The Hardest Part of Being a Christian

As we enter the fourth week of Great Lent, it is always good to be reminded that the Christian life is a struggle. The hardest part isn’t the fasting, nor the prayers, nor attending Church. It isn’t even avoiding sin. The hardest part of being a Christian doesn’t even have anything to do with our behavior is sinful or not, but how we react to how other behave. Everyone has free will, and if God doesn’t force people to act in a certain way, neither can we.

 

Free Will is Real

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, halfway through our annual journey toward Pascha, the Church turns our attention on the Cross. Just as the Cross is the destination of Christ for His earthly ministry, it remains our destination as Christians if we choose to follow Christ. Today’s Gospel readings opens with the invitation from Christ, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34)

Fasting and Traveling in the Contemporary World

Here we are, at the half-way point of the Great Fast. If you’ve been trying to fast, I’m sure at least once you realized how difficult it can be to maintain the fast when you are not at home cooking for yourself. Unless you research menus in advance, eating outside of your own home can be impossible. Many don’t’ even try, claiming exemption under the “I’m traveling” excuse. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. The ancient Church allowed those who were sick or traveling to be exempted from fasting. Thankfully in our modern world, we don’t really have to worry about exemptions.

Antagonism against the Church

You can always tell that Pascha is near, by watching the newest movie trailers from Hollywood. It seems that each year, another movie or documentary about Christ or Christianity is released. This year is no different with a new movie reportedly about Saint Paul to be release in the coming days. I have no desire to see this movie as I have little trust that some playwright or director has spiritually beneficial information for us as Orthodox Christians.

Quiet and Humble Prayer

During our Great Lenten Journey, nothing is more obvious than the quiet and humble atmosphere of the Church during the Lenten Services. As I mentioned in The Rhythm of Great Lent the physical atmosphere is an important detail during Great Lent. It isn’t all about candles and incense. That would limit the journey to solely external issues. It would ignore the importance of quiet and humble prayer that fills the dark and incense filled Church.

Equipment and Playbook for Great Lent

Yesterday I reminded you to contact your Spiritual Father, your coach for Great Lent. Every team has players and coaches which we have already spoken about. You are the team players and your spiritual father is your coach. Every team that is planning on success needs more than just players and coaches. It needs practice time with equipment and playbooks. It may be something that we don’t spend a great deal of time speaking about, but your Great Lenten Journey also has equipment and more than one playbook.

Your Great Lenten Coach

Yesterday I mentioned some members of your team during Great Lent. The success of any team depends upon everyone working in agreement to the different roles of the team. If at any time, team members ignore their respective roles, or the roles of other members of the team, success is not likely. The same holds true for your Great Lenten team. Do you have a coach?

Great Lent is a Relay

Welcome to week three of your Great Lenten Journey. I really should say OUR Great Lenten Journey since as Orthodox we believe that the Church is a communal experience. We have been baptized into Christ, and therefore each other. As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12.26) So we are all experiencing Great Lent together with all its ups and downs, all its struggles and successes.

Our Job is to Make Room

On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, the Church brings our attention to a miracle and lesson for our soul. In Mark 2.1-12, we hear about the healing of the Paralytic who was brought by four friends to see Jesus. Since the house was filled past the front door, they cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man down to see Jesus. The Gospel tells us when Jesus saw their faith, he healed the man. Just as these four men, it is our responsibility to bring others to Christ, so they can hear Him and see Him. Then they can be healed.

Who Will You Bring?

We spend much our time during Great Lent focusing on fasting and the extra prayers and Church services. We do all this in order to grow closer to Jesus Christ, but there is another part of our Great Lenten opportunity offers for our soul. In the Gospel lesson today, we hear about a man who was brought by his four friends to see Jesus. Because this man had four friends who loved him enough to bring him to Jesus, he was healed of his sickness and his sins were forgiven. If these four men had not loved their friend enough, he might still be paralyzed.