Great Lent: Preparation Week

Let us receive with joy, O faithful, the divinely inspired announcement of Lent.

Like Ninevites of old, like harlots and publicans who heard John preaching repentance through abstinence, let us prepare for the Master’s communion performed in Zion.

preparationLet us wash ourselves with tears for its divine purification.

Let us pray to behold the fulfilment of Pascha, the true Revelation.

Let us prepare for adoring the Cross and Resurrection of Christ our God!

Do not deprive us of our expectation, O Lover of Man!

Byzantium Maslenitsa week, Tuesday Vespers (Excerpt from Great Lent by Father Alexander Schmemann)

The first week of Great Lent is usually referred to as “Preparation week”. Many of us often ask, “What is the sense in having a week preparing for Lent?” Preparation week prepares us for the journey of Lent by an initial change, an effort to subdue the physical, fleshly man, to the spiritual one. Whilst fasting may begin as just a physical act initially (a dietary change), the journey through Lent transforms this into a “means of reaching a spiritual goal, and therefore, an integral part of a wide spiritual effort.” (Fr. Alexander Schmemann- Great Lent: A school of repentance). But then, what exactly are we preparing for in Lent?

Father Alexander Schmemann writes, “Easter is our return every year to our own baptism, whereas Lent is our preparation for that return.” (Great Lent) The meaning of Lent is a true return to Christ. The issue with the fall of man was not man fell into sin by depending on the world, but rather man preferred and chose to rely on his own dependence. Thus, his relationship with God became distorted and he wilfully lost his connection with God. The world was “intended to be transformed constantly into communion with God in whom is all life.” (For the life of the World, Father Alexander Schmemann). St. Paul reminds us of what Christ did for the sake of reconciliation: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

In the Gospel reading this Sunday, Christ tells us:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

This is what we are preparing for! Christ here is instructing us to not lay treasures on earth because the greatest of treasures is in fact in heaven, which is where the preparation of Lent begins with. It is in this mindset we understand how to prepare ourselves. Yes, we prepare our body through the physical act of fasting and focus on weakening the flesh, but the greater importance of this act is to strengthen the spirit. Yes, we surrender our love for meat and dairy, but even more so we surrender our attachment to the world. Yes, the abrupt break from the desires of the world is uncomfortable at first, but “if we experience the cross in our life and taste it with consciousness and joy, this will be the mystical initiation to the knowledge and the glory of His power” as Father Matthew the Poor reminds us. (Our Need for Christ, Fr Matthew the Poor)

Preparation week I believe is the initial recognition of the difficult yet joyous journey towards a greater beginning with Christ and reuniting our lives with Him! Just as the Shulamite woman of Song of Songs went out searching for her bridegroom, “Have you seen the one I love?” (Song of Songs 3:3), we must also search for Christ in our lives to enter into the communion we once had with Him. I believe Christ renders to us the true meaning of Great Lent when He says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Joanne Rozeik