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Some thoughts on Great Lent - Διδαξον με τα δικαιωματα σου [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Διδαξον με τα δικαιωματα σου

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Some thoughts on Great Lent [Mar. 16th, 2008|03:20 am]
Διδαξον με τα δικαιωματα σου
On this day last year (according to the Church calendar) I left some words on the subject of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

I had intended to make the below post a week ago, on the eve of Lent, as we were at its doorstep. (Yes, we Eastern Orthodox folks began Lent just this past Monday. Explaining why would take a few more posts.) But I failed to type it up in time. Instead, here we are a seventh of the way through Lent and I'm just getting around to it.

I thought perhaps I should explain why we Orthodox are so obsessed with this whole Lent thing, that is, the forty days preparing for Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection. We take it so seriously. Whereas some choose something to give up (others nothing at all), we follow a prescribed regiment of preparation, abstaining from certain things every year in a remarkably non-arbitrary fashion.

But that's the point. It's not arbitrary. It's not about what I want to give up. It IS about submitting. It IS about obedience. It's about the replacement of my selfish will with the Will of the One who wants me. It is about rejecting that sentiment that got us human beings into trouble in the first place, the constant repetition of that age-old, infernal, insipid, ludicrous, pathetic, droning mantra...

I want, I want, I want.

We rephrase it sometimes. I'm entitled. I deserve it. I earned it. It's my right. I should have this. This should be mine. My life will be better when I have this!

What's the danger, the damage in this attitude? Why is it that we Christians get accused of being killjoys, of being against fun in any form? It is not because joy is something unfamiliar to us. It is because this quest for fulfillment through hedonism is akin to quenching thirst by gulping gallons of ocean water. The danger is in the consequence.

Receiving what is wanted is satisfying, surely. It is at times (perhaps even often!) to be considered godly. (Consider, e.g., "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him." [Mt 7:11].) But when my wants conflict with the wants of another, chaos ensues. When the receipt of my desire results in the jealousy of the one close to me, the damage can be irreparable. When my gain necessitates another's loss, I have failed in my charge to bear one another's burden, to love my neighbor as myself, and to seek first the Kingdom of God.

And so we have this season once again, a reminder, a chance to renew, reclaim our purpose to love one another, regain lost ground, a reminder that we CAN be renewed, no matter how foolishly and destructively pathetic we have been in the past year, a reminder that flesh can be restored to its purpose, to dignity, to hope, to the path to perfection once again.

The Resurrection is upon us, and it is a microcosm of the resurrection we will all experience.


[User Picture]From: mikejj
2008-03-16 12:40 pm (UTC)
My wife is Eastern Catholic, and we got married in her church. We have been attending Mass there, and it has been an interesting experience. A very good experience, mind you, but interesting nonetheless. I should post on it in detail, at some point.
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-17 10:21 am (UTC)
My wife's father grew up in a Uniate community in Syria, so I know the concept well.
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[User Picture]From: aftondays
2008-03-16 01:23 pm (UTC)
Good post.
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[User Picture]From: unblinkable
2008-03-16 03:10 pm (UTC)
For those who give up one thing each year (different or not), isn't their reasoning exactly the same as what you've written? That it isn't about our personal wants and desires? That it's about submitting and sacrificing? To me, I'd think that choosing something personal to sacrifice would have a bigger impact on my own level of submission, than giving up something I was told to give up. Or am I misunderstanding?
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-16 03:44 pm (UTC)
I suppose I must admit my catch-22 in that I *chose* to become Orthodox because I *wanted* to avoid the danger of making it up on my own and risking that my own selfishness and arbitrariness was always rendering me necessarily guilty by association.

You have a valid point. I didn't mean to imply that I was judging the spirituality of anyone else. I merely meant to explain my own.

Anyway, it's probably worth a further study to consider that God didn't put Adam and Eve in the Garden with the charge "choose one fruit not to eat," but was rather specific about which one (and only one) not to eat. Our Fast is an intentional reminder of that event, like a retelling of the story which forces our involvement in it, and which highlights the fact that the Death of Christ is part of that story. It squeezes the whole of the biblical narrative into forty days.

Kinda poetic, eh? :)
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[User Picture]From: badsede
2008-03-17 03:02 am (UTC)
I think the point is that it isn't about what you want to give up, but rather giving up what you want.

That being said, I think that the ideal is a combination of the two. A church-wide regiment serves several purposes. The first is a sense of unity and mutual-reinforcement and even - as much as the word irks me - accountability. Another is that it establishes a minimum fruitful discipline. And another is a catechal purpose. When it is proscribed, it teaches us what kind of mortification/sacrifice/etc. is appropriate. It shows us what the seasons regiments are supposed to mean. However, individual regiments for Lent allow us to hone in our own spiritual development. What the Church proscribes may be, or become, easy for us. They may not be as fruitful as some other sacrifice or discipline. It also requires some introspection, self-examination and discernment. That can be fruitful in and of itself.

The end purpose should be our focus. What we do doesn't matter so much as long as it accomplishes the point: the emptying of ourselves, allowing our fallen selves to be crucified with Christ, so that we can be filled up with God, so that we may be born again to new life, joined to the Resurrection.
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-17 07:17 am (UTC)
What we do doesn't matter so much as long as it accomplishes the point: the emptying of ourselves...

Except that it does, of course. Can I ever accomplish the point in a way I come up with on my own, in violation of the teachings of the Church?
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[User Picture]From: badsede
2008-03-17 01:25 pm (UTC)
Are individual disciplines somehow prohibited in the Eastern Churches? That would be the only way what I talked about would be in violation of the teachings of the CHurch.

But even more than that, in the Western Church we have the concept of a differentiation between dogma, doctrine and discipline. Dogmas are binding and, of course, can grow but can never be changed so as to contradict "past" dogma. These are the teachings of the CHurch. Doctrine is any belief; they might be elevated to dogma, they might be left as pious opinion, they might be condemned as heresy. Disciplines are the rules that govern the life of the Church. They can change from one time or place to another since their purpose is to promote the theology of the Church. For us, the rules of Lent are discipline. While we cannot change them of our own accord, but when there is pastoral or sacramental need, they can be changed - different disciplines require different levels of competency: priest, bishop, pope.

I guess my point in this is that not following the prevailing disciplines does not *automatically* equate violating the teachings of the Church from our perspective.

However, the initial point remains, which was not about not doing the universal practices, but about adding personal practices on top of the universal.
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[User Picture]From: karee
2008-03-17 03:44 am (UTC)
Beautiful, well put.
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-17 07:18 am (UTC)
Thank you. :)
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[User Picture]From: rengal
2008-03-17 08:36 am (UTC)
This is a _great_ post. It echos many of my own thoughts, and stirs in me deeply satisfying (craving? neeeding?) romantic feelings.
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-17 10:20 am (UTC)
We are not alone in understanding each other's hearts and motivations.

I pray hopefully that the commonality means that we are all on the right path, lest we encourage one another in further misguidance.
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[User Picture]From: joffridus
2008-03-17 10:58 pm (UTC)
Following the Western Calendar (at least for the time being), my own Lent is almost over. However, I have for almost 5 months been living off the hospitality of others (some family, some not). Normally I give up meat for Lent -- not as strict as the Eastern fast, but the traditional one in the Roman tradition.

This year, however, being at others' tables for almost every meal, I have decided to eat whatever was placed in front of me.

A far harder discipline for a picky eater than simply giving up meat.
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[User Picture]From: jeffholton
2008-03-17 11:17 pm (UTC)
This year, however, being at others' tables for almost every meal, I have decided to eat whatever was placed in front of me.

Although the strictness varies from individual to individual, and the instructions on the subject vary from priest to priest, there are many in my tradition who would argue that the generosity of hospitality and the response of love are driving and superior motivators, and lead to the attitude you are espousing.
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[User Picture]From: joffridus
2008-03-18 12:04 am (UTC)
It's not been easy, let me tell you. Sweet potatoes, beets, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese...the list goes on and on...

On the other hand, I found that (surprise!) I actually like cottage cheese!
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