Yep, it’s started. That gradual pulling away from meat and cheese and wine and olive oil. Great Lent. This past Sunday (yesterday) was Meat Fare. It is where we eat all things meat. From here on, for the next 40+ days, we abstain from meat. And this week, we enjoy the taste of all things dairy. This coming Sunday is Cheese Fare, when we eat all things dairy and abstain fully thereafter, because next Monday, the full fast begins. The Church, in her kindness to those of us in the East, gradually brings about the Fast. We refer to this period as the Great Fast or Great Lent because it is a full fast, for the entire time. We have other fasting periods throughout the year, but the Great Fast is a more intense time of fasting, praying, and attending Church services as we prepare our hearts for Pascha, or Easter Sunday. In the Western or Latin Church, Lent is begun on Ash Wednesday (March 5th, this year). We always begin our Lent a couple of days before the Latin Church because of Meat Fare and Cheese Fare.
I have had so many questions about these traditions from my western friends and so I thought I would share them with those who read this blog. We are different from the west in that when we fast during fasting periods throughout the year, we fast every single day. In the west, during Lent, the fast is Wednesdays and Fridays. We in the east fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long. Lent is especially strict for us. It does not mean more, nor does it take away from, the fasting practices of the west, it is just different.
There have been quite a number of chats online recently about the possibility of reunifying the Church, Orthodox and Catholic. (I find it interesting that we don’t even mention Protestants in these discussions, but I am sure it is because there are just so many denominations that you cannot enter into dialogue with so many different entities. That is for another day and another blogger to tackle). In the discussion of Orthodox and Catholic let me state right off that I am no theologian. I am not versed in the mighty tomes written by the great theologians of history. I am not familiar with verse to verse of the various Councils, nor the validity or non-validity of them. I am, however, a mom who muses over things; who reads when she can; who studies history when we she can; someone who is trying to live out her faith in the world, as a wife and mother. And I offer this blog as a place where I ruminate on these things that affect my life and my faith, and in charity, to share those views. And it is why I subtitled it the way I did. A professor? No. A theologian? No. An expert? No. A wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and fellow-sinner? You bet!
In regards to all the online discussions, I will admit I let myself get angry at some of the postings and I often deleted all of my input in a string of one series of comments, because I was angry. But after I simmered down and took a step back and thought about it, I know that getting angry is part of the problem of unifying our churches. We all think that what we have been taught; what we know of “truth,” is the right way of thinking. Coming up against opposing views can “get your back up,” as they say. And I believe that is one of the main reasons true unity will NOT happen, at least in my lifetime. We have disparity in the Catholic Church, the Latin Rite, itself. Some want Tridentine Masses only; some want Novus Ordo; some even want women to be ordained…to the deaconate at the very least. Then there are the differences between the Eastern Churches and the Roman/Latin Church. It is what sparked anger and controversy over the internet this past weekend. How can we expect to welcome those who are not in unity with Rome, into our messed up family? As one of my FB friends stated, we are the children (those of us in the Eastern Churches) of divorced parents…the Roman and Orthodox Churches. And quite often the children of divorce suffer far more than the parents ever did, living a little in both worlds. That is where the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome find themselves – united with Rome but different….Orthodox in thinking and liturgical expression, but not Orthodox. It’s sometimes a messed-up place to be. (As I am the child of divorced parents, I feel the analogy is justified).
In the last few days, here in the most northern state in the union, the sunlight has begun to change. It is coming in my windows during the day, and it is staying light until about 6:00 pm. We still have Christmas lights up inside the house and outside the house! This weekend, we actually talked about taking them down, because there is so much sunshine! And I saw something this weekend (well, it really started last week) that bothered me. Dust bunnies….everywhere. It is amazing what you don’t see in the dark. We felt all warm and cozy in our snow-covered lives. We had these pretty twinkling lights to add to the warmth and coziness, even after all the Christmas decor was removed (we forgot our hanging mistletoe ball, but I am thinking about leaving that hanging in the entryway…just cuz!) to keep us smiling and joyful during the long, cold, snowy winters. But this weekend, I saw so many dust bunnies. And as I wrote in my previous posts, I hurt my back chasing dust bunnies last week. It is still hurt and it makes it worse because I really should not go after them for awhile, yet! But man oh man, are they driving me nuts! And I am determined to get our shedding dog (English Springer Spaniel) completely shaved…so much dog hair everywhere. What does all this have to do with Lent? Plenty…
I realized that in climates and cultures that experience fully the four seasons, that Spring is a big deal. And Spring Cleaning has taken on a whole new meaning. Because of the increased daylight, I am encouraged to do more. I am loosing that winter lethargy that comes with just a few hours of daylight a day and mountains of snow. And I want to get into all the corners and really clean. It was amazing how much dust I could see in the light of day. (Note: I clean my house, I do. Each week I sweep and dust and clean. But it is amazing how much you miss when you only get 4-5 hours of daylight each day!!). Lent is like that for our souls. We are encouraged to pare down the gluttony that overtakes us in the winter and to live cleanly and simply in the light of day, and in the LIGHT of Christ. He is the Light. If Christ were to look into all the corners of His home, my soul, would He find “dust bunnies” of bad habits and things I need to clean out? Oh, most definitely!
And how does this work with mentioning the reunion of Orthodox and Catholic? Well, in the Spring we clean our homes, we clean our souls, and we prepare for the greatest event in humankind, the death and resurrection of Christ, Our Lord. We need to get our Spiritual House in order. And to me, that includes our Churches as well. There have been scandals and wrong-doing all over our Churches, east and west. (Even more in Protestant churches, but again, for another blogger to tackle). Our clergy have not had an easy time, be they saint or sinner. We can never unite two such large and complicated entities as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches if their people are not completely united – and in a state of grace. There’s this corny song that popped into my head:
“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”
And even though it has been said and said, and we laugh at some of the corniness of it, there is a simple truth in it. When we lay aside all the things that make us different and focus on what it is that is the same about us, regardless of our current affiliation, it all has to start with me. Each of us has to choose to take that step towards peace and unity. And the Church, both east and west, has given us this incredible time – Great Lent – in order to focus our hearts on getting right with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will “spring clean” our hearts. The place where God resides in all of us who acknowledge and welcome His indwelling in our innermost self needs to be cleaned out, rededicated, and redirected towards allowing just God to be there. Lent gives us this time to throw out all the things that get in the way of true unity with Him.
Where we live is unique with regards to sunlight. It is the first time that the pathway of the earth, and so the sun, is different for me. Growing up in Southern California, I was bathed in sunshine almost all year long. We relocated to Washington, in the greater Seattle area, for three years. That is when I first experienced the differing angles of the sun, because of where we are on the earth. How the earth moves and the sun is in a different place than where I was used to it being…directly overhead…was so striking for me! We were exposed to shorter days, more rain, and snow (weather!!! A foreign concept to most SoCal people). Moving an additional 3000+ miles north to the Last Frontier in Alaska, the sun is different, again. Where we live, in the wintertime, if we do not go into town, we never see the sun itself. We see the light from it, but the orb itself is behind the mountains. Such a weird thing for me. And now that the earth is changing and its pathway around the sun is changing, bringing us the new season of Spring, I am once again noticing where the sun shows itself. It is only on the south side of our house. It comes up on the eastern side, about 2/3 of the way south on our living room wall, and as the earth rotates, it moves to the kitchen and finally goes down about midway through our master bedroom wall. We have no windows on the eastern and only 1 window on our western walls. We have lots of windows on the northern side of the house, and many more on the southern side. The sun never directly touches our front yard. You can see it over the hill on the back yard side of the house. But it is not directly over the northern side of our property. And that is so weird for me. It was always within a visual confirmation in SoCal. I could always find the sun during the day. But not up here. And when that sunlight directs itself through my full-glass dutch doors in my dining room, across the kitchen floor, to the living room….well, let’s just say I am motivated to clean.
To be esoteric about it, the place of the sun is like the issues with the various Churches. We all have sunlight (son-light) in Christ Jesus. We hold the same tenets of the faith to be true. We worship in many differing ways, and still the “son” will light our pathway. Just like no matter where you live on the earth, you will get some sunshine. It may differ in quality, quantity, and heat shared, but you get the light from it. Our differing Churches are like that. What we can do is take note of the differences, as I have from living in different places and noted the sunlight changes, the seasons, the weather patterns. But we should not focus on those differences and make erroneous decisions based upon what we see as different. For example, I do not live in an igloo cut from blocks of ice; nor do I drive a dog sled. I live in a housing development; I drive my same car; I shop at most of the same stores you do (most…I do miss some of them!!) and eat at many of the same restaurants you do (although I would love for my favorites to come up here – hint-hint to Del Taco, Miguel’s and Miguel’s Jr. and In-and-Out Burgers to name a few). I don’t sit around my igloo “chawing” away on seal blubber or deer meat. Misconceptions are rampant in the different Churches. Yes, if you are a Roman Catholic, you can attend Divine Liturgy and it counts! It’s the same sacrifice, the same faith….and it counts towards your obligation! We celebrate the same sacraments, we just call them mysteries instead. We administer them a little differently, but they are the same; they are just as valid. My husband spent 4 years in the seminary and was ordained. He can serve in a Latin-Rite church (and has) and all of the Eastern Churches. He is now officially on loan to an Eastern Church that is a different one than the one he was ordained in, because there is only one Byzantine Church in all of Alaska! And it counts and is valid and licit.
This Lenten season, perhaps we can all try to see into the lives of those who worship differently than we do. Attend Divine Liturgy at the local Byzantine Church. Venture into an Orthodox Church for Vespers (you will be so glad you did – trust me). Try and see, while you are cleaning up your soul, that some of the issues we all share in life are misconceptions about each other. And as we clean our souls, our homes, our hearts, we can also clean our bodies. We can abstain the 40+ days of Lent from all the things we over-ate through the Holidays and wintertime. We can endeavor to find the simple, the humble, the Divine in life. We can stop with the noise and turn off all noisy media (try not watching TV or listening to music 24/7). We can delve deeper into our faith by reading the scholars and the theologians of our faith and of the faith of our sister Churches. We can pray more. And starting today, for those of us in the east, we will abstain from meat. It is a start. I will endeavor to read more, to pray more, to eat less, and to get those darn dust bunnies under control so the light of day can shine – in my home, yes, but in my heart, too!