Today and tomorrow are a bridge between Great Lent and Holy Week. Great Lent ended last night, and today and tomorrow are feastdays in the Church. Today is the Saturday of Lazarus, which commemorates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He had been dead for four days when Jesus spoke just a few words to bring life back into his friend Lazarus.
Now that we have come to the end of Great Lent, (tomorrow and Sunday are Feasts in the Church) it is a good time to remember sometimes our life includes mundane topics such as “Why Easter is not the same.” In the next week you are going to see many posts attempting to explain why Orthodox Easter (we prefer the term Pascha) is not the same date as Western Easter. You will read about calculations and calendars. Then you will most likely read “we have to wait for Passover before we can celebrate Pascha.” This is not true. It is an urban legend based upon a mistaken understanding of history.
You hear it all the time. “Fasting isn’t about reading the labels,” or “If you’re going to spend so much time worrying about what day it is on the calendar, you’re fasting incorrectly.” What if I told you that fasting IS about reading labels, and searching the calendar? What if I told you that fasting IS about spending time searching cookbooks for recipes that do not include all the foods you’re not allowed to eat?
This past Sunday, although it was not included in the Divine Liturgy as we were celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, we honored the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. Her life is an example of complete and total repentance after a life of complete and total depravity. In her willingness to repent from her sin, she is an inspiration to us that there is nothing in life which can control us beyond our ability to repent….if we choose repentance.
If there is one thing we can learn during our Great Lenten Journey, is that God will always be present among us. During the weeks of Great Lent our patience is challenged, our hunger is tested, and our endurance to maintain the faith is constantly confronted. Yet through all our difficulties during Great lent, God is always there.
No matter how many times I have walked the Great Lenten Journey, the week before Holy Week is always a bit of a boost for me. At this point, there is no stopping my journey. There have been some grueling moments in the past 36 days, but Great Lent will be over in four days, and I’m already looking ahead to the next race. At least I won’t have to wait long.
The Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to God. There was only one condition. She had to say yes. God gave her the complete free will to accept the struggle to accept His offer. Every day we are faced with the same option. God has a plan for our salvation, and there is only one condition. We must say yes. The choice is ours to make.
Every day and during every service of the Church, we pray the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These words found in the Lord’s Prayer, given to us by God are the root of our entire Christian life. These words are also the foundation of every spiritual struggle as far back as our ancestors in The Garden. As we celebrate today, just over two thousand years ago, a young girl not only understood the meaning of these words, she spoke them from her heart and changed world history.
This weekend the Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. It is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, which even though it occurs during Great Lent, is celebrated with Divine Liturgy and a “lightening” of the fast. In other words, we eat fish. But that is not what I want to focus on today. Today I want to focus on how we honor the Theotokos, the All-Holy Mother of God.
Today is the Fifth Friday of Great Lent, a day on which the Church commemorate the Akathyst Hymn to the Theotokos. The hymn has a historical and spiritual significance for Orthodox Christians. It recalls a time when the Church was under persecution, but never gave up hope. With faith in God, the Church called upon His Mother for protection. The Akathyst Hymn was offered by the people as adoration to the Theotokos in hopes that God would save His people from their enemies. What does this have to do with Great Lent?