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