It set off the alarm. And with that, I about jumped out of my skin! Actually, I set off the alarm by accident and the next thing I know I hear sirens of police cars headed my way and the phone ringing from the alarm company asking if I was alright. Man, what a ruckus.
But that’s what it is designed to do, shake up the pattern and disrupt the routine. It’s an alarm. Something is wrong. We have to interrupt this programming to bring you a special message. We need to get your attention. If I’m going to change the situation, I have to stop the action and change direction. That’s what you do when you set off the alarm. The whole purpose of an alarm is to disrupt, interrupt, disjoint, disturb, and focus attention. And The Church Year is about to set off its annual alarm for we Orthodox. We are approaching the disruption of Great Lent, and it is no mistake that this alarm, this disruption starts with Forgiveness. I don’t know of anything that arrests a pattern of behavior faster than forgiveness and humility!
Look at our lesson today in Joel (yep, “Joel.” He’s one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament) 2:12-26:
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17, please read the rest. You’ll really love it)
This Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday and we will step into Great Lent on our annual spiritual labor toward Pascha. So, how do we do Lent well? We do Lent well by not trying to do it on our own. We do Lent well by paying attention to the wisdom the Church gives us in all the tools provided to prepare us for this journey. And one of the main tools is the wake-up call of Fasting! Fasting is tied closely to repentance because the heart of repentance is finally waking up to the wrong way of thinking in our lives which produces wrong actions, choices, and behaviors. And what makes them “wrong” isn’t some violation of a rule as much as it is a revelation of a lack of love for God and too focused a love on me. So, what’s the remedy for unhealthy self-focus? Deprive the stomach of every little thing it wants! Learn to discipline my desires and channel the power of desire towards a healthy spiritual life. The path to doing this is the gift of fasting and a purposeful Lent.
All too often it’s easy to miss the warnings in my life because my life, my soul, and my mind are flooded with my own “voice.” My selfish hungers and passions drown out that “still, small voice” that is screaming an alarm at me that I am going down the wrong path. I am only going to wake up to those loving warnings if I stop the routine of spiritual deafness and listen to the wisdom that calls me to another path.
On this Cheesefare Wednesday we recall the finding of the relics of the holy martyrs of Eugenios when Thomas was Patriarch of Constantino0ple in 607 AD. Finding the relics of these saints reminds us that, just as the saints of old had held on to their faithfulness even in the face of certain death, we are also called to heed the alarm of Great Lent to renew our commitment to faithfulness no matter what life throws at us or how difficult it is to stay true to the Faith in an increasingly unfaithful culture.
Today, are you planning right now how you and your family will keep a spiritually profitable Great Lent? Have you gone through the frig and the pantry to make sure “Clean Monday” is really clean? Don’t let this beautiful alarm of Great Lent be ignored because you’ve heard it so often before. Step up to a more purposeful Orthodox life by hearing the call in your soul from your Church to approach with love and confidence the gateway of Great Lent on Forgiveness Sunday!
P.S. Your Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since they possessed Your strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.