LENT IS COMING (from the 14th of March to Easter 1st of May 2016)
The Church has been talking about Lent for nigh on two thousand years. In the lead-up to Lent – the four Sundays preceding the beginning of Lent, we begin to prepare ourselves for what should be a genuinely serious undertaking. I want here, to try to impress on people just how vitally important this might be for each and every one of us. Things that we may not previously have thought about.
There is, however, a problem with Lent. It is seen by many as something that “the Church does” that is a “custom” that is somehow what one does because one ought to. That I’m afraid is the attitude of the vast majority of people who populate churches the world over.
The proper view of Lent – of really fasting during Lent is quite, quite different. It is a difficult concept to “sell” and very difficult to explain.
Lent is the time for reflection – serious reflection on our SINS – the real ones that we individually and corporately commit that were the reason for the passion of Christ.
This is the time for us all to get serious and to look at what we are doing in our lives and to repent and confess our sins.
Most of us have virtually no real concept of sin. It is something that each of us has to talk through for ourselves in order that it might dawn on us that while we imagine that we are nice, normal, harmless people, in fact we daily fall very short of what God expects.
We were created by God with the potential to be “like” Him – we have truly remarkable brains that are still largely unused – we have the capacity for vastly more than we use our brains for at present. We truly are “gods” on this earth.
We have the capacity, if we work at it, to thoroughly align ourselves with God’s will, His teaching, His Way. We have all the information that we need – its right there, He gave it to us. Its there for us to read and understand. He even gave us a whole panel of Fathers of the Church and Councils to explain in depth what His teaching meant.
So what is stopping us? We know (if we read) that there has been a river of men and women down the last two millennia who actually have succeeded in aligning themselves closely with God’s Will.
These saints have lived in all sorts and conditions of life, some seemingly very unpropitious, but they have managed to become close to God and to reflect Him in their lives. Some few like Saint Columcille of Iona and Saint Seraphim of Sarov have in the sight of others, been surrounded by the uncreated light of God, and many, many others have glimpsed it.
For the first time, God opened the gates of His Kingdom on Pentecost when the Apostles and all the Disciples received the Holy Spirit. The point of Hesychasm in Orthodoxy is seeing the uncreated light which is a witness that we are already communicating with God even from this present life. We have it described in the levels of prayer how one can pass through stages towards having a vision of God.
Seeing/glimpsing fleetingly the uncreated light simply means that we are getting to know God on a spiritual and personal level, that we are beginning to interact with Him. It is for God alone to determine if we see the uncreated light in this life, or the next. It may be more likely that a serious Orthodox Christian may begin to experience God in this life in small degrees. We may experience God’s uncreated light, but not really understand it as such, or perhaps don’t even notice it.
All are called to theosis and many of the Fathers have indicated what theosis is and how it may be experienced in this life. It is possible, in this present life, for a man to experience theosis as already starting.
Archimandrite Saint Sophrony (Elder Sophrony of Tolleshunt Knights, England +1993) writes, “This wondrous light … eclipsed all else”, “everything within and without is illumined: only the Light is seen.” “The manifestation of Light affords man existential knowledge of God …” telling us that such a vision of the light is proof indeed that we have had an encounter with God Himself – “participation in the Divine Life, contact with the Unoriginate Being”.
“Divine Light”, says Archimandrite Sophrony, “is eternal life, the Kingdom of God, the uncreated energy of the Divinity”. 1 John 3:2: “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” “The complete vision of God is ‘the mystery of the eighth day’; it belongs to the age to come ‘the prelude to Christ’s second coming’, the common reward and garment of Christian theosis”.
Through our genuine, total repentance we begin our recovery from our fallen state which always involves an illumination, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, “to the re-assumption of his vestment of light”.
Grace is not some sort of a reward for our works or virtuousness – it is a gift from God given where there is a a true beginning of alignment with God’s will. Saint Sophrony said “contemplation of divine realities is possible only if one’s spirit is to some extent in harmony with the object of contemplation … Every true vision of God is a gift from the High God making us participants in His life, granting us humility and peace, wisdom and knowledge, love and goodness.”
This is what we should be thinking about as we begin Lent. This is where our Lenten repentance should begin to lead us. We may not think of ourselves as “saints” but nevertheless, that is what Saint Paul called us for we are they who are beginning the road of sanctification, thus are we “saints” indeed. It is for us to start down this road in all earnestness, this road to sanctification, this road to thorough alignment with the will of God.
We need however some idea at the outset of the total awesomeness of God, the Master of the entire Cosmos, the one who conceived the Cosmos with its billions of galaxies, its trillions of stars and planets, the One who holds it in being by His steady, ongoing input to this universe.
When we understand that it is He whose will we seek, it is with Him that we seek to align ourselves, that we are made by Him in His image and likeness in the expectation that we would unite ourselves with Him. Then we know what we are setting out to do.
It can all start during Lent with serious fasting and personal repentance for all our falling short of The Way that Christ taught. It must continue with our forgoing many of the comforts of this world, the petty “entertainments” on television and worthless books. We have so very little time – a mere seventy or eighty years in which to align ourselves with the High God. There is so much reading to do – so much learning and discovering – the Fathers will however guide us through the Scriptures, showing us their real inner meaning.
Do not waste time dear brethren, but set out here and now to change your life totally for there is so little time left.