Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ‘slogan’ of Great Lent

“let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light”

The so called ‘slogan’ which we hear throughout Great Lent is the recommendation by Paul the Apostle, who calls upon us to cast off all our dark deeds and dress into the armor of light. “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 13, 12)

The first thing the Apostle points out is that we ought to accept that we often fall under the spell of darkness, namely of sin, and therefore our deeds are sinful. Indeed there is no man, particularly no Christian, who does not readily confess in a general and vague manner, that he is a sinner.

“Is there anyone who is not a sinner?’ we are often asked when we engage in this kind of talk. Nevertheless, such a general and vague acknowledgement is not what the Apostle seems to have had in mind. Because the vague recognition of our sinful condition most probably serves as an alibi of sin itself in the sense that we are all in the same boat so… In other words, we profess the sinfulness of human nature in order to justify it as something normal!

The Apostle however gives a dramatic tone to his call that we need ‘to cast off the works of darkness’ and of sin: Namely that whatever we do, whatever we talk about or even think about, if it is cut off from Jesus, who is the source of light, constitutes a sin and therefore is darkness. At the end of the day, he who does not act and live Jesus’ life, he lives a nonexistent life, even if his deeds seem great and important.

Our times are probably described by spiritual nonexistence since, not only those outside the Church but also we, the devout Christians, live in a manner which has nothing to do with Jesus; it is as if we are still living in the pre-Christ era. This been described as the ‘secular’ condition long ago; i.e. our lives are disengaged from Jesus’ presence. Therefore, practical atheism is distinctive of our era.

However, this tragic condition has already been pointed out by the Lord Himself. We are living dead. He, whose life is not distinguished by the Lord’s preconditions, is dead. Jesus’ words sound loudly and morbidly: “let the dead bury their dead” ( Matt.8,22). He, who does not receive Him and does not wish to become His disciple, is dead.

Therefore, ‘casting off the works of darkness’ means: we ought to cast off everything which causes our spiritual death and deprives us of the vitality of life. How is this possible? How can we get away from the snares of death? The Apostle says so clearly and precisely: by turning towards the light- “…putting on the armor of light”. We are only able to overcome what is negative by adopting what is positive. We cannot overcome darkness by shooting at it! It just naturally disappears when light approaches. The darkness of the night always gives way as soon as dawn and sunlight approach. Similarly, the darkness of sin disappears as soon as man turns towards the spiritual light- the Sun of Righteousness, the Lord, Jesus Christ. As the Apostle says: turning towards the light means: to ‘put on Jesus Christ’. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13, 14).

However, there is a problem here. How am I being asked to put on Jesus Christ, since I have already done that through my baptism? The Word of the Lord has already stipulated that “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3, 27). How am I to put on the same cloth that I am already dressed into? St Paul’s call means that all Christians who are already clothed into Jesus Christ ought to restore their garments. For we unfortunately continue to commit trespasses even after we have been baptized. Our negligence causes the dilapidation of that which ought to have been preserved as new.

Therefore ‘putting on Jesus’ means: that I, being baptized, ought to live in repentance. I am being asked to live a life of repentance in order to cleanse the cloth I have put on during my baptism. This is the reason why the Holy Fathers have described ‘repentance’ as a ‘second baptism’. Therefore, I stop being in the darkness if I chose the path of repentance, which assists me to restore my true self; to regain the light which flooded me on the day of my regeneration and my initial integration into the Church.

He, who manages to restore his cloth through repentance, lives a powerful and authoritative life. He says: ‘put on the armor of light”. Jesus’ light gives us the necessary armor and signifies the authority we have been given as children of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1, 12).

What kind of armor are we talking about? We are talking about the armor of the Lord’s grace, the armor of the Cross. The hymnographer of our Church, guided by a similar description by St Paul, says: “The stadium where virtue is being accomplished has been opened. Those who wish to take up the fight against the enemy may enter… By taking on the whole armor of the Cross, let us fight the enemy. Let us use faith like an unreachable wall, prayer like a breastplate and alms giving like a helmet. Let us use fasting in the place of the knife, since it rips out any vice from the heart”.

Faith, prayer, love and alms giving and fasting: These are the weapons which belong to our spiritual armor. We ought to take them up not only during the blessed period of the Great Lent but also throughout our entire lives.

The only thing we have to do is to recognize the authority which was given to us and use it. Our final destination peers from afar full of glory and grace. This is where we will fully participate in the Resurrection; we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven which is our true abode!

Have a Great Lent and Happy Easter!