The Seeds Sown Before Great Lent
We are about to embark on a tremendous journey together, traveling with the Lord, through His life and by each other's side. What experiences we will have as we participate in all the services that will take us out of Caesar’s grasp for a time. As we each year invest so much effort for Great Lent, the weeks before and Pascha and the weeks after, let us gather a bountiful harvest for the year ahead. In harvesting a field of its fruit there is a first gleaning, the largest harvest, which we are about to start and then there is a second gleaning and subsequent ones for the poor.
In the case of spiritual harvest of the magnitude of Pascha we are perpetually benefited by going back and remembering because remembering in this case is re-attaching to an eternal font of blessing.
Our hearts burn within us when He speaks to us and reveals the Gospel. They are still warm and ready to ignite if we just tend to it some more!
Zacchaeus Sunday- Even though it is not officially part of the series before Great Lent, arriving at Zacchaeus Sunday is a trumpet blast saying, "It is here! Lent is coming!"
Zacchaeus amazes us by his thorough turn around! We are also struck by our Lord's love for us sinners. We can imagine him scanning the crowd of admirers and finding Zacchaeus "the unworthy one" overtaken with irrational or rather super-rational zeal to see the Lord. We marvel and are inspired by his zeal of repentance.
What did he do? He admitted his guilt. He kept of wealth only what he needed. He gave the rest to the poor and returned what he had taken unlawfully, not two fold as was required by the Jewish law, but more severely-four times according to the law of his conscience. What seeds are planted by the gospel account of Zacchaeus?
By humbling himself and following the yearning of his spiritual heart Zacchaeus was present to meet the Lord's searching for him. Zacchaeus the "unworthy" dined with the Lord. In exchange for the sweet delight of "meeting the Lord" he gave his full repentance, and restored all that he had taken. This is a good preparation for the sequence of spiritual studies in preparation for Great Lent.
The Publican and the Pharisee help us discern the spiritual dimensions of our own heart. From the Gospel we see that our goal should be to imitate the Publican and not the Pharisee. The Publican was a true man of prayer according to St. Nicolai Velmirovich: always penitent, humble, never seeking the first seat because he knew that God sees him wherever he is. He experiences his nothingness before God which is expressed through the words of St. John the Baptist who said: I am not worthy to unloose the latchets of His shoes.(St. Mark 1:7). He smote his breast knowing the rebelliousness of the flesh. And he realized that God alone could save Him and so didn't look any where else calling out: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The Pharisee's prayer: God I thank thee...was only a superficial formality that preceded his self-satisfied listing of his own accomplishments. His prayers, fasting and tithing didn't bear the fruit of repentance and love.
St. Isaac the Syrian says: "Until a man achieves humility, he will receive no reward for his work: The reward is given not for the works but for the humility."
The Pharisee offered a blemished offering as did Cain-fasting with pride, tithing with boastfulness and judgment of a brother. And like Cain's offering they were rejected.
Thus we should learn to be like the Publican in praying with humility to God and looking to Him for all blessings. This is an amazing key to a life of prayer.
Ingratitude is a form of spiritual blindness that leads to a profligate life and spiritual decay. Nothing the prodigal had was his. He was like the foolish husbandmen who were given a field of fruitfulness but then refused any harvest to the landlord. The prodigal in not recognizing the source of his inheritance ended up wasting and losing it all.
Similarly we waste the time of our life and the gift of life because we fail to recognize the God of our life and our Savior.
If we can retain with gratitude the spiritual seeds and pearls we receive each time we partake of the Eucharist; if we would not spill the grace after a time of fasting, prayer of attention to spiritual things by light minded talk, jokes, entertainment but use the gift and share the boat of paradise as St. Isaac said.
The prodigal is a warning to the youth but it also a warning to us when God renews us like an eagle and washes our sins away through His touch.
Certainly we also see His humble love and desire for us to have His Kingdom but He also shows us the need for to take seriously our ontological relationship with Him.
The Last Judgment
"Blessed is the man who is busy sharing his boat to Paradise" St. Ephraim the Syrian Hymns on Paradise
"Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
The Lord who is merciful and who bestows on us such rich and beautiful things inwardly and outwardly expects us to also be merciful. He has united himself with what He calls the least of My little ones and calls us to show our love for Him through them. We are therefore measured and judged not so much by what we have done wrong, as we all worry sometimes out of pride; but we are measured by what we have withheld from our brothers and sisters.
The Final Judgment proves that our lives are meaningful-what we do or don't do, what we say or don't say, even what we think because this precedes our hearts disposition and our actions.
Judgment reveals what God is looking for in us. If we have cultivated divine life in this world we will find eternal life with Him in the world beyond the grave.
Judgment indicates the true end and goal of our life on the other side of physical death. It teaches us to do what we are doing in consideration of the end. Planning in the abc's that we are heading for and reaching for the z.
Our lives have meaning and our salvation is in our brother!
The Falling away of Adam
St. Siloan composed a beautiful and haunting poem called Adam's Lament to express the great sorrow felt by Adam at his falling away from God. This strikes a different though related chord to the prodigal. Adam's lament according to St. Siloan was not so much for the loss of the beautiful life he had in Paradise but for grieving God and losing touch with His love. Seeing the effect of his sin on his sons Cain and Abel also deepened his sense of grief. All men now would live in suffering and enmity with each other.
This should remind us of the effects that our disobedience and sin has on our family and community and that it is more than just personal but of cosmic proportion. It also indicates the effect of sanctity and prayer even though hidden and the effects on all men and the world. This forms the foundation of monastic and all Christian striving.
St. Silouan speaks with Adam's voice :
My soul wearies for the Lord, and I seek Him in tears.
How should I not seek Him?
When I was with Him my soul was glad and at rest,
And the enemy could not come nigh me.
But now the spirit of evil has gained power over me,
Harassing and oppressing my soul,
So that I weary for the Lord even unto death,
And my spirit strains to God, and there is nought on earth can make me glad, Nor can my soul take comfort in anything,
But longs once more to see the Lord
That her hunger may be appeased.
I cannot forget Him for a single moment,
And my soul languishes after Him,
And from the multitude of my affliction
I lift up my voice and cry:
Have mercy upon me O God. Have mercy on Thy fallen creature.
p. 448-9 St. Siloan the Athonite
O brother and sister prodigals let us make our way back to a better paradise than even Adam had before the Fall, the one won for us by our Lord who restored Adam. Perhaps Adam's Lament will touch us and turn our depression into a passion for return, remind us of a love that is greater than any attachments and desires for things of this world. We need our hearts warmed towards God because they have become cold.
St. Siloan helps to make real the relationship between Adam's choices and the suffering of all men. It expresses the most passionate feelings for God and also exposes the link between Adam's sin and our own.
All these seeds cover the ground of our hearts as we enter Great Lent and begin the joy-making sorrow- the work of repentance.
God give us all energy for this great work!
The Rite of Forgiveness
Unless you forgive your debtors, God will not forgive you your debts. As Archbp Andrew of New Divievo proclaims, now is the time to take the feelings, ideas and thoughts of forgiveness and act on them. We stand here before each other in Church, before God. And we know we have sinned, in thought word or deed towards each other and secretly. We have fallen short of the life of a Christian and have polluted the body of our unity in Christ. Some have judged; some committed sexual sins, dirtied their hearts with thoughts or images; some have hoarded, avaricely acquired things, borrowed without returning, stolen items, time or affections. We have sinned in our thoughts extensively, have desired things more than God; have stood by while a fellow human being has suffered and done nothing to help. We have done all these sins and more. Let us not excuse ourselves, nor defend our actions but forgive and seek forgiveness and the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me be first as your servant, a servant of the servants of God and ask you from my heart Forgive me brothers and sisters for in leading you I have not followed the advice of the Fahters and Gospel. My sisn are countless and I have failed you in so many ways. And form my heart I forgive all for any way that you sinned against me. And may our Lord forgive us all and give us grace during our contest and journey.