A call to change
‘They’ll never change!’
Christ would disagree.
The Church, with the commencement of the Triodion, the service book used throughout the preparation for and during Great Lent and Holy Week, invites us all on a journey of spiritual renewal, of reconciliation with God and neighbour, of sacrificial love and philanthropy.
‘Be Holy for I am Holy,’ (1 Pet 1:16) as is reminded by the Apostle Peter. Holy Lent is the Church’s invitation to this calling.
What makes a young Christian any different to their classmates, to their colleagues, to their fellows? It is a question we should ask ourselves frequently. How we as young Orthodox Christians live, treat or speak of others, live out our daily witness to Christ. Are we really any different to our fellow humans and if we are, how so? Many would answer: a Christian is more charitable, more spiritual or more ethical?
Though these are undoubtedly consequences of one’s leading a Christian life, they are not what define a Christian nor are they criteria for being a Christian. Perhaps the only word, or rather way of life that could possibly answer this question is that of repentance. For this reason the Lenten fast is approaching. As Christians, especially at this time of the ecclesiastical year, we strive endlessly, to – having fallen into the same traps as any other human – renew our mind and to transform our entire being in our calling to resemble and to reflect God’s holiness, His kenotic love, witnessed par excellence in His crucifixion and death. Our partaking in the Church’s sacramental liturgical life, our struggle against our egocentric tendencies, our sharing of God’s philanthropic love with those less off and in need of care are ways in which the Church offers us the ideal context in which the human being can be transformed and renewed (Eph 4:22-24) in Christ. This calling however requires a living relationship with God, a synergy. Only through His grace are we even able to begin this journey towards salvation (Eph 2:8-9) and transfiguration.
Our lives as young people offer so many opportunities yet can simultaneously be hectic and stressful, whether we are still at school, trying to complete our education in order to secure a career, we may be unsure of our future paths or troubled by the fallenness and self-centredness and disunity of humanity based often on racism and lack of acceptance. During this truly blessed stage of life; a stage of challenge, of questions, of decisions and of personal, and communal growth, the role of the Church is not one telling us what not to do but rather what to do: calling us to a state of wholeness, of life centred on offering to God and fellow, a balanced life centred on the joyous reality of the Lord’s Resurrection and defeat of death and evil.
The 1st of March marks the beginning of the Lenten fast leading to Pascha, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. Preceding each feast, the Church prepares us, inviting us through a period of fasting, of increased prayer and philanthropy, of sacrifice and of abstinence in order to live out each feast in all its glory and significance. This preparatory period allows the Christian to attain the necessary conditions of humility, of contrition and of nepsis ( watchfulness or inner vigilance) in order to receive the eternal joy and blessings of God, the source of purification and illumination.
A significant element of each fasting period is that of abstinence. On a dietary level the Church calls us to abstain from certain foods ( meat, fish and dairy products ) to decrease our portions and to live simply in order to concentrate on prayer, the services and Scriptures, our spiritual growth and health, to assess and improve our relationship with God. Each fast, as ‘the beginning and foundation of every spiritual activity’ (St Symeon New Theologian) simultaneously calls us to abstain from any obstacles in opposition to divine contemplation, to dedication and to joyful sacrifice.
What was once perhaps a sign of virtue, of respect and self control, abstinence is seen in today’s society as a weakness, a drawback, as a lack of development and totally abnormal. In fact, it is seen as impossible. The Church however, with Her timeless wisdom and understanding of the human condition, still insists abstinence is absolutely essential for a healthy, balanced life. For everyone. Are all instincts natural or necessarily beneficial to act upon? Society might say most are. Human experience and knowledge ( from the field of nutrition to psychology) is mostly likely to tell us probably not… and the Church realistically yet truthfully says such a stance is utterly catastrophic for our psychosomatic existence.
This is a somewhat foreign concept for our generation, used to being told everything we instinctually want is acceptable and should be acted upon. Admittedly if we did, our world would be in even further chaos. We are free beings, but this freedom, as a gift from God, is a calling to live sacrificially, to live for the other, to offer our resources for the greater good, to share what we have for a fair and just world. The gift of freedom, for the Christian, is inseparable from the greatest virtue of love (1 Cor 13:13) as love would be impossible without our freedom to do so by choice. Fundamentally the Church, as Christ’s body, calls us to the law of love, to a state of peace and joy, which is not found through continuous personal gain and pleasure. Everything has its suitable place, time and context. No natural act or feeling is in and of itself sinful however without abstinence or a healthy understanding of their purpose and end our instincts and acts become passions, solely for physical or egocentric pleasure, rather than communion. A lack of balance and abstinence truly leads to cosmic problems. The ecological crisis: due to our inability to treat our world with care, to restrict our overuse of resources and pollution. The erosion of family values, the exploitation of the human person, the unjust distribution of wealth on local and global levels. All these are surely consequences of our fallen mentality. We cannot continue to live simply in order to gain for ourselves. His All Holiness, our Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople dedicated this year to youth; to the young generation. To us – who are called to be a united witness of Christ in each of our contexts. More food, money, satisfaction and self gain will not fulfil us, nor can it offer a basis for personal relationships or family life. This period of Great Lent highlights that a balanced and transfigured life, the continual willingness to change, in Christ, can.
Coordinator of Youth
Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain