From The Blog

Mission Monthly – June 2005

“Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms, cannot bear fruit, so it is with us. This present age is a storm, and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.”

Mother Theodora

Another winter has passed and we are enjoying the end of a rather splendid spring. Though it has been more cold than usual the beautiful blooms of early spring flowers have brought their fragrant color-burst to the dormant winter landscapes of home and meadow. Each year we look forward to the signs and coming of spring and all her beauty, and to the season of warmth that follows—summer and all her glory!

As the blooms of spring awaken, brandishing branches of leaves and the aromas of lilac, lily and rose, it is important to remember the season of hibernation that precedes the season of new life, and howthis new life would not be possible without its preceding winter. Most of us here in the upper mid-west appreciate the winter, its cold, darkness, and, yes, even the snow. I remember one friend saying, “You have to attack winter or it will attack you.” Even as a life long resident of Wisconsin it is good to be reminded of this saying. Things always take a little longer in winter, getting dressed to go out, scraping off car windows, shoveling driveways and walks. The importance of this season holds many benefits, and in that these benefits go way beyond the hibernating bulb and blossom let us explore the “narrow gate” of winter as a parallel to living a spiritual life as the incubation of a heavenly inheritance!

The life of the Church is filled with times and seasons, rhythms and reasons; attention must be given to Her subtleties if we ever hope to gain knowledge of the how, why, what and where’s of Orthodoxy—”right faith.” The first place we learn is through participation in the life of the Church Herself. The rhythms of our seasonal feasts span the whole of creation and all of time. At the beginning of Great Lent we are taken back to the “beginning” where the daily scripture readings of the Church return to Genesis and creation, and the tracing of the roots and lineage of God’s Israel. At Pascha we begin reading the Acts of the Apostles and see again the “kerygma”—the proclamation—of the Apostles as they preached the Good News of New Life throughout the whole world. Throughout the year we re-collect and re-enter the most notable events in the life of our Lord, His Holy Mother and the Saints and the Church. Our prayers are directed towards God and through this life we are directed and instructed in His mercy, His justice, and His salvation.

Great and Holy Lent is marked by certain practices that are intended to increase awareness in us of a world absent of Christ. The dark season that precedes Pascha can be compared to a time of winter, silent and frozen in the grips of death. We are asked to somehow recall a time in creation history when salvation had not yet come, and live as though it hasn’t, even though it has. One of the most challenging and beautiful questions I was asked this year was why doesn’t the Church celebrate normal, Eucharistic liturgies on weekdays of Lent (with the general exception of the Feast of Annunciation)? My usual answer involved explaining the Church’s discipline of suspending weekday Eucharistic consecrations as we anticipate the Paschal celebration, and the Church’s mercy in providing for us Lenten Eucharistic nourishment in the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. This year I was given an even deeper understanding of this discipline, seeing it in the light of darkness, the darkness of the world prior to the coming of Christ and the darkness of the world which has yet to receive Christ. How do we who have received Christ live again as if we haven’t? Obviously this could never be a literal condition but it can be a beneficial challenge in preparation, appreciation and celebration of our Lord’s Pascha and His victory over darkness and death.

In life there may be times when it seems that God is absent, be it because of sin or the direction our life takes because of illness or death, loss of relationships or employment, uncertainty of future or maybe even persecution for our faith. Thankfully we have been given all we need to prepare for any and all eventualities, for Christ is risen! Yet, our Lord’s Resurrection and “trampling” of death, while freeing us from captivity to the Devil, did not abolish temptation or the consequences of sin from the fallen world. Inevitably there will be spiritual darkness and winter in each of our lives, but like the season that follows winter’s death so too is new life to follow our faithful struggles with life’s trials and temptations. And like the crocus, daffodil and tulip, and every springtime bud from every tree, we learn to appreciate winter’s darkness as a necessary preparation to the bearing of pleasing and resplendent fruit worthy of our hopeful inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.