Lent is a time for reflection and self-discipline. Often, it is also a time when our passions and demons attack us with the most fervor.
Laziness sets in. We become despondent, overburdened, overwhelmed. There are so many services and so many things to prepare. Not to mention, if you have non-Orthodox family, two different celebrations to prepare for (some of which we can't even enjoy because we are still in Lent!)
During this past Lent, I felt such a pull. To just give up and indulge my weaknesses.
There were services during which my son would not fall asleep. There were nights when I could not bring myself to make dinner. We struggled through Holy Week, bringing our baby with us to every service, and even to our All Night Vigil. There were times when it felt as though we would never get a break.
But then, Pascha arrived.
And everything we had struggled through had been worth it.
The food was more savory. Each sip of wine was sweeter. Being able to shout “Christ is Risen”, and respond “Truly He is Risen” with such exuberance that my son could not help but stay awake and witness the Resurrection.
I want to say this was a unique experience. And, to some extent it was, as it was our first child’s first Pascha. But this is how every Lenten season tends to progress.
During our entire Lenten journey, we do not believe that we can make it. We become the doubting Thomases of ourselves, loathe to think that we can actually bear the crosses bestowed upon us during the fast. However, we are always able to persevere and are always more joyous in our Paschal celebration, knowing that we have persisted.
Finding joy in the struggle makes us look forward to being tried, to pushing ourselves, to struggling through it all. Throughout Lent, we know that if we put the desire in the struggle, it is less fleeting than if we were to put it in the goal.
There is scientific evidence for why this happens. Dopamine is released in the build up to something. The stomach sinking drop of a roller coaster. A baseball game in its ninth inning, all tied up with bases loaded. Stepping out onto the stage on the opening night of a play. Anticipation creates excitement. And what is Lent but forty days of anticipating the resurrection of our Lord? It’s the greatest dopamine rush of all time!
But spiritually, we know the true reason behind our feeling of triumph during the Paschal feast. It is because we have followed Christ. Throughout the whole of Lent, we have been following Him, through his betrayal and His passion. Through the pitfalls and the miracles. We have seen it all, including our own sin. The prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we participate in humble us so much that we see ourselves for the sinful beings that we are. It allows us the opportunity to rise above it.
To break the spirit of sloth.
To break the spirit of lust.
To break the spirit of gluttony.
To break the spirit of pride.
We have the ability to not only follow Christ to the cross, but to die unto ourselves, and be resurrected alongside Him. To repent and rejoice, knowing that, though we are sinners, we might still be counted among the saints. This reassurance strengthens us and allows us to persist.
Persistence and humility are two great lessons taught in the Orthodox tradition. They are attributes we ourselves can come to possess, and allow us to better endure struggle.
I am sometimes leery of people here, in the West, who claim that we are in "the end times", all because of the jabs at Christianity made by the mainstream media. Yes, there are people with Christian values who are mocked, shamed, ridiculed, and threatened. But no one here is dying for the faith.
I have family who fled communist persecution. I have friends who fled oppression in the Middle East. They are not happy with the current state of affairs. However, they can attend church without fearing for their lives. That's something we can all do. We are not here, in America, dying for our faith. That is a reality for millions of Christians in around the world.
There is no reason to go through the Bible and pick out points in Revelation that allude to the end of the world. We have been in the end times since the start of Christianity. Orthodoxy was born under oppression. That is where it is most comfortable and that is something we should find comfort in. It is proof that our faith has stood the test of time.
So when you have to stand through a service, or console a crying baby during the homily, or have to spend a whole weeks worth of evenings in church, find joy in the fact that you are able to do so. Know that you are growing stronger. Know that you are growing closer to God. And know that you have struggles here that others would relish.