The Church has a strong program during this fast put by the Fathers through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which became to the soul a source of survival and spiritual filling, and to the Church a source of communal repentance and deep fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ in His fast…For Christ fasted for us and with us-and certainly He is a partner with each fasting soul.
The monks used to take this opportunity of the holy fast to leave their monasteries to the wilderness in solitude and in the fullness of the company of the Lord Jesus and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit. At the end of Lent they returned to their monasteries (as was recorded for us in the story of St. Mary the Egyptian and her meeting with St. Zosima the priest).
In addition, the Church considered the Great Lent a dedication program for the teaching of catechumens who were admitted to the faith, and who at Easter were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity-that is they were buried and resurrected with Christ. The procession which the Church conducts, these days for the newly baptized baby was in the past the procession of Resurrection which the catechumens experienced at their baptism and resurrection in the Lord at Easter.
These days the Church as a body practices absolute abstention, daily liturgies, the life of repentance and contrition before God. We can find through meditation on the Sunday readings a strong spiritual program for every soul, which may be titled, “The Journey to the Bosom of the Father.”
The journey starts in a frank and clear invitation in the gospel of the preparation Sunday for the entry into the closet for a dialogue with the Father.
1. Preparation Sunday (Matt. 6:1-8)
“When you pray enter into your closet,…shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret….” Also if you give alms or fast that also should be to the Father in secret….
The Point of Departure of the Journey
The Church declares to us that the closet is the point of departure of the journey of Lent. If it does not start at the closet then the journey of our fast has deviated from its true course. The fact that the Church starts the fast by directing us to the closet means that the fast is not only related to the flesh but it is related more to the spirit and to Kingdom of God. The week of preparation is the week of the closet.
Close Your Door
The journey starts after closing the door-the door that looks at the world. Then there opens before us another door that faces heaven, “Our father who art in heaven”, “I looked, and, behold a door was opened in heaven.” (Rev 4:1) “Fasting is not a fetter or a prison to the senses but a soaring without hindrance towards contemplation of God.”
Pray to your Father
The Church has set a standard to the level of faith of the catechumens before they are allowed to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. The standard is the church continues teaching the catechumens about the Lord’s prayer, starts with “Our Father….”, and at the moment they perceive and comprehend the paternity of God to them, they are entitled to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.
Your Father Who Sees in Secret
This is the secret of the prayer of the closet which the Church perceived so allotted to it the deepest of prayers like the prayer of the five wise virgins awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom, and the prayer of the fallen won feet of the Lord Jesus (Prayer of the closet of “Matins”). Where in the closet we discover our sins…and we hold the feet of the Lord to free our feet the prodigal road, and we taste the love of God, and learn contrition, and thus the goal of the journey of our fast becomes the withdrawal of the soul into itself (in secret) where the Lord purifies it with His blood and dedicates her a temple for Him and adorns her with His talents so that she may participate with the wise virgins in the meeting of the Bridegroom.
Since the journey is with the soul, it should be done in secret. The relationship between the human soul and Christ, is an invisible relationship that begins in the chamber. So fasting is accompanied by a reduction in talking and visits and by concentrating on spiritual readings and attending the Divine Liturgy.
Brother, our Heavenly Father is calling you to a holy participation with Him in secret, through which you may start your fast, your prayers, and your almsgivings. So beware of negligence.
Practice: The practice in the week of preparation is the prayer of the chamber and the worship in secret which will continue with us all through after the period of fasting.
2. Surrender of Life to the Heavenly Father: (Matt. 6:24-34)
The gospel of the first Sunday of Lent calls for the surrender of life to the Father. “Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat…nor yet for the body, what you shall wear….do not worry about tomorrow.” The reason for not worrying is that “your heavenly Father knows that you have of all these things.” (Matt. 6:32).
The practice of this week is a call to a secure life in the care of the Father and the carrying out of what comes in the verse, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” physically, mentally and spiritually.
The Christian commandment is full of risks but its assurance is the care of the Father. The woman who gave the two mites was risking her meal. During the fast, Satan wages his war by convincing us that we are risking the necessities of the body and causes us to worry about our health. Likewise, in charity, there is a risk of wealth.
In this week, we experience the complete surrender to the care of the Father and to His commandment.
3. Why does God forget us if He is our Father? (Matt. 4: 1-10)
The gospel of the Second Sunday deals with the temptation of doubting God’s paternity to us, “If you are the son of God-why does He leave you hungry? Why does God allow the presence of disease, failure and the death of our beloved?”
Practice: It is our duty this week to examine our faith in the love of the Father who gave His Son for us. Our faith should surpass all temptations and emotions. Faith in the Father should be a faith that fortifies us against the temptation of the Adversary, the hardships of this world and the sufferings and desires of the body.
4. Repentance in the Father’s bosom (Luke 15:11-32)
Repentance in Christianity is different from any other repentance; it is the return of the son to his Father and the Father falling on the neck of His son to embrace him and kiss him (Luke 15:20). This is the gospel of the third Sunday.
The Father’s paternity to us is not because of our righteousness, but because of His paternity to his children, especially the sinners.
The Father’s paternity for us challenges all our sins, our failures, our betrayal of His love and our mistreatment of His name.
Practice: Brother, do not permit this week to go by without a true repentance and resorting to the Father’s embrace….Examine this in your chamber and taste the Father’s embrace and His kisses which are reserved only for those who repent. This is the week of repentance in the Father’s bosom, the repentance of the whole Church…the communal repentance.
5. Worship of the Father in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:1-42)
The next step after repentance is worship of the Father Who accepted and loved me and cleansed me from my sins and put me in His bosom. Contrition of the spirit and submission to the Father and the love of frequent prostrations in worship are the expressions of our love for Him who opened His arms for us sinners and kissed us. This is the end of the road of repentance in the Father’s bosom, and this is the sweetest fruit of the chamber and which the Father gives us in secret.
The Church, inspired by the Spirit, stresses in the period of Lent the use of prostrations during private prayers and in the Divine Liturgy (At the Offering of Incense after the readings of the prophets).
The practice of this week is to worship the Father in spirit and truth “for such the Father seeks to worship Him.” (John 4:23)
6. Bethesda and Baptism (John 5:1-18)
The Gospel of the fifth Sunday talks about Bethesda which symbolizes Baptism. We, the crowds of Christians, were beside it sick, lame, blind and paralyzed; suffering every spiritual sickness. The Angel that moves the water symbolizes the Holy Spirit which comes down on the water of Baptism.
This is our share in Christ: those who are baptized have ever in the Father even if they have been sick for 38 years.
The practice of this week is to hope and never to despair—Baptism has given us the grace of sonship and children are never disappointed in their hopes in the love of the Father.
7. Sonship is a Spiritual Enlightenment (John 9:1-41)
The last Sunday in Lent is the Sunday of Baptism, during which we read the gospel of the man born blind.
a. “I was blind and now I see.” This is our everlasting experience as children of the Heavenly Father. We were blind and He opened our sight so we beheld miracles of His laws and we saw what the prophets longed to see, and He gave us understanding of the Scriptures.
b. Baptism means washing (in the pool of Siloam), so we become pure. Repentance is a continuous washing, so we may see clearly. Repentance is a continuation of Baptism and it is the means through which we can see Christ clearly all our life. Lasting repentance cleans our heart, renews the intellect, protects the contrite soul in the obedience of the Father, and through repentance, we can discover all the graces and secrets of the Heavenly Father.
8. The Kingdom of the Beloved Son (Mt. 21:1-17; Mk. 11:1-11; Lk. 19:29-48; Jn. 12:12-19)
This week begins with the entrance of Christ to rule Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and ends by Him ruling from the Cross on Calvary where He draws all to Him—all the children to rule with Him in the Kingdom of His Father.