For the Youth - What's Up with Lent
Melissa K. Bazos & Anna Nicole Kyritsis
It is just about midnight and you are surrounded by a quiet darkness. You look around, everyone is there; everyone always is on this night. The priest comes out of the sanctuary; he sings, "Come receive the light from the never ending light and Glorify Christ, who is risen from the dead." In his hand, he holds the only light in the church. Flame by flame the church is slowly lit. It goes from total darkness to a warm light. But it is not like most light it is different.
Let's think about it for a minute, after all it is just a flame. It does not give off much heat. By itself, it does not give off too much light. It is not that strong; it can easily be blown out. But just as quickly as it can be blown out, it can grow from a flame to a fire. A fire can give off much heat and light. However, a fire is not easily blown out. At Pascha, we light our candles; many of us take them home with us lit. But when we blow out our candles when we get home are we also blowing out our spiritual candles? What have we done to prepare so that the flame can grow into a burning fire?
We all know what comes of not preparing properly for things. If you do not prepare for a test, you will not do well. But what about spiritual preparation? I'm talking about more than being nice to your brother and going to church on Sunday (although both very good things to do). I am talking about getting ourselves prepared so that our flames can grow into strong fires.
Take for example the parable of the ten virgins. Ten virgins with their oil lamps lit waited for the bridegroom to arrive. Five of them brought extra oil, in case they ran out while they waited, the other five did not. When the five foolish women's lamps began to go out, they had no additional fuel to keep their flame lit. They left to get more oil. While they were gone, the bridegroom came and the women that were prepared went in with Him to the wedding. The unprepared women did not get to go.
We must prepare ourselves for the day when Christ comes. If we do not, we will be like the women without the oil locked out of the feast. Are we lighting our spiritual candle at midnight and then blowing it out when we get home?
As we approach the Lenten season, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection. The first place we should start is with our priest. He can help to point us in the right direction. But here are some things we should begin considering in the mean time:
Prayer - All good things begin with prayer. Think about it this way; when we meet someone we like, we spend time talking with them. The more we talk with them the more we know them and the more we want to know. Prayer is a conversation with God. We should tell him our fears, ask him to guide us and thank him for our blessings. If you do not already have one, order an Orthodox prayer book to help you.
Go to Church - We know some of us may think that church only occurs on Sunday. Wrong! The Orthodox Church offers an entire cycle of worship throughout the year. No time is that more evident than during Lent. We should go to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday but we should also go to the other liturgical services (Vespers, Compline, Salutations & Akathist Hymn, Pre-Sanctified Liturgy). But here is the really important part, we should not just "go" to the services we need to be active participants in the services. Ask your priest where you can get books for the services so that you can participate by reading, chanting and following along.
Repentance/Confession - We know it is hard, but confession is necessary for spiritual growth. Do not look at it as going in with your shopping lists of sins and trying to rattle them off as quickly as possible. Instead look at it as an opportunity to fix your relationship with God through repentance. Repentance is accepting that we have done something wrong and (here's the hard part) committing to try very, very hard not fall into those sins again.
Read the Bible - If you don't have one, get one immediately! Ask your priest for the list of daily bible readings for the church calendar. This will help you in your journey through lent and throughout the year.
Fast - We know what you are all thinking beans, greens and rice how does that make me a better Christian? Fasting is really about discipline. We discipline ourselves in other areas of our life (athletics, academic). We should be disciplining ourselves spiritually in what we do as well as in what we eat.
Give - Take time during lent to give to those in need. You do not need money to do this. Ask yourself how can I give of my time, talents and treasure to give Glory to God?
Through the guidance of our priest and teachers, we pray we can all count ourselves with the wise virgins prepared. But after the Paschal liturgy has been celebrated and the candles have all been blown out, ask yourself this is my spiritual candle still lit?
2002 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
If you still have any questions concerning fasting please direct them to Rev. Father Nicolaos H. Kotsis.