God Is With Us

kneelingMarch 13, 2015
Sunday of Forgiveness
Beginning of Great Lent

Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, the place where Thy glory dwelleth. (Psalm 26:8)

Fr. Michael Pomazansky of blessed memory has a wonderful phrase to describe the rich banquet of divine services offered by the Church for the salvation of our souls: He calls this banquet liturgical maximalism. And now as the Orthodox Church begins her 40 days of the Great Fast toward Holy Week and the Bright & Holy Pascha of Our Lord’s Resurrection, the sheer number of services multiplies exponentially. In just the two Orthodox parishes local to us, there is a service offered almost every day in this first week of Lent. What should we make of all this church-going in a month usually dedicated to madness and green beer? Doesn’t all this abstaining and prostrating lead to a repression of life and joy?

One sermon we heard on this Sunday of Forgiveness told of the need not to misunderstand the Lenten disciplines, but that the disciplines themselves of fasting and prayer are there to help us restore balance, a balance that has been lost in a life overly dedicated to food and worldly pleasure.The simple fact that we cannot eat whatever we want, whenever we want is meant to snap us back into focus on where our true life is to be found. And the hope is that as we starve the body, we can finally have room and opportunity to feed the soul.

large_thirty_three_ver10Leading up to Lent, one movie on which my soul has feasted heartily reminded me of the brotherhood and community that can grow out of a momentary crisis when unlikely heroes rise to the occasion. The 33 is a succinct picture behind the purpose of Great Lent. A strong, Christian community of miners became trapped thousands of feet underground in a collapsed mine in Chile. The watching world almost gave up hope of their survival as it had for countless others struck by the same calamity in the past. But a few men and women chose this time to hope beyond hope that the three days of food in the underground refuge would be enough to sustain the victims through to their rescue.

When the drill finally reached them several weeks later, friends and family were shocked by what they found: Instead of carcasses and cannibalism, a brotherhood had formed around one man who rationed wisely and lead his men through the darkest temptations of anarchy and every-man-for-himself. And when this man was offered fame and credit for his heroism, he rightly humbled down, giving all glory to God and to the brotherhood that faithfully supported him as much as he supported and lead them. As the last man was taken out of the pit, the camera panned over a message left behind that told the real secret of their success: Inscribed on the wall of their 40+ day entombment read the words “God was with us.”

These are providentially the words we shall hear this week at the Compline services combined with the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete:

God is with us. Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us.

And when we hear such words, we should take on the spirit not of triumphant conquerors but of grateful miners, snatched from the bowls of the earth and kept alive by their faith and belief in a world beyond the grave. And let us not forget the pit from which each one of us has been dug as we approach the Great Fast and await power from on high to rescue us in our great distress.

Please forgive and pray for me a sinner, and may our good God have mercy on us and forgive us all. Veliki Post!  Kali Tessarakosti!  Blessed Lenten journey to you all!

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