The Orthodox Church is approaching the Great Lent which will start on March 15th according to the Julian calendar. In order to prepare for the Lenten journey, the Church gives us four pre-lenten weeks to help us understand why we fast and what is so special about Great Lent in the Orthodox Tradition.
The first week of the pre-lenten season starts four weeks before the Great Lent. This year it began on February 21st.
The parable teaches us about true repentance and shows just how important it is to be humble. We see two people. The first one is a Pharisee - a man of religion who knew the Law by heart and followed every single religious rule. Practicing religion alone did not get him closer to God. Instead, he turned into a boastful person who thinks he is better than everybody else.
The second man was a Publican - a tax collector who didn’t have much to do with religion at all. He came into the temple to cry to the Lord and beg Him for mercy. He saw his own sins and was humble enough to admit them and repent.
This is what Christ said about the Publican:
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
On Sunday of the second week of pre-lenten season (February 28th), we read another parable from St Luke’s Gospel (Luke 15:11-32).
This time it is the parable of the Prodigal Son. It teaches us about God’s unconditional love and mercy for us and invites us to take the first step of repentance towards Him.
We as Christians are called to “come to ourselves” as did the prodigal son. We need to see ourselves as being “in a far country” far from the Father’s house, and to truly want to return Home - to God. We are made sure that if we see our separation from God as unbearable and choose to come to Him and repent - the Father will receive us with joy, saying:
“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:23-24)
The third pre-lenten preparation week is called the Meatfare week because the Sunday of this week (March 7th) is the last day that we will consume meat until Pascha.
This week we read the parable of The Last Judgement from St Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46). It teaches us about the importance of serving Christ through serving people.
Jesus tells us that it is important to seek God and repent, but we also know that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20). We must try and see the image of Christ in every person (especially in those who are often ignored and even hated) for we are all equally His children.
Christ reveals that our salvation and judgment depend on how we put our faith into action. Do we love our neighbour? Are we there to help them for their sake as well as for the sake of God?
Those who try their best to help the people around them first will hear Christ’s joyful words when He comes in His glory:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34-35)
The very last pre-lenten week is called the Cheesefare week (again, this is because this is the last week before Lent that we will be eating dairy products) and the Sunday of this week is known as the Forgiveness Sunday (March 14th).
This week we remember Adam’s exile from paradise. This is where it all began. This is when we lost our Home because of our sin. So each and every one of us is in fact Adam - God’s son who lost everything because of his pride, his mistrust and his lack of repentance.
We also read the Gospel of St Matthew to hear Christ teaching about forgiveness:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
This is tied closely with the teaching of the third and the first week - we must help our neighbour and forgive them, whoever they are and whatever they do. We are all Adams, we are all sinful. If we only see sin in others then we are no better than the Pharisee from the parable we have read on week 1.
Jesus also teaches us about fasting, saying:
“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)
This way, after going through those four weeks of learning Christ’s teachings and trying to change our actions and behaviours accordingly, we can feel more prepared to embark on the difficult but rewarding journey to come - the Great Lent.
The sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent will be happy to serve you with prayer during this pre-lenten season. Please click on the link to fill out a short form to send us your prayer request.
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