance.

With each spiritual meditation, we are brought closer to the very meaning behind Lent and why we need this period of reflection before coming to Holy Pascha.

I recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh book of meditations to think about and act upon this Lenten season.

Get Meditations for Great Lent

 

Lenten Triodion Supplement

Pray through the hymnography
of the Church at home.

This coming Sunday the Church begins services described in the Lenten Triodion and the Festal Menaion.

For those who want to continue reading, chanting and praying the Church’s hymnography through the week, this volume is a “pearl of great price.”

The Lenten Triodion Supplement contains prescribed readings and prokeimena as well as hymnography for the daily Matins, Hours, Vespers and Pre-sanctified services.

This is the essential book for those who want to continue the worship experience using the Church’s hymnography through the week.

Get The Lenten Triodion Supplement

 

2. What will we eat?

Many cultures have hundreds or thousands of years experience with Lenten cooking. Here in Australia, we get to draw on the riches of all these cultures. 

Here are some Lenten inspirations from a variety of traditions. I hope it sparks your imagination for what you can prepare this season.

Lebanese food

There are so many delicious Lebanese dishes. It’s really hard to just select one!

Potatoes with cilantro, garlic and lemon would seem to appeal to just about any culture.

Fried cauliflower in Tahini dip is mouth-watering. 

If there's some Tahini dip left over from the cauliflower, you can use it with baked Falafel.

Finally, this fattoush salad looks smashing.

The good news about Lebanese food is that we know plenty of friends who’ll be all too willing to help you learn how to make authentic Lebanese dishes.

Russian food

From what I can tell, Russians love dark breads, mushroom stews and endless plates of borsch.

(Look here for a more nuanced description of the Russian lenten tradition.)

Greek food

We can’t do a wrap of some of the world’s most tantalising Lenten cuisine without featuring Greek Lenten favourites.

From where we’re sitting in Australia, Spanakopita sings out as being a classic Greek dish.

But I’m led to believe that one of the most traditional Greek dishes is in fact Skordalia (or, “Greek mashed potatoes”)!

It would appear that Greece’s answer to dark Russian bread is Lagana bread.

Aussie food

The signature “Aussie Lenten Dish” has yet to be discovered. 

We have to remember, Russia used Byzantine chant for hundreds of years before they had the necessary foundation to begin their own musical compositions.Orthodoxy in Australia is yet young! 

Let’s experiment with a wide range of Lenten cultural influences. That’s how we’ll build the “muscle memory” that will allow someone — maybe ‘one of us’ — to define the signature “Aussie Lenten recipe.”

Perhaps it’ll be you who will popularise “Australian Orthodox cuisine”!

Recipes

If the sight of this food is not inspiration enough, and you actually want some recipes, try these:

Fasting

For more information about Orthodox fasting practices, who should do it, and why, check out our Fasting page.

3. What will we pray?

It’s important to remember that fasting without prayer makes us hungry, while fasting with prayer makes us light!

The purpose of both fasting and prayer is to grow us in love.

Let us add to our prayer rule some select prayers that grow our love through increasing our awareness of our need to repent.

Most prayer books already provide some additional prayers for Great Lent. Most will have the Prayer of St. Ephraim. The Jordainville prayer book has some additional praises to the Theotokos at the conclusion of its evening prayer. These are good, and we may wish to follow them.

But there are also other prayers. 

  • You might wish to pray Psalm 50 more frequently.
  • You may wish to add to your prayer rule the Prayer of Manasseh (King of Judah). This moving prayer of repentance features in the Great Compline service.
  • You may wish to add extra hymns to your prayers, such as the Lord of the Powers Lenten hymn.
  • Or, you may wish to increase the frequency with which you say the Jesus Prayer.

Let us pray fervently this season of Great Lent that the Holy Trinity may abide in us.

4. What services will we attend?

The Good Shepherd offers a range of special services during Lent and Holy Week that will help improve your spiritual receptivity. Why not set yourself a challenge to attend more services than you otherwise would?

Great Compline and the Canon of St. Andrew is the most penitential service during Great Lent. Its purpose is to help kick-start the process of repentance for sin and to turn back to God again.

The Akathist of Thanksgiving to the Theotokos expresses Christo-centric praise to the Mother of our God. This hymn helps us find each one of our spiritual needs being satisfied and fulfilled in our Lord and His Mother. 

Because Great Lent is a season of repentance, fasting and intensified prayer, it is desirable to more frequently receive communion. The Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts enables the faithful to receive communion more frequently while maintaining the penitential character of Great Lent.

If you usually only attend on Sundays, attending Vespers during Great Lent can be a valuable addition to this time of repentance. Remember that confessions are heard following Vespers, so attending Vespers before taking advantage of confession will help lighten your load during Great Lent.

If you usually only attend the Divine Liturgy, try coming to the service just an hour earlier, so you can experience Matins. Matins is a beautiful celebration of the Victory of the Resurrection, and how Christ brings Light into the world.

Finally, if you’re not yet in the habit of attending the Divine Liturgy each week, why not set a goal for yourself to attend each and every Divine Liturgy during the Triodion? Each Divine Liturgy of the season of Great Lent is particularly themed to help you take that extra step towards Christ.

Check out the range of Lenten services at The Good Shepherd in 2018. Determine which additional services you will attend this Lenten season.

5. What will we do to lighten our load?

Sin is a pollutant. It makes us heavy. Reduces our spiritual sensitivity. Darkens the ‘eye of our soul.’ Builds barriers between people. Attacks us with guilt, pain, regret and feelings of loss.

Great Lent’s great purpose is to help us lighten our load (Matthew 11:30). When we cooperate with God He lightens our load. There is a huge relief—a lightness of soul—when sin is absolved. 

Do especially prepare for and take advantage of the Sacrament of Repentance during Great Lent.  

But repenting of sin is just the beginning (Matthew 12:45). Taking positive steps to increase our service to humanity is an essential part of becoming fully human. Almsgiving can not only help those in need, but also frees us from love of money. Acts of service not only invests in the life of people valuable in God’s sight, but also orients our focus away from ourselves and towards others.

It’s a huge temptation to allow our culture to define what is normal. Great Lent provides a circuit-breaker so that we can hear the Holy Trinity’s call in our life.

6. What will we most desire?

On Sunday we sung the Beatitudes. The first Beatitude is,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
  for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

—Matthew 5:3

The word for “poor” in the Greek actually means destitute. It says, “Blessed are the destitute in spirit.” Now those who are destitute have a real desire, a craving and a deep awareness of a need for the things of the Spirit.

Zacchaeus had such a craving. He wanted to see Jesus. He wanted to see Jesus so desperately that he set aside his pride and climbed a tree. Zacchaeus had a deep awareness of a need, and he acted on it.

When Christ entered Zacchaeus’s house, He brought salvation.

“Distance from Christ means corruption and death, and closeness to him means salvation and life.”

“Christ is the salvation that comes, and Zacchaeus is the house to which He comes. Each of us is a house in which sin dwells while Christ is far off, and to which salvation comes as Christ draws near. Whether or not Christ is able to draw near to my house and yours depends on us.”

“[Zacchaeus] had sought him, desired Him. And we must seek Him in order to find Him, and desire that He draw near to us, and climb up high in spirit to meet His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus, and bring salvation with Him.”

— Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic

Zacchaeus needed both desire and humility to see Jesus. So too, we need both desire and humility so that Jesus may be warmly welcomed into our ‘house.’

“What greater destiny can befall man’s humility than that he should be intermingled with God, and by this intermingling should be deified.”

— St. Gregory of Nazianzus

The journey of Great Lent starts with a desire to see and to be seen by the Lover of Mankind.

 

Learn more