like a hammer
When you want to cut down a tree you strike at it once, twice… a thousand times. This is how we should strike at our hardened hearts, at the frozen surface of our souls. If we do this, then with God’s help, we will come to understand something of God’s glory. How is it that I strike at my heart, so that I might crack it open? One way is by reading and reflecting on the Psalms.
Elder Aemilianos of Simonopetra
The Orthodox Church has entered into the period of the Lenten Triodion. This is the time our Mother the Church sets aside to lead the faithful on our annual approach to Great Lent. It is a beautiful time of the year. The time leading up to Lent is one of great encouragement, when an abundance of Grace is poured out and the faithful are exhorted, through the enriching hymns and readings of the season, to humility and repentance.
A lot of people hear the term Great Lent and they immediately think only food and “diet”. “Oh, Great Lent, so what are you giving up,” is often asked. A priest at our parish likes to remind us that we don’t subtract during Great Lent – we add! We don’t focus on what we can’t have, but on all that we integrate. After all, we don’t stop eating, we just change of what we partake – on many levels.
In other words, we joyfully enter the Fast, with our glasses and plates half full – rather than half empty.
The Greek word for diet, is “diaita“, meaning “way of living” or “regular daily work“. So while, it’s easy to focus on food alone, the Lenten diet is a “way of living” and because we are called to “repentance” it is also our “regular daily work“.
So, where we might otherwise spend our time frivolously, we strive to add the many Lenten services into our routines. That usually means shifting around some things on the calendar. And if you are a parent, don’t worry about the kids missing an activity here or there. You will never ever look back later in life and regret that you took your kids to Church. And you know what, neither will your kids. Mother’s who love their kids set the bar high, and that is what the Church does for us. It’s not that we can necessarily reach it, but we can each in our own effort make a start. A bar set too low usually only becomes a stumbling block.
Great Lent is not so much about restricting ourselves but rather the fullness of sobriety. For our physical food, we opt out of clogging, anabolic and heavy foods in exchange for those that are cleansing, lighter and catabolic. And it is not just our physical nourishment, but our spiritual nourishment too. We forego the noisiness and aimless clutter of worldly entertainment, video games and such, to make room for focus and the redemptive time of peacefulness of devotion to spiritual nourishment. That is a challenge – especially if the majority of your friends are not Orthodox, but each does the best they can.
Psalter Prayer groups form in many Churches, and Orthodox Christians try to find a little more quiet time for prayer, along with spiritual reading, greater almsgiving and focusing on our relationships and of course the spiritual mending of Confession.
All of these additions to our “way of living” are meant to remind us of our first love – the Greatest Commandment – and to open to us the doors of repentance, thereby bringing us to a place of contrition, a softening of hardened hearts, leading us to repentance and Christ’s Resurrection – the Feast of Pascha.
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If you would like to assemble a Psalter Prayer Group, now is the time. You don’t need to have twenty women, but it is very nice, because when there are twenty the Psalter will be prayed in it’s entirety daily. Don’t be discouraged if there are fewer, our group has had plenty of years when we were fewer in number – two or three gathered in His name is just fine.
Here is a link from an earlier post about Psalter Prayer that has an explanation for setting one up.