March 11, 2009 + Keeping Lent at Home (Part 2)
by Nadia Koblosh
from The Word, February 1994
THE PRIORITY OF WORSHIP
These are what I consider to be some of the goals of Lent and I would like my children to understand and experience it. But we know that Lent is not just a set of theoretical goals; it is also the discipline necessary to achieve them. Highest of all these disciplines is Lenten worship. Here, I do not allow compromise by letting any other activity take precedence. In my own family as a child, we were told by my mother not to plan anything for the first week of Lent, or Holy Week or on the nights when there were Lenten services. That’s simply the way it was, and that is the way it is with us. No school activities, sports — or protestations over the same — are allowed to take priority. The special Lenten melodies, the Lenten texts and quiet somberness of Lenten worship, the long periods of fasting for evening communion, the prostrations: these things, I think, are so very essential for a child to experience if Lent is to have any lasting meaning at all. I really feel that Orthodox parents are not fulfilling their duties by being lenient or lazily giving in to the inevitable complaining and protests that there is “church again.”
A real problem of Lenten Worship and its relation to children is the lack of participation in church services often experienced in some of our parishes. Children are very quick to point out who is, and is not, in church! In trying to salvage something positive from such a discouraging reality, I usually use the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee: the Pharisee was religious, but he judged others: the Publican was repentant and he was not concerned with who was — or was not — in the Temple. Nonetheless since my own childhood memory of Lenten services is a packed church, I am not too sure that I have reconciled myself to a disturbing lack of zeal among many of our people; but that remains just another part of the Lenten effort. It is because we are not perfect, but weak and sinful, that we have Lent to begin with!
Besides church services, the other priority is fasting. First of all, this includes fasting from TV. On certain days such as the first days of Lent, Holy Week, afternoons before Liturgy, there is no TV. I am not of the opinion, however, that TV may not be watched at all during Lent. But I think a restricted and discriminating use of it is necessary to achieve a certain quiet in the house that is so very much a part of the Lenten atmosphere. More reading, some quiet games, and just spending time alone is more encouraged during Lent. And of course, loud types of entertainments, such as dancing and so forth, are prohibited.
Secondly, fasting includes the diet. Here, different members of the family may abstain on different levels of “strictness.” While no meat is served during Lent, the children generally eat dairy products. They are encouraged to abstain more “strictly,” according to their ability, for limited periods of time; it seems that there is always a lot of discussion about food during Lent. But to me, spending large sums of money on seafood or hours cooking some involved and complicated meatless-dairyless recipe, defeats the whole purpose of Lenten eating. The rules of the Church are clear. They require only a common-sense application. All in all, our goal is to teach fasting and abstinence not as ends in themselves, but as self-evident parts of Christian life.
READING AND PRAYER
Finally, Lent is also a time in which more reading from the Scriptures and other appropriate books is done. The OCEC materials on Lent are very good as are various editions of illustrated children’s bibles: the story of Moses, the Passover, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ are all part of Lenten reading. Incorporating into daily prayers the special prayers of Lent — the prayer of St. Ephraim, prostrations, the hymn of Mid-Lent at Cross Veneration — are also part of Lent. But, here again, the discipline of Lent must be tempered by discernment of what children can bear if Lent is not to become an unbearable yoke that children will flee from as they get older. As with everything else in the Church, the bottom line is probably that children will absorb the meaning of Lent only to the extent that Lent is meaningful, natural and powerful in the hearts and lives of their parents.
St. Gregory the Dialogist, March 12
Thou didst excellently dispense the Word of God, endowed with discretion of speech, O Hierarch Gregory; for by thy life thou didst set the virtues before us, and dost radiate the brightness of holiness. O Righteous Father, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
Kontakion of St. Gregory, Tone 8
We praise thee, God-inspired harp of the Church and God-possessed tongue of wisdom; for thou didst prove to be an image and model of the Apostles and didst emulate their zeal. Wherefore we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Gregory the Dialogist.