Lent – Life

Todays Scriptures: Gen 37:1 – 11, 1 Cor 1: 1 – 19, Mark 1: 1 – 13

If we believe that 40 years is a symbol (non proper) of one generation or “a working life” which is pretty accurate, many people work about 40 years of their lives; then the 40 days of Lent can easily be seen as a “life in miniature” or “picture of our life”. The things we stop to do or that we start to do during Lent should effect our whole life, not just the 40 days. The 40 days should effect the 40 years so to speak.

Lent is a period of discerning what is good for our life as a whole. Lent is also the period of time that we are reminded of that our life is full of suffering and utter nothingness if we don’t have Christ is our life. Without the resurrection, both Lent (40 days) and Life (40 years) is meaningless. Please follow in an excerpt from the “Lenten letter” I sent to my congregation.

“As far as most churches goes we have lost a sence of obedience to the life Christ Himself lived. Our society as well as our own persons are slowly being buried under the popular slogans of “You can buy happiness”, “Ignorance is bliss” and “It’s the outside that really counts”. If we look at Christ, He stands in absolute contrast to this age of “nothing is holy”, because He is the Holy One. He lived a life of obedience by choice. He did not seek a career or His own agenda. He did not travel far away to “experiance the world and adventure”. He lived in community being accessible to whoever really needed Him. He did not say “I have a really important meeting now so I can’t come”. He did not shun the sinners that needed his guidance. He took time and helped and healed the poor both in body and spirit. He did not blame the government for the current state of the poor in the city. He assumed personal responsibility for the well-being of total strangers. He did not hate his adversaries. He fasted while withstanding the attacks of the devil. He went to parties when there was a pure reason for a party. He distributed food for the hungry. He shared His wisdom about God the Father for the ones that truly sought Him. He finally gave His life for the world so that the world once again could know peace. He did not start a war. His life was a life for the other. This is the life Christ lived.”

Lent and life (40 days and 40 years) starts and ends with Christ. If we believe in Him and let Him form us into His hands and feet we will soon realize that without Him, Lent and Life will fail.

In Christ,

Fr Jakob 

Why 40?

Todays Scripture:  Psalm 25:1-10; Gen 9:8 – 17, 1 Peter 3:18 – 22, Mark 1:9 – 15

It seems like the Bible gives significance to the number 40. The preparation time for a big change or event that God is launching seems to be either 40 days or 40 years. The Bible is littered with the number 40, to the point of that we need to ask why? Look at the following examples.

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over.
(Gen 7:12 ) Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. (Gen 8:6 ) Embalming required 40 days (although this was an Egyptian custom, the Egyptians recognized the period of 40 for the preparation of going into a new life, what they called the afterlife) (Gen 50:3 ) Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE) (Exo 24:18 ) (Exo 34:28-29 ) Moses’ face shone after the 40 days on the mountain. (Exo 34:29 ) It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit (Num 13:25 ) The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. (Exo 16:35 ) (Num 14:33-34 ) Goliath came for forty days before being killed by David (1 Sam 17:16 ) Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God (1 Ki 19:8 ) Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. (Jonah 3:4 and 10 ) Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before going out in the world to minister. (Mark 1 :9-15 ) Jesus was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion (Acts 1:3 )

Now I am not a Biblical literalist in the sense of that I believe that when Jesus says that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” that this means that the Kingdom of heaven really is a mustard seed. Or when St John speaks about that the streets in heaven are made out of gold that this is actually gold. Rather I think that those words try to describe something which our minds, stained by sin, has a hard time comprehending. But when I see a pattern like this in the Bible I do believe that it has spiritual significance. The number 40 is established as a spiritual measure of time. The number of years that represents a generation in the Bible is also 40. So, is it by chance that Lent, still to this day consists of 40 days? No, off course not. There is spiritual significance here. Many therapists and doctors say that if you can stay of your addiction for 40 days you are able to stay off forever. Be it cigarettes, alcohol or medication. Many of them testifies that this is the period of time the body requires to clean itself from every toxin (based upon that you don’t put more toxin in). If you can do something for 40 days you can do it forever.

I think that this particular amount of time deserves our attention. Can the divided, deprived state the church are in (small c) maybe be a consequence that we have ignored the spiritual time that is required before we launch major changes? I do not know about to many congregations fasting and praying for 40 days before making a big decision. If the church, that has been split in to many pieces, would have discerned for 40 years before a division took place I do not think we would even be close to the 38.000 different denominations we have in the world today. What happened to fasting, discernment, prayer, patience and faithfulness? Did these characteristics of the first 500 years of the Church (when it was undivided) disappear at the same pace as people started to read the Bible apart from a church community? Did they disappear as a result of a falling community and increased individualism? Did they fail becuase the proper use of Lent, the 40 days, got forgotten and abused? I don’t know, but those are interesting questions.

For sure it is beneficial to read the Bible on your own, but when it comes to interpreting it we need community. How can we understand what God, Who Is in eternal communion, want to say, as individuals? We need godly community to even hope to understand what He wants to communicate. We need community and we need time. (I think  about 40 days would be a good figure…)

“My child, night and day remember him that speaks the Word of God to you, and thou shalt honour him as the Lord. For in the place where lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And you shall seek out the faces of the saints daily, so that you may rest upon their words. (ch. 4)

You shall not long for division, but shall bring those who contend to peace. (ch. 4)”

– The Didache 80 – 160 AD

I dont know why it is 40 days or years, you can draw your own conclusuions (with the help of your brothers and ssters in Christ). But I know that 40 it is…

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob

The hunger for more.

Todays scripture: Eze 18:1 – 4, Phil 4: 1 – 9, John 17:9 – 19

I do not think that I am alone when I am a bit concerned with the spiritual state that the church (small c) is in. I think we all recognize that Christs body is afflicted. This becomes very clear in the season of Lent. We see more clearly that the pain Christ suffers approaching Golgotha is related to the pain the Church suffers by the hands of this world. This sense of connection between the Church and Christ has for many Christians been lost. Under the influence of individualism many Christians have chosen the easy way of deciding what is best for themselves. We do not humble ourselves to a spiritual father, we do not go to confession with a contrite heart. We do not fast as an act of repentance and we do not do our good deeds in secret. We want people to conform to our plan rather than accommodating other people’s need. The fundamental understanding that the Church is still Christs body is disappearing as fast as the Sacraments are made into mere ritual. The sacramental understanding of the Church, that God is present because He is Presence, needs to be rediscovered in many churches if they hope to live truly incarnational lives. Christ proclaims: “This is my body” not “This was my body”.

Lent reminds us of that the physical and the spiritual is connected. If we fast we get hungry. If we get hungry enough we may become irritated. When we deprive ourselves from physical things we allow the spiritual world to take a bigger part of our being. Thus it is very important to fill the “empty” spaces with the correct things. You need to fill your emptied soul with prayer, with the desire to draw closer to Christ. Only then will you be protected from the in filling of bad spiritual influence. The physical state of the world stands in absolute relation to the spiritual climate it is in. The two realities are two sides of the same coin. Lent shifts things around so that you can see that your physical habits are an effect of your spiritual state.

If we look at the westernized world we see that it is a gluttonous society. The very core of values is based on a hunger for more. This hunger has its origin in something good. We hunger for peace. We are yearning for true happiness and joy. But today our hunger is misplaced. Today we strife to satisfy our hunger with “stuff”. We try to fill ourselves with houses, food, sex, adventure, youth and knowledge to the point of self-destruction (looking at the statistics of human slavery, suicide, sexual trafficking and spousal abuse we are closer then we think). This has brought a great unbalance in the world. As fast as we fill our stomaches here, as fast people die out of hunger on the other side of the globe. Why do you think many contemporary churches ignores Lent? because it is hard to motivate towards people who has misplaced their hunger. They think they will die if they have to give their addictions up. We live in a consumer based society. We think that if we can not buy and consume we wont be happy. Yet we see unhappy, rich people everywhere and still we buy the lie (literally).

No, try the Lenten way. Eat of the bread that can never be consumed. Eat of the bread that is broken but never divided. Continue this 40 day journey and you will receive the heavenly manna. Our hunger for more has divine origin, Lent helps us see Who that origin is. Lent help us to take away all unnecessary stuff that blocks our way to the Source of Life. Lent helps us to cut through the lies that keeps us in prison in the dark cell, and to see the Light. Lent helps us to see that it is in giving things up rather than getting things that we find peace.

“Come O faithful, Let us perform the works of God in the light; Let us walk honestly as in the day. Let us rid ourselves of unjust accusations against our neighbors so that we place no stumbling block in their way. Let us put aside the pleasures of the flesh so that we may increase the grace of our souls. Let us give bread to those in need. Let us draw near in repentance to Christ and say: O, our God! Have mercy on us!”

– The Orthodox Triodion

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob

The bright sadness

Todays Scripture: Psalms 51:1 – 10, Gen 3, 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2, Luke 12:13 – 32

So it begins, this bright sadness, the spiritual spring. This period of time where we seek balance. When we try to discern what needs to change in our being. We pull things out, we pull things apart so that we can have a look at them. We take a step back from certain habits and routines to be able to look upon them “from the outside”. When we take a break from eating (for example), when we are not so concerned about what we should eat, we can take a step back and think about why we eat, and how we eat.

This year, Great Lent starts a little bit different for us in Holy Covenant Evangelical orthodox Church in Saskatoon. We usually start with having a forgiveness service on Sunday night. This year we have the forgiveness service tonight (Wednesday). This is due to practical circumstance so that as many people as possible can attend. But it is also telling a story about who we are as an evangelical expression within orthodox theology. Yes, there is great value and wisdom of having set rituals, routines, services and days. But these routines and days keeps a healthy spirit if they are allowed to address pastoral concerns and circumstance. The question becomes, how is tradition made alive and current? One side of the fence says that “Tradition is not made current, it is always current”. The other side of the fence says “Tradition is never current because it is not relevant to our society today”. I believe both of those sides are wrong because they push things to the extreme, yet they contain truth (small “t”). I believe tradition remains alive by actually incarnating in today’s soceity, what it teaches. Tradition becomes alive when it is lived. Not only during services but in our life as a whole. So, can one have a forgiveness service on a Wednesday? I believe so, on occasion. Tradition does not die just because we can not adhere to exact days all the time. Gods Holy Spirit is not tied down by the times and frames we set. God Himself is the giver and sustainer of time.

Stepping out of the traditional Sunday forgiveness service routine or tradition makes me think and pray more about the spirit and message it carries. Upsetting the routine, stepping back, asking the questions, is the right thing to do sometimes. Like the birds and the wild flowers in todays gospel we should not worry so much about the external. God takes care of that.  But watch out so this does not become dead routine as well. Be watchful and diligent. It’s a balance.

The Gospel reading today finishes with a powerful statement by Jesus. “Your heart will be where you’re treasure is”. A good way to figure out just what you’re treasure is, is to add up the hours you spend on different activities. The activity you spend the most time with, that is your treasure. It can be work, it can be Internet, it can be food or sports. If you spend most of your time trying to know Christ better you will soon realize that will make you able to do all those other things without loosing your treasure. Christ is greater than any idols, so where His light shines forth, the idols will flee. Treasure Christ because He Is the Treasure that moths can not destroy and that nobody can steal from you.

Fr Alexander Schmemann touches on the subject in his great work “Great Lent”, p 14 () are added by me. “For even the apostles, when they heard their Masters teaching, asked Him in despair: ‘but how is this possible (to keep the fullness of the Law)?” It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search of material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: “be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This world through all its “media” says: be happy, take it easy, follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness”.

We say that Lent is a spiritual spring or a bright sadness because at the end suffering, pain, death and sin gets defeated by Christ, the only Treasure. At the end of it, death turns into life.

Lets hear and join in the Great Lenten prayer,

“O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O 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”

St Ephrem the Syrian

It is a long journey ahead, call it 40 days (Great Lent), or 40 years (a life time) but remember that when you enter into Christs suffering you are also entering into His resurrection.

In Christ

Fr. Jakob

 

 

Forgiveness as a cross

Todays readings:

Proverbs 27:1-6, 10-12, Phil 2:1-13, John 18:15-18, 25-27

The Eastern Orthodox Church begins Great Lent with the service of forgiveness. The Roman Catholic Church begins Great Lent with the service of Ashes. The Protestant and Evangelical Churches does not begin Great Lent in the same “official” fashion. The starting point of Great Lent has different reasons. The tradition of Great Lent has been somewhat abused and watered down to just mean “for a period of time we use a different set of rules”. After Great Lent is over we go right back to what we have always done. Great Lent has turned nominal and legalistic in many orthodox (canonical) and catholic (Roman) parishes. So is Great lent just about eating a bit different on certain days, fasting from maybe media on some days and increased number of services?

The Eastern Orthodox Church begins Great Lent with the service of forgiveness because in this service the members in the parish are “cleaning house” so to speak. Great lent can only be entered in a true manner if the “house is clean”. We need to get rid of old sins, lies and other things that keeps us from letting the purity of true prayer, fasting and almsgiving fill us. How can we expect to be able to fast from certain food if we can not fast from indulging in old grudges and wrongdoings? No, Great Lent starts with forgiveness because it has to start there. When we receive Gods forgiveness through our fellow members in the body of Christ we are liberated from what keeps us from the true purpose of Great Lent.

The Roman Catholic Church (together with Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists) starts with the service of Ashes. The reason for the use of ashes is found in the book of Job (amongst other places in scriptures) Job 42:3-6, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. The other eye wandereth of its own accord. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Ashes has always been used to express mourning or repentance and this is still the case in the service of Ashes. By covering ourselves in ashes we show that we are truly asking for Gods forgiveness.

A lot of protestant and evangelical churches do services of repentance and forgiveness during this season of the Church. So it seems like it is all about forgiveness, repentance,healing and reconciliation. Before even Great Lent begin.

If we look at the Scriptures for the morning service of forgiveness Sunday (yesterday) we see that it is about the paralytic being carried to Christ by his friends. They open up a hole in the roof so that their friend can get close to Jesus. Isnt this a wonderful picture of what the Church is supposed to be? Carry each other so that we can get closer to Jesus. Once in the presence of Jesus, the man receives forgiveness for his sins. He also gets healed from his illness and he can once again walk. His healing is a part of his forgiveness. How many of us are not paralysed by unforgiven sins? We are so paralysed so that we can not walk towards Jesus on our own. We are tied down by guilt and shame. Great Lent is about making a communal effort of helping each other draw closer to Christs healing. And once we realize that it is when we release each other from the bonds, when we forgive each other, then we are able to draw near to Christ and His forgiveness. Once there we will realize that it was His power all along.

So approaching Great Lent, get rid of the things that hold you back from being in close proximity to Christ and to your brother or sister. When you have cleaned your house from these things  then you can start to clean and train your character through fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Just like St Peter in todays (Monday) Scripture it is not until we weep out of sorrow for betraying what we were supposed to be that we truly can realize just how much we need Christ. How utterly lost we are without Him. The tears of sorrow cleans the soul. Recieving forgiveness or giving forgiveness, if done in the proper way, is always a cross.

“Become more diligent than you are. Observe well the times. Look for Him that is above seasons, timeless, invisible, yet, for our sakes , becoming visible. Who cannot be touched, who cannot suffer, yet, for our sakes , accepted suffering, and on our account endured everything.” St Justin Martyr

In Christ

Fr Jakob

Out of nothing…

 Or “Ex Nihilo” as the Latin would proclaim. With these first lines on this new blog I am again amazed how we, by our thinking, talking and writing can “create” something out of nothing. Now, to get things in the right order (Lat Ordinem) we need to remember that in our own creation of text, art, words and other things we use material that is already there. It is rather “something else out of something” than “something out of nothing”. And if we look a touch closer we soon realize that it is not something else but rather the same in a different measure or configuration (atoms, electrons, neutrons and so forth).

Anyway, this is not the main reason for me writing here. The main reason for me writing is actually to share some thoughts, scripture, ancient writings by church fathers, prayer and revelations within the old frame of Great Lent. When I have been thinking and praying about my own “lenten rule” I realized how much I consume. I consume way to much food. I consume way to much media, I consume and I feel often happy about it. This blog is a part of my “lenten rule” because in it I shift from consuming Internet to producing something on Internet. I did this because it is a first step. I don’t think I would be able to remain a very happy person totally isolated from the Internet, sad as it is. But I rather produce something then only consume.

Approaching Great Lent I think it is important to remember that it is better to do a “little at each time”  then to try to “chew too much at one time”. Lent just as life is a process, and like any process the next step ahead is revealed when we master the step we are standing on. Hey, many people today even forget that they are standing on a step at all, hence they forget to enjoy the view. We are in such a hurry! One of the purposes with Great lent I believe is to slow us down a bit.

If you are a Christian (or not) and curious about Great Lent and the history and mystery behind this ancient tradition, please join me as I embark once more into this season that wants to proclaim proper balance (peace) in life. I hope you will find some joy in the journey!

In Christ

Fr. Jakob