Fr. T. George, Ireland
Nature is a gift of God to humanity. It is a vast and voluminous book open before us to learn a lot from there. We are often baffled at certain natural phenomena when they are seen happening before our naked eyes.
There are mainly four seasons consisting of three months duration in a year, namely; autumn, winter, spring and summer. Autumn is the season in which trees shed their leaves and remain bare. The woods look externally dead but stay alive internally which is followed by winter in which there occurs cold and snow fall covering the land. Then comes, the spring where trees sprout its leaves afresh and start blooming. And finally is the summer in which Sun shines and trees bear fruits. The generation, the degeneration, and the regeneration of life thus happen in the circle of the time.
In liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church also, there are spiritual seasons similar to the seasons of the Nature. The liturgy of the church is a dramatic enactment by commemorating the life events of Christ on earth whereby we fetch to our lives its benefits. Each rubric of the liturgy is meticulously designed in such a manner as to go in tune with the episodes of the incarnation of Christ and in tandem with the tempo of the Nature where we live. It is surprising that liturgical seasons of the church happen more or less in the same timing as that of the natural seasons. The liturgical calendar begins by the beginning of November when the winter begins.
There is a custom in Northern hemisphere called spring cleaning. It is surprising that the Christian practice of spiritual cleaning process called ‘Lent’ coincides with it. The March 20th is called spring equinox when the duration of both the day and night are equal. It is on this day that spring begins. It is equally astonishing that the feast of Annunciation in the Christian tradition, which falls on 25th of March, comes close to the spring equinox. It is notable that the day of Annunciation also marks the beginning of a new era or a sprouting of a new life. The word ‘lent’ is derived from the old English ‘lencten’ or ‘lengthen’, which literally means ‘lengthening of hours of day light’ or in other words ‘spring’. It shows that the Christian life is correlated with the life cycle of the Nature. When autumn and winter denote the fall of man by sin and his death respectively, spring and summer indicate the sprouting of new life by baptism and glowing in glory by the resurrection of Christ. Summer is when the Sun is prominent and shines in all its glory and the vegetation thrives and yields. We all know that the days of Fast (Great Lent) are always followed by the Day of Feast( Easter) , when the risen Christ or the Sun of righteousness comes with wings of healing in all His glory opening the Age of grace by which the whole creation becomes fruitful. Therefore, Lent is a period of transition from a state of death (winter) to the state of life (summer).
Since early days, Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting. The spirituality involves some sort of sacrifice. Lent, in a way, is one’s wilful and voluntary sacrifice made for the sake of God and for the benefit of the one’s fellow being. During this time of penitence, the faithful are encouraged to do works of charity out of their divine love for the glory of God.
At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time, the church came to recognise that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to the Lord.
The Lenten period is a time for self- examination and repentance. By prayer, fasting and self denial and by reading and mediating on God’s holy words, we become stronger in faith , hope and love and grow to the perfection of God’s holiness and goodness.
In Galatians 5:22-23, we read of the 9 fold-fruit of the Spirit namely love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Self control is one of the virtues necessary for a fruitful Christian witnessing. To acquire the spiritual quality of self control in one’s life, one needs to undergo a kind of taming or self-discipline. The human mind is like an unbridled horse with immense power having no control over for anyone from outside. To control a horse, making a wild into domestic, it has to be tamed by a bridle or a whip. Lent takes the role of a whip or bridle. It is with this in mind that St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that Christian life is like running a rat –race and that everyone who competes in the game goes into a rigorous training where diet regime is a must.
Winning a race requires purpose and discipline. St. Paul uses this illustration to explain that the Christian life takes hard work, self denial and gruelling preparation. As Christians, we are running toward our heavenly reward. The essential disciplines of Prayer, Lent, Fasting, Bible study, and Worship equip us to run with vigour and stamina.
At times, we must even give up something good in order to do what God wants. Each person’s special duties determine the discipline and denial that he/she must accept. Without a goal, discipline is nothing but a punishment. With the goal of pleasing God, our denial seems like nothing compared to the eternal, imperishable reward that will be ours.
Using contemporary terms from sports of running (verse24-25) and boxing (verses26-27), St. Paul shows the proper use of ascetic practices in the life of faith. They are valuable not in themselves, but for the sake of the goal of salvation. As training prepares an athlete, so spiritual discipline prepares a Christian to exercise faith and enter the kingdom.
The Sin of Adam and Eve was disobedience. It was their greed which paved way for their fall. The modern man too is not much different. People are nowadays becoming more or less greedy and materialistic at this age of consumerism. To the core, people have become selfish and self-centred causing much havoc to the very existence of the natural resources.
Gluttony and lust – the excessive desires to satiate the physical needs – are driving forces which make us rather self –centred and selfish which drive us away from God violating the first commandment. During Lenten time, the faithful are asked to abstain themselves from food and sex. Sexual abstinence and fasting from food are important factors in spiritual discipline. We control our passions not because the material world is evil, but because we are corrupt and tend to sin. Sex and food are not unclean, but wilful disobedience, unthankful disposition, and uncontrolled desires are. The church is here to bring the whole back to God. Because the church believes that the earth and everything in it are God’s (Psalm24:1).The regulations during Lenten time help us to be need based rather than greed based and further help creating in us a sense of presence of God with us.
Butterfly is the most beautiful and graceful of the insects. Some poets have called butterflies “winged flowers” and “flying germs”. Butterflies fly from flower to flower drinking the sweet liquid called nectar. At the same time, they make it possible for the flowers to develop into fruits and seeds by carrying pollen from one flower to another. They become very useful things for craftsmen in designing artefacts.
Every butterfly goes through four stages during its life cycle. Egg, Larva (Caterpillar), Chrysalis (Pupa), Adult (Butterfly). It begins life as an egg, and then the larva begins to form. After the caterpillar grows large enough, it breaks out of its egg- shell. The caterpillar is ugly looking and crawls on the surface and spends its life eating and growing. It eats its own egg shell first and then leaves of plants and other kinds of food. When at a certain stage, it finds a place to turn into pupa, its next stage of life. It spins a girdle around its body with the liquid comes out from its spinneret to form a cocoon and remains encased in chrysalis. When it gets dried, a hard shell immediately begins to form over the pupa with a strange shape and bright colours, often shines golden and silvery. The pupa does not eat, and is almost completely inactive. But inside the shell, the greatest changes of the whole process of metamorphosis take place. The structure of the caterpillar changes to those of the butterfly. After a few days time, comes out the beautiful butterfly fluttering with comely and colourful wings. Butterfly does not bite anybody. It travels to great distance flying and it feeds on nectar, a pure food.
Though, caterpillar and butterfly share the safe life, there is a world of difference between the two in its physical features and functional characters. When Caterpillars are often harmful creatures destroying crops worth millions of dollars every year, butterflies act as useful creatures to the world at large.
The Christian life is and must be like the life of a butterfly. The Lenten period is something similar to the stage of pupa where each individual undergoes a spiritual transformation internally. Like the Pupa, we need to avoid food and to withdraw ourselves from worldly affairs and to spend time in a pensive and meditative mood. One has to girdle around oneself with a sheath of prayer. Lent is, in fact, a cocooning with God far from the madding crowd. A sincere observance of lent facilitates a drastic change in our lives which will make us benign like the butterfly. It would provide us with wings of divinity in flying up to far off places to imbibe the heavenly food. It will make us useful human beings enabling us to go about doing good to the world as our Lord Jesus Christ did while on earth.