Posted by: Fr Chris | February 9, 2020

Moving into Great Lent

Crucifix saved in 1963 to be refurbished

Firemen rescue the crucifix from the burning church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Detroit, 1963 

In the photograph above, the firemen are carrying Christ Crucified. When He was nailed to the Cross, Jesus was nailed with our sins. When He was lifted up, He invited all of us to Him. Embracing the Cross is frightening, especially when it is not just a theory but very real. These firemen saved Jesus Crucified. Jesus Crucified saves us — but only if we want to be saved. To get to Paradise, to get to union with God, to embrace the Holy Trinity through deification/ theosis here on earth, requires going through the Cross to the glory on the other side. There is no way to avoid it.

I have been battling medical issues all my life. I had to move out to the Southwest in 1982 for medical reasons, leaving everyone and everything familiar behind. I was much more comfortable riding the D train in New York City or touring Buffalo on my bicycle than moving to a land of saguaro cactus. In 1985 I was transferred “for a couple years” to Albuquerque. I didn’t know where it was, much less how to spell it. Here I am in 2020, having spent most of my priesthood and over half of my life in New Mexico. This parish was probably ready to close under the weight of a huge debt and only forty people left to worship here. Yet here it is, still going, with over 100 souls, no debt, and good prospects.

There are so many people in my life who I would never, ever have met had I not moved here. There is so much that has happened to me since coming out West – some of it pretty bad, a lot of it pretty good. This move was part of my Cross. I had to accept it or reject it. I accepted it, and good things have resulted.

The Cross can be a person, it can be a disease, it can be a tough situation at school, work or in a neighborhood. We know it when it comes – the challenge always is, will I ask Jesus to strengthen me in approaching it, or will I turn away and do the opposite?

Will I be like Job’s wife: Curse God and die – probably the least helpful line in all of Scripture! Or will I be willing to go into it and struggle through WITH THE HELP OF CHRIST CRUCIFIED? 

Lent is close at hand, the ultimate time for Christians to reflect on who they are in relation to God, the place given to God in our lives, and the faults we have that need to be overcome in order to be  fully redeemed. If I am to die tonight, what are the things that will keep me out of heaven? Now, do I like those things so much that I’d rather forfeit Heaven than give them up? Or am I ready to let go of them?

Christ will carry us. Our guardian angel will carry us. We have to be willing to crucify the sinful actions/ habits that are holding us back from Paradise, or Lent is worthless. All the fasting and abstinence in the world is useless unless it is done so as to free ourselves from sin and become both more charitable to others around us and desire to get closer to God.

Here are some Lenten Reading Sources:

https://ecpubs.com/product-category/spirituality/  A variety of good books: Back to the Garden, a new book by Father Jack Custer on Isaiah, Cappuccino with Christ, Carrying Your Cross with Christ. 

https://ecpubs.com/product/journey-through-the-great-fast/   Journey Through the Great Fast – Lenten daily meditations using the Byzantine Rite readings

https://ecpubs.com/product/face-of-god-by-archbishop-joseph-raya/  One of the great spiritual classics, The Face of God

https://ecpubs.com/product/unfinished-business-ebook-pdf/ Unfinished Business on the Road to Pascha another book of daily meditations. 

https://store.godwithusbooks.org/the-great-fast-lent-readings/the-lenten-spring/  The Lenten Spring, a wonderful book for the forty days. 

https://svspress.com/great-lent/  Great Lent, possibly the best book ever on the season and services of Lent, by the great Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann. This has been a mainstay for me since seminary days.

We have two weeks left until Great Lent. May it be a season not only of penance, but of renewal. We cannot have Easter Sunday, Pascha, without Good Friday. But unlike Jesus, we do not have to go to the Cross alone. He will escort us, guide us, lead us, strengthen us, as we pass through the cross into glory.


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