Lenten Spiritual Renewal

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

Lenten Spiritual Renewal

By Fr Deacon Thomas Chaput

Every year around March, when the weather begins to change, a renewal begins to take place. The world prepares for the spring season, there is a freshness in the air, an anticipation of newness. The spring season is just around the corner. At home we endeavour to tidy our yards, prepare our gardens, put out our lawn furniture, and, we begin clean our homes. We outline what needs to be done, and ensure that we rid ourselves of remnants of a long cold winter remaining inside.

This spring cleaning, or renewal, is a time to undertake all of the responsibilities that we cannot, or may not make time for, on a day-to-day basis over that past year. In the Orthodox Church, Great and Holy Lent is our “cleaning”, our renewal, of our personal, our interior lives…. our soul, our spirituality. As Orthodox Christians we are blessed with a Church calendar which provides faithful with a time to renew, a time to take a deeper, richer and more holistic introspection of the entire world that lay within us…a reflection of who we are, a reflection into our soul.

All faithful, of all ages, may hold tribulations or grief that are very personal, that are situated deep within our souls. These sometimes-difficult personal experiences may, in fact, keep us from the everlasting joy of living in Christ. These things can, and do affect us…physically, emotionally, mentally and most importantly spiritually. In fact, they may render us powerless or incapable of being loving, or acting lovingly as compassionate, caring individuals. We may struggle and make poor decisions; we may find it difficult to love those who are difficult to love or show no mercy towards us. This may lead to profound stress, apprehension or unease or an abandonment of love or an ethic of care…or most importantly…faith. Through it all, we may not see clearly and ignore the glory of God’s Kingdom. We may bear an unimaginable weight, a soulful weight; one that leaves us wanting for a spiritual renewal.

We begin this renewal, when we serve the the first week of Great Lent, and serve that Canons of St. Andrew. The Canons of St. Andrew served on Tuesday of the first week of Great Lent talk about our renewal, the cleansing of our souls, the beginning of a time of introspection. The verses recited in Ode 2 point to this move from external renewal to internal renewal…

“I fell under the burden of passions and corruption of matter, and from then until now I am oppressed by the enemy. Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”

“Having preferred a possessive and pleasure-loving life to spiritual poverty, O Saviour, I am now harnessed with a heavy yoke. Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”

“I have been anxiously concerned only about outward adornment, and have neglected the inner temple made in the image of God. Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”

We fall under a guise of caring for ourselves through a caring for external life we hold, while neglecting the internal life, our spiritual life. We keep busy trying to handle the numerous and demanding aspects of our daily lives…the stressors, the difficulties, the challenges…spending so much energy on our “outward adornment”, that we fully neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within each of us. Each of us is a Church, and we are all Saints in this Church. Yet we neglect our Church and the Divinity that flows within it.

In Luke 17:20-21, Christ affirms, “…Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst…”. If Christ, articulates that the Kingdom of God is within us, that we are all Saints, which hold God’s Church, His Temple, how do we not understand that His Kingdom is within each of us and has been for all time? Could it be we fearful of the neglect we will find? Or shall we ignore it, hoping we can forget about our neglect of our Church, our Temple of our Faith?

We worry about the world around us; our work, our hobbies and our interest, sporting events, concerts and weekend outings on the town. Why do we focus so heavily on our “outer adornment”, as St. Andrew states, worrying about how we are perceived by those around us, including our family, work colleagues and friends? Why do we forget, that it is not our outward reality, or the perceived person that we need to foster, but the deep internal spiritual reality, our truth of our life in Christ?

Unfortunately, our obsession, and I would suggest, our compulsion to these things, to focus on the exterior, the “outer adornment”, does not seem to us as being unusual, wrong or out of the ordinary. Why? For the reason that, all around us, people are doing the exact same thing, and we follow those around us, and forget who we truly need to follow. Are we uncomfortable with that spiritual reality or lack of reality? Could it be we are embarrassed of living a Christ centred life? Do we not understand what it means to be a member of God’s Kingdom?

If we come to terms with these feelings, if we try to answer these questions, we may wish to lay blame, on everyone…but ourselves. We may place blame on world around us…work, family obligations, friends, we may lash out at others for our problems. What is happening, is that we forget, or may never consider, that maybe, just maybe, the problem lay within us. Deep within our souls…deep within who we are. We often hear people use the the term,”….well I am only human…”, when things such as this happen. We forget that our humanity was given to us by God, through His love, and is a Divine humanity, a Divine love.

Great Lent is the time to for each of us to focus, and to remember that there is more work to be done inside each of us, as opposed to the work outside of us. More renewal of the “inner temple” as St. Andrew states. Would it be correct to suggest, that without an internal focus, without a Divine humanity and a Divine love, or a spiritual focus during Great Lent, anything we engage in externally may be meaningless, may be “nothing”. As written in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “…If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing…”.

Without the personal and public spiritual renewal of Great Lent, we cannot truly love, we have nothing…not ourselves or those around us or in our world. If we cannot love ourselves and others, how can we love God? How do we do this? How do we engage in our preparation for Pascha? How can we cleanse ourselves, so that we may Divinely love, and may live in God’s Divine humanity? We need to take time to stop what we are doing, and simply take time to be still…be silent. We need to listen to our souls, our sprit, and we will find something miraculous…we will find God speaking to us, intimately, quietly, directly.

As individuals, as family, we will take time to clean our home, organize our lives…and we as Orthodox Christians need to take time for Great Lent, to make it intentional, a time to reflect, internally, spiritually, so that we might heal our weaknesses, the afflictions within our soul…so that we may silently listen to God…to truly hear Him…not just listen…but to hear His words and His offer of Faith and Love.

I offer to you, that we should, as this year we have all encountered challenges personally, professionally, and as a global community in the form of COVID, make this Great Lent a spiritual rebirth, a new baptism. I offer to you, to seek the everlasting Kingdom of God and Divine love within ourselves.