#93 How to Prepare for Pascha
Great Lent is the time we prepare for Pascha, and the first weeks of the Triodion Period prepare us for Lent. These weeks help us understand how we should prepare for Pascha: that our main goal is not to individually "become better," but to to re-establish our relationships with God and neighbor.
1) How should we act differently during Great Lent?
2) How can we apply these Gospel readings to our lives?
3) What are different ways we can fast during Lent?
Hey everybody, this is Steve and Great Lent is almost here. Every year, the Church gives us an incredible opportunity to refocus our lives on Christ through fasting, more prayer, more alms giving, more services in the Church, as we prepare to celebrate the Lord's glorious Resurrection on Easter, Pascha. But the Church knows that we can't just jump into Lent headfirst. So the Church leads us into the intensity on Lent with three extra weeks of preparation. That's right, we prepare to prepare.
These weeks leading up to the Resurrection, including those three weeks leading up to the beginning of Great Lent itself, are called the "Triodion", which comes from the name of the book of hymns we use in Church during those weeks. It all starts with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which we celebrated a few Sundays ago. The following Sunday, we read the parable of the Prodigal Son. And the Sunday after that, we read about Christ the Almighty separating the sheep from the goats on the Sunday of Judgement. And finally, on Forgiveness Sunday, on the day before Great Lent starts, before we even start fasting, we begin our journey to the Resurrection by asking for forgiveness of each other during forgiveness Vespers.
So that's the Triodion in a nutshell, but we should take a closer look at the kind of preparation we need to more fully enter into Lent and what those first four Sundays can teach us. On the first three Sundays of the Triodion period, the Gospel readings present us with opposing pairs, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son and his Older Brother, the Sheep and the Goats and how those pairs relate to each other and to God. Let's consider the first two readings in particular.
Both the Publican and the Prodigal strayed from God, being driven not by love of others, but by greed, desire, and selfishness. The Publican, stealing money as a tax collector, and the Prodigal Son, wasting his inheritance eating, drinking and being enslaved by his broken passions. Yet despite their sins, both the Publican and the Prodigal Son approached God the Father with repentance in their humility, recognizing their sins and trusting fully in the mercy of God. Both the Publican and the Prodigal lost their way, but found themselves again with repentance.
And the contrast is really interesting because, at least on the surface, both the Pharisee and the Older Brother never left the house of God. Unlike the Publican and the Prodigal, these two were not tempted by a worldly life, and at least in their minds, did everything that God asked of them. The problem is that their view of a relationship with God excluded a relationship with others. They were so concerned with their own righteousness that they didn't see their neighbors or their brothers as worthy of forgiveness or mercy. And because of their coldness and inability to love their brother, they broke their relationship with their Father. Like the Older Brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, they stubbornly remained outside the feast in self imposed exile. In these two Sundays of preparation, we see the two basic temptations that we can fall into.
On the one extreme, to forget God and neighbor by giving into our own passions and lusts. And on the other extreme, to shut out God and neighbor by giving into our pride and arrogance. And each of these readings gives us an example of humility and repentance to imitate when we realize that we've also fallen into these temptations in our hearts. But our sins don't simply have consequences within us, they affect our relationships as well. So the reading on the third Sunday of the Triodion gives us ways to heal our distorted relationships with God and neighbor.
Jesus separates the sheep for the goats and tells the sheep that they've fed Him when He was hungry or that they gave Him drink when He was thirsty. And when the sheep on the right hand reply, "Lord, when did we see You?", He says to them "As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." By caring for our neighbor, especially those who suffer, selflessly, without any thought of ourselves, we overcome the temptation that the Publican and the Prodigal fell into, the temptation of worldliness and selfishness. And we overcome the temptation of the Pharisee and the Older Brother, the temptation of arrogantly shutting others out by valuing them and showing mercy on them.
In doing so, those on the right, the sheep, not only have the right relationship with their neighbor, but with God as well. Because Christ, by uniting within Himself humanity and divinity, makes it so that showing love on our fellow human beings is showing love for God. We spend three weeks setting up these pairs, Publican and Pharisee, Prodigal Son and Older Brother, Sheep and Goats. Yet in practice, it's hard to say that any of us are uniquely one or the other.
On a day to day basis, we're both. We're sheep and we're goats. We're people struggling to draw closer to God, yet stumbling along the way. And that's why, as Lent finally begins with Forgiveness Vespers, our greatest act of preparation is to bow down before God and neighbor, to ask for forgiveness and to receive it, to realize that we can't save ourselves or heal ourselves.
It's to put ourselves back in the proper relationship with others, asking for the prayers of our neighbor and the great mercy and forgiveness of God. Because Great Lent isn't a struggle we go through on our own, it's a struggle, not simply to be better people, but to be people connected with each other and with the Lord. To remember that Salvation is not something we earn, as the Pharisee seemed to think, but something we receive from God despite our unworthiness.
Yet, no matter how low we may fall, no matter how much like the Prodigal Son we may become, God is always there, always ready to lift us out of the darkness, to lift us back into the light and into Life Everlasting. So let's Be the Bee and set aright our relationship with God and neighbor. Be the Bee and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe and share. I'll see you all next week. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon who helped make this episode possible. To support the creation of more Orthodox Christian content, please visit Patreon.com/Y2AM.
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