The Great Lent starts on March 15 in the Belarusian Orthodox Church this year. The sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent will embark on this journey to Easter by reading what the Church Fathers have said about the three pillars of Lent: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
As we know from the Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11), Jesus Christ Himself fasted for 40 days. This is why the Great Lent lasts for six consecutive weeks followed by the Holy Week.
The Great Lent is the time to prepare for the Feast of All Feasts, the Resurrection of Christ - Easter. We need to prepare our hearts to be able to truly feel the joy of Holy Pascha.
As human beings, we have to consume food to survive, but we sometimes forget that our soul needs nourishment too. This is why we give up certain foods (mainly dairy products and meat) and focus more on nourishing our soul.
Here is what the Holy Church Fathers said about fasting:
Saint Basil the Great:
“Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity.”
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity.”
Saint John Chrysostom:
“Fasting is wonderful, because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.”
In the pre-lenten season we read those words from the Gospel:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
These words make it clear that almsgiving is one of the most important parts of christian life in general, especially during Great Lent. We must make an effort to help those around us.
Almsgiving doesn’t necessarily mean giving away money or belongings. Sometimes, we can help by being there for someone or talking to those who feel isolated and alone. There are always ways to help.
Here’s what the Church Fathers think about almsgiving:
Saint Basil the Great:
"If you help a poor person in the name of the Lord, you are making a gift and at the same time granting a loan. You are making a gift because you have no expectation of being reimbursed by that poor person. You are granting a loan because the Lord will settle the account.”
Saint John Crysostom:
“Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing.”
Saint Maximos the Confessor:
“He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men's bodily needs.”
If you do wish to offer a financial donation to the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth, thereby helping their ministries to serve the poor, hungry, and isolated, you can do so by clicking on this link. We thank you for your financial support and pray you grow spiritually this Great Lent.
By praying, we talk to God and grow in love and other virtues. Prayer helps us become more like God - more loving, more wise, more kind. This is why it is so important to pray during Lent.
Only in prayer can we really feel connected with God, thank Him, repent and tell him about our needs, fears or troubles.
The Bible says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
During Lent we must also learn to stop seeing prayer as an obligation that we have to fulfill. We should want to pray, to sacrifice some time each day to have that much needed connection with God.
The Church Fathers have always seen prayer as the most important component of Lent:
Saint Theophan the Recluse:
“What then, is prayer? Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to Him and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical. Prayers are spiritual because they are originally born in the (human) spirit and ripen there by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Saint John Crysostom:
“Make sure that you do not limit your prayer merely to a particular part of the day. Turn to prayer at anytime.”
Saint John of Kronstadt:
“Remember that while you pray, God expects from you a positive answer to His question: “Do you believe that I can fulfill your prayer?” You must be able to answer from the bottom of your heart: “Yes, I believe, O God,” and then you will be answered according to your faith.”
The sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent believe that prayer can make a difference. If you or your loved ones need prayer support, you can reach out and send us your prayer request by clicking the link below. The Sisters will pray for you during the whole Lenten season.
On February 15th, the Orthodox will celebrate one of the most joyful feasts of the entire liturgical year - the Meeting (Presentation) of our Lord. This ancient celebration gives a lot of hope and light and inspires us to keep going.