Thursday, February 28, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: Meditations for Great Lent

"What are you giving up for Lent?" It never fails. I hear that question at least half a dozen times in the secular office where I work.  I'm not sure if the people at my work ask because they see me as some kind of sideshow act at a carnival or if they have a hunger to fast. That's an ironic expression when you think about it. However, I would be unfair if I didn't point out that among my circle of friends and Christian acquaintances, that question is on their lips too. As for my Catholic and Christian friends, maybe they ask because they are using other people's fasting as a measuring stick to see how they stack up compared to others. No matter the reason for asking, I'm not a big fan of the question.

For the past few years I have felt that the Orthodox Lent is much better than Catholic Lent. Maybe it is just Catholics in America, but with the minimal amount we American Catholics are required/asked to give up (no meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), it seems paltry. Reading this book, Meditations for Great Lent, only reinforced my belief. Using the Triodion (the service book Orthodox use during Great Lent), the author (Vassilios Papavassiliou) walks his readers through the season of Great Lent by explaining the significance that the Gospel reading and/or hymn for each Sunday has in preparation for the great feast of Easter.

While reading through this book, I was amazed at how well the Orthodox Church calendar is laid out. Each Sunday in Great Lent builds upon the last Sunday. For example, in the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, one learns about genuine humility. The following Sunday, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, we move from humility to repentance. The Sunday of the Last Judgment then makes us reflect on how we are living our life in relation to our neighbor. The greatest message I gained from this book though was on fasting. "There is more to Lent than fasting, and more to fasting than food." Fasting is a tool used during Lent, but we are called to fast from sin, not just food.

If you are Orthodox and want to understand Great Lent better, then this book is for you. If you are Catholic or a Protestant denomination and want to see how the Orthodox celebrate Lent or see a richer version of Lent, this book is for you. It is a short book with short chapters, but each one is full of wisdom. Therefore, I give this book 5 out 5 stars. However, I would like to add that no book, not even this one, can serve as a substitute for attending the services associated with Lent. So pick up this book and let it serve as your guide for this Lenten season of "bright sadness," which prepares us for the greatest feast of the year, Easter!