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Of Roast Mutton And Unmasked Conspiracies

March 9, 2013

britain-ireland-sea_25698_600x450.jpgI was recently thinking about the beauty and wisdom of this season of preparation we are in for the Great Fast of Lent. I have been thinking about it more keenly than the last few Lenten seasons, because this Lent be the final countdown for the baptism of my three daughters on Great and Holy Saturday. I want to help them participate in the fast, but not just because we do it. I want them to understand the spirit and meaning of it. Unlike poor Bilbo, who was thrust into his adventure unexpectedly, we are prepared for our journey by degrees, much like Frodo and his “conspirator” friends.

The first of the three Parables that prepare us for Lent is the Parable of The Publican and the Pharisee. Beside the obvious lessons of the parable itself, (don’t trust in your own righteousness, don’t judge others, but rather stand in repentance and humility before God) the Church shows us that we are not to trust our own righteousness (“I fast twice a weak…”) by specifically telling us to not fast the usual two days during the week. Also, the icon of the parable itself shows us the final words of Christ, that if we humble ourselves we will be exalted, but if we exalt ourselves, we will be humbled. And just when we are tempted to judge the pharisee, we are reminded that even though we are just as arrogant as he, we are not even nearly as righteous.

The second parable is the parable of The Prodigal Son. We are shown the reality of our lives to be that of the prodigal son, who took what was given by his Father, wasted it and returned to him in humility, only to received warmly. The prodigal son himself seems to me to be an expanded illustration of the Publican, from the prior parable. Realizing what a sinful state he is in, he returns to the Father in humility, expecting nothing, but receiving everything. But even if we have not gone astray, we have the prodigal’s brother as a warning. We need to rejoice at the repentance of others, not judge them. I like that Jesus leaves the parable open-ended. He doesn’t say whether he relented and went in to the feast, or whether he refused. Or, even if he refused to rejoice that night, did he finally come around? Just as Jesus never gave us the answer in the story, He leaves the ending up to us. What will we choose? Unlike their father, my girls have not lived foolishly like the prodigal, but are like the faithful son. I make it a point to show them that they have a place in the parable too. That they have access to all that is the Father’s, and that they should not deprive themselves of it by not forgiving others (especially each other).

Thirdly is the Parable of The Last Judgement. In this parable I learn that every person is a living icon of Christ, and that how I treat them is really how I treat Him. A great reflection of this parable stated that goats and sheep act in opposite manners, in relation to their owners: Sheep follow their master, rely of him (or her) and give back in the form of of wool and milk, while goats are willful, eat whatever they can get their mouths on, and are generally takers. What’s more, given the opportunity, they can lead a sheep into a dangerous area. For, while a goat is quite nimble and sure0footed, sheep (domestic sheep) are not suited for rocky environments.  What a fitting picture of the two camps we could potentially be in. What a reminder to my family and I, that whenever we encounter our neighbor, we not only encounter ourselves, but Christ.

Lastly is the Sunday of Forgiveness. I have to admit, due to my work schedule, I have not been able to be at Church on any of these Sundays (I am a fireman) since I have begun attending Orthodox services (catechumenate, as well as after baptism). The Sunday of Forgiveness is one I am particularly looking forward to. Forgiveness Vespers sounds like a wonderful way to begin the Lenten Struggle; for this is the crux of the matter: forgive, as you are forgiven. I don’t know exactly what to expect (other than what I have been told about it), but I am excited for myself and my girls.

When I piece the flow of the preparation for Lent together, I see it as one, powerful exhortation: We should not congratulate ourselves on our own righteousness and look down upon others, but remember that we are sinners, who have squandered the Father’s gifts to us, and are in need of repentance. Even if we do not stray from God, we should rejoice at the repentance of our brothers and sisters, and not refrain from the feast out of jealousy. More important than all the acts of religious piety, is to see Christ in everyone around us, and to treat them accordingly, not withholding our hand of mercy in time of need. Finally, we are to forgive. Forgive from the heart and let the burden of offenses done to us, or by us, be left at the foot of the Cross. I hope that my life and my words communicate that truth to my daughters. Obviously I need to learn it for myself first, but in doing so, I want to take seriously the charge to nurture them in the most holy faith.

A great podcast that speaks about the preparation period before Lent begins, and communicating that to our children and youth, is called Raising Saints. The three most recent podcasts (Parables that prepare Parts 1&2 and Teaching Why We Fast) are particularly excellent, and illustrate what I have said in this post with far more eloquence and simplicity. More than all the rules of fasting itself, is the need to pass on the spirit of the fast and how it leads us to reliance on God’s grace, focuses our attention on prayer and showing the love of God to others, in a way that is a little more deliberate than we might be prone to do most of the year. As we teach this to them, we are bound to learn it for ourselves.

Illustrating this point of not viewing the fast as a food restriction only, is a statement my oldest daughter made when she heard someone say how people act distraught, when they realize Lent is almost upon us. She said, “How can anyone not be excited about Lent? It leads to Pascha!” She doesn’t know it, but she gets it. The joy of the journey is in the destination. If we miss the opportunity to draw nearer to God, be kind to others, pray, etc, etc, because we are focused on staying away from foods and being bitter about it, then we have missed everything. Even worse, as I realized this past Wednesday, when I found myself speaking ill of others and acting like a general grump while fasting, we participate in the “fast of demons.” Not that we can’t repent, but it’d disappointing to realize that I have missed the point entirely.

Even though, regardless of whether or not this journey is simply thrust upon us or not, it is still fraught with danger, as were the journeys of Bilbo and Frodo, we are given this wonderful heart-check before Great Lent. I am truly grateful for the wisdom God has given us in His Church. Maybe it’s just the excitement (as I mentioned before) of knowing my this is the final countdown to my girls being received into the Church, but I relish this season of preparation more than before.

One final note. I know that in past posts I have mentioned that my wife has chosen not to convert with us. I have also mentioned that, following my spiritual father’s wisdom and guidance, I came into the Church a little over a years ago, though no on else did at the time. This has been a challenge for us as a family, but, through patience, grace and love, God has brought us through to a good place. While my wife is still not interested in converting with us, she has been excited with me about the girls being received this coming Pascha. What’s more, she is going to participate with us in the fast, though the Presbyterian Church she works at is fasting on the Western calendar. I am blessed by her willingness to participate with us and for her supportiveness during this time.  This season is and has been a great preparation for our whole family.

God grant us strength for this Lenten journey, which is about to begin…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Randi permalink
    March 9, 2013 1:55 pm

    This is one of your best blogs. Please help me understand the title. I actually like the title, but I’m having trouble interpreting it! (brain issues) God bless you and I am looking forward to you and yours coming to my house to celebrate Pascha, Randi

    • March 9, 2013 2:57 pm

      Thank you Randi. The title is a combination of chapter titles from The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring. In both of the respective chapters, the journey begins for the hobbits. It’s not a real solid connection, but as long as people are willing to tolerate my rambling…

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