Every year it seems Great Lent creeps up on me with such speed I find it’s Clean Monday before I’ve even realized it was Prodigal Son Sunday.
The Church, in her wisdom, gives us the Triodion season (three weeks before the beginning of Great Lent) in order to prepare us for the Fast which is itself a preparation for the Feast of Feasts, Pascha. And yet, too many Triodion seasons pass me by before I’ve had the time to look ahead to Great Lent. This year, I want it to be different; I want to be prepared to prepare.
I haven’t fully worked out just how I’m going to fully prepare myself to become prepared for Pascha, but I’m at least forcing myself to think about it. Perhaps that’s a step in the right direction: keeping before me the knowledge of the impending beginning of Great Lent. I guess it’s kind of like the Orthodox practice of memory of death. The idea being that so long as we keep before us the knowledge – the memory – that we will one day, any day, die and face the Just Judge, this memory enables us to live well today.
The Triodion season isn’t just an opportunity to stuff our faces with meat and cheese; it is an opportunity to start narrowing our focus, start quieting our mind. It is an opportunity to plan how we will spend the first week of Great Lent.
Will we abstain from all food and drink until the third day (keep the “Trimero” as we say in Greek)? Will we choose to eat only dry foods (non-cooked meals), and that only after the ninth hour (that is, 3pm)? Will we instead partake of normal fasting meals but make a consorted effort to take the television out of the living room? Will we, on account of poor health or pregnancy, and with a blessing from our spiritual father, eat non-fasting meals but prevent crude, cruel and unnecessary words from passing through our lips? These, I believe, are the thoughts that should be occupying our minds during this predatory period which precedes the Great Fast, the most rigorous preparation period of our liturgical year.
Perhaps it’s because I’m 33 years old this year: the stage of no longer being a “young person” but not yet feeling like a “grown up”. For the first time I’ve notice time is slipping away from me. I’m forgetting things I never did before, feeling like I’m juggling more than I should, and sighing far more often at the speed with which my life is passing me by. Perhaps it’s because of this that I just want one Triodion, one Great Lent, one Pascha in which I feel like I fully participated, fully anticipated and fully experienced the grace of struggle. How many more Paschas might I have? If, God forbid, this were to be my last I would want to have done all that I could to prepare, to arrive and say in earnest, “I have cleansed my senses and purified my heart to the minuscule extent I am able, allow me to behold You, O Christ, shining with the Unapproachable Light of the Resurrection!”
Why wait for Holy Week, the last week of the Fast, to contemplate repentance, to join the sinful woman in her petition, in her “selling all that she had”? Why not start now in the Triodion season? Why not start today?
May God give us a good beginning so that we might find a good end!
Lord, O Lord when the woman, who had fallen into many sins, perceived Your divinity she assumed the role of a myrrh-bearing woman, and lamenting brought ointment to anoint You before Your burial. “Woe is me,” she said “for night is forming a frenzy without restraint.” Very dark and moonless, a passionate love affair with sin. “Accept the fountain of my tears, You who draw out from the clouds the water of the sea, take pity on me and incline to the sighing of my heart, You who bowed the heavens by Your ineffable self-emptying. I shall cover your unstained feet with kisses and wipe them dry again with the locks of my hair. Those feet whose sound at twilight in Paradise of old echoed in Eve’s ears whereupon she hid herself in fear. The countless number of my sins and the depth of Your Judgment, who can fathom? O my life-saving Saviour. Do not despise me Your servant since without measure is your mercy!” -St. Cassiane