I am struggling with the fact that things keep “pending;” they keep being put on hold or there are decisions that need to be made and they cannot be made, for one reason or another. And to still my heart and quiet my mind, I keep repeating, (inhale) “Jesus, Son of God (exhale) have mercy on me a sinner.” I have helped to sponsor a young man trying to achieve a goal in the Sea Scout program, by passing out these really cool bracelets with the Jesus Prayer on them, as well as an amazing instructional card that goes along with the bracelet, explaining the prayer. The project was also dedicated to the “Year of Faith.” I shared it with a friend who was visiting this weekend and she read the card, held the bracelet, closed her eyes, and prayed. When she opened her eyes, she had such a joyous smile on her face. She said, “Oh, wow, I could feel the peace and calm come over me.” And we struck up a conversation about prayer and being quiet, and she asked for some bracelets and cards to take and share with others. I was so excited, because that is what being a faithful Christian is all about. We share our love of God and our faith with others, and they want to share it with others, too. And I know that it all starts at the Cross.
Lent is a time of year when I redouble my efforts to focus my prayers and my actions to further enhancing my life of faith. A friend was reacting to a post I had on my Facebook wall about a great Lenten salad I had made for our meal one evening. In the post I said I had used “fake” sirloin tips and this engendered an entire conversation about what they were and I why I would use fake meat. I explained all about the fasting rules for us Byzantine Catholics, as well as how strictly most of the world keeps the fast. When I got to olive oil, there were more questions about why that type of oil, etc. It was a great conversation. My friend said it sounded “too hard.” And it is hard; I think that is the point of it. I shared this morning with my friend that I think that is the point of all of it…trying to refocus our bodies and our minds towards prayer and a more intimate relationship with God, rather than on our comforts. And I also think that many of us in the West chose a much easier way to observe Lent by fasting only once or twice a week. McDonald’s fish sandwiches aside (I happen to love them!) I think we can incorporate much more fasting ideas in our lives than we try to, because at the outset, it sounds just too hard to accomplish. What I did not share with my friend is that in the East, most people fast every Wednesday and Friday, all year long. Lent is when we really fast! Ha-Ha! There are many fasts throughout the year, but the Great Fast is the most challenging. I often told my children that instead of “giving up chocolate” for Lent, why not add a spiritual exercise instead? Try adding another prayer; try reading a spiritual work; try going to all the Church services offered during Lent. And when we really make that Herculean effort to observe the Great Fast, the first meal after the Pascha evening services is the most amazing thing you will ever eat! Meat takes on a completely new meaning in your life when you have not had it in over 40 days! They are moments I will never forget! One particular Pascha, a man in our parish ran out to a popular hamburger place right after the Vigil, and brought back dozens of their burgers (he had pre-arranged a late evening delivery, because it was well after mid-night by then). He knew our Pastor loved these particular hamburgers and the smell when he walked in with them was incredible! He was mobbed! Ha-Ha. Good times; great memories.
If I continually remember to keep my eye, my gaze, fixed on heaven, as Elder Amphilochios Makris reminds me, then nothing can shake me. And we always start our journeys at the Cross. Lent is leading me closer and closer to the sacrifice that was made just for me. Christ offered Himself, once and for all, for my sins, my lack, my shortcomings. I believe that the Church, in all her wisdom, knows I need to keep myself focused all year long, every year, but gave me Lent to help me bring myself back to where I should always be…my gaze fixed on heaven. And in light of renewing my earnest striving towards a more enhanced, a better life of faith, I come nearer and nearer to the Cross of Christ on Holy Saturday evening. Pascha Vigil is my favorite night of the year. In the Melkite tradition, the entire congregation processes around the Church. While they process, all the Deacon’s wives remain inside and we prepare the Sanctuary for the entrance back into the Church. All the candles are lit and the lamps are made to sway back and forth. We even had special sticks we used for the chandeliers. It was a wonderful time of anticipation. The knocks come at the door and the responses are said and the doors swing wide open, and the entire Church is lit, the lamps are swaying, and the Holy Spirit enters with all the people. It is a great moment. And we are getting closer and closer.
The moment we share the Resurrection of Our Lord is a moment of anticipation, of joy, and of relief. As I prepare to enter more closely into the last days of Lent, there is so much on hold, so much not done, so much waiting. And I cannot help but relate that to the waiting the Apostles and the Theotokos did, after the Death and Burial of Our Lord. They waited, not realizing all His promises had been fulfilled in their lifetimes. In the Upper Room, they gathered; most in shock and most in despair. St. Thomas was, of course, not there. He always seemed to miss out on the events, and had his fears and faith renewed, all doubts erased, by Our Lord Himself, as a representative of each of us. We are never truly late for the events….God has our own time already settled for us. He will show Himself to us when we are prepared to greet Him. And I know that all these things that have yet to occur are held in the hands of Christ. He will reveal Himself and His plans for us when we are ready to receive Him. I continue to prepare, and upon reflection, I am renewed and strengthened. Often the things we anticipate are not brought to the fruition we hope for, but I know all things do start at the Cross. As a popular post on Facebook recently said, “God’s got this.”