It rained for part of my drive to New York during
a recent pastoral visit. The soft sounds against the windshield and roof
of the car was soothing. The rain’s fresh, cleansing power reminded
me that Lent spiritually bathes and cleanses our soul. Lent purifies
and readies us from within for the most important Christian holiday the aarrival
of Our Savior.
One of the most powerful prayers in the Eastern Church is repeating again and again, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Although it is a prayer that we say everyday of our lives and consciously think why it must be said, we give the prayer an even greater emphasis during Lent.
Why do we ask for God’s merciful? We sin in many ways vanity, impatience, judgement of others and the failure to show our Christian love by offering to help individuals without being asked. At any moment God may call us home. We must be ready as if this were our very last moment on this earth.
Lent prepares us for the greatest of celebrations. Life everlasting. In our daily lives we accept invitations to weddings or fellowship meals at a friend’s house. We participate in something special. The invitation is an expression of love through fellowship. We take time to wash and put on clean clothes because we respect ourselves and those wanting our attendance.
Humankind’s salvation is founded in love. God gave his only child because of it. By taking the time to prepare for the resurrection we show our love for Jesus and all of our brothers and sisters whom we are called to embrace as one universal family.
Lent reminds us that fasting, meditation and repentance prepares us in mind, body and spirit for humankind’s guest of honor Jesuss Christ. It is in pureness of heart that we are best able to love God and, as the Creator commanded, "I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
Love requires us to look at our own soul to remove impurities. The difficult process reminds us that we are flawed and but for the grace and mercy of God we could not be saved. The journey of cleansing not only prepares us for our mortal death, the full embrace of the Easter celebration, but also the call to unconditionally accept our brothers and sisters no matter how challenging the task.
Lent encourages us to grow in a direction where we are more closely formed into the image of Christ, grafted, as it were, onto the wood of the Cross. Ask yourself: Am I acting in a manner in which Christ would have us behave? Have my actions excluded others from the Body of Christ. No church, hierarch or individual has the capacity to judge who may or may not be grafted onto Christ. Love is the key to everything. From it springs forth forgiveness, non-judgment and complete acceptance.
Turning away from self and towards God will naturally bring about a greater love for our neighbor. If we change our way of thinking and focus our thoughts to Jesus on the Cross, we automatically see a more global picture, one which includes our brothers and sisters for whom Christ likewise died.
May this period of reflection cleanse your soul like a soft rain while bringing you closer to God in joy, awe and love.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Most Rev. Michael Javchak Champion, DD., MA Th.
Archbishop-Metropolitan of the United States & the Americas
Primate - Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North & South America