Reflections on the challenges and rewards of the Lenten weeks

The trials and joys of the Lenten weeks

The trials and joys of the Lenten weeks

We are making our way through the Great Lent. As the Holy Fathers wrote, we tithe to our Lord by giving Him our time and thoughts. Like no other period of the year, the Lenten weeks stand out for their fullness, intensity and depth of religious feeling. They are our journey back to God and ourselves. What matters is not how many miles we have travelled but the days, hours and minutes we spent at the church. For lent is not a journey in space but an exercise in introspection, the adventure of self-discovery. On this journey, prayer fills our hearts and minds like an abundant stream that cleanses us from all things impure.

It is not an easy journey. Standing through the church services for six or seven hours is physically enduring. The flesh rebels at the long hours of standing. Our backs and limbs ache. We are thirsty and want to sleep. But it is even harder to stay alert and pay attention to the soft reading of the scripture and the God-inspired psalms of King David. We cannot appreciate the untold beauty and might of the Lenten service immediately. It takes time.

But there is also something else: a sense of unfathomable joy, a mysterious feeling of lightness and fulfilment of the spirit arriving softly and quietly. The Lord is the spirit, a whistling of a gentle air. (3 Kings 19: 12). He sheds His Spirit in abundance on all His faithful who make an effort and endure. We may not have it all the time, and we may have to wait until the eleventh hour before it descends on us. But the Holy Spirit will be with those who come to church, pay attention to the readings and the hymns, sing praise and raise prayers to the Lord, and glorify His saints and angels invisibly present in their midst.

The Great Lent is an exceptional period in the life of our Convent. At this time, our sisters take tonsure to the Ryasophore and mantle. For the sisters, tonsure is a blessing from the Lord. Anyone who has attended the sacrament of tonsure will agree that these moments are unforgettable. We die for our old lives and are born again with a new name to a new life. From now on, the life of each monastic sister belongs to God alone; she surrenders voluntarily to the embrace of our Lord.

By tradition, newly tonsured sisters spend several days and nights at the church. Who could ever know what happens in the heart of a new monastic during those days? It is a secret known to her and the Lord. One thing is certain: tonsure changes us from within and transforms us to the core.

On one of his visits to Zhirovichi Monastery in Belarus, Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh had this to say on monastics and monasticism: "As Bishop Theophan the Recluse wrote in one of his works, only two things exist for monastics - Christ and their immortal soul. Monastics have come to know God and have loved Him so much that all other things in this world are unimportant. Christ stands above all else in life. But that does not make a monastic cold or indifferent to God's creations, especially other human beings. Inspired by these monastics, we cast aside the things of this world for the sake of our Lord. We will come back to earth with Him alone, projecting His infinite and perfect love on all His creatures. But this way of love is long and trying."

These Lenten weeks are also trying times for us. We must be strong enough to endure our journey of self-denial and self-limitation. Yet those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalms 126: 5). Our hearts are forever on fire. More than two millennia ago, the Holy Myrrh-bearing women arrived by day at Jesus' tomb and heard from an angel the good news: "Christ is risen!" These words still resound in our hearts, and we respond with the same joy, "Truly He has risen."

Nun Olga (Velikaya)

April 19, 2022
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