Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Ash Wednesday

Today is the start of Lent. I first learned about Lent in Grade 11 Chemistry lab. A Catholic student at my lab table explained it to me. Having been raised low-church Protestant in a tradition where Catholicism was still suspect, I hadn't been taught about Lent and the practices associated with the season.

One of the books I've found most profound for exploring the meaning of Lent is Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann. (It can be ordered via or directly from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Here's a pdf of their catalogue; Great Lent is on p. 29.) Although, sadly, the Orthodox and Catholics/Protestants use different calendars so that Lent and Easter rarely coincide in East and West, the Orthodox theology and liturgy have many treasures to offer. And Fr. Schmemann eloquently expounds those treasures.

In his chapter "Lent in Our Life," he explains that Lent is more than superficially observing the customs of Lent and Easter:
[A]s long as customs and traditions are not connected again with the total religious world view which produced them, as long as symbols are not taken seriously, the Church will remain disconnected from life and have no power over life....

To take Lent seriously means then that we will consider it first of all on the deepest level—as a spiritual challenge which requires a response, a decision, a plan, a continuous effort (p. 92).
He goes on to explore the significance of fasting:
Ultimately, to fast means only one thing: to be hungry—to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about [human beings], that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality hunger for God (p. 97).
On the difficulty of fasting:
[I]f it is true fasting it will lead to temptation, weakness, doubt, and irritation. In other terms, it will be a real fight and probably we shall fail many times. But the very discovery of Christian life as fight and effort is the essential aspect of fasting. A faith which has not overcome doubts and temptation is seldom a real faith. No progress in Christian life is possible, alas, without the bitter experience of failure (p. 98).
Another guide: although praying the rosary is not a Lutheran tradition, I found instructions for making a rosary out of beads and a suggested "scheme" for praying throughout Lent using a rosary at the ELCA's website.

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