Orthodox Christians are entering the Lenten season. With that comes a time of increased prayer, giving, and fasting. If you’re like me, you struggle with how to get through Great Lent. I know my tendency to focus on the food more than anything, while neglecting the rest.
This time I’m determined to do a better job, and to get through Great Lent without pulling my hair. I’d like to help you do the same. I’ve put together a list of things we can do to make the most of this Lenten season.
1. Talk to your priest.
The most important part of beginning the Great Fast is consulting with your priest. He is your spiritual father, and understands your struggle more than anyone. Talk to him about your struggles and temptations. Seek his counsel and wisdom. Go to confession to put aside the guilt and shame that will hold you back. Ask him to help you to have a balanced approach to the fast.
Your priest is your guide through the Lenten season. Ask his blessing and his help along the way.
2. Don’t fake your favorites.
The vegan lifestyle has become increasingly popular, even in non-Orthodox circles. The Internet is full of guides to going meatless. You’ll find no shortage of recipes to make popular dishes that taste just like their meaty counterparts.
But substituting tofu for beef while eating the same dishes misses the point of the Great Fast. This is a time of making do with less, and learning to control our passions. You don’t have to switch to a diet of bread and water. But it’s important to stick to the spirit of the law, and not just the letter. Orthodox Christians shouldn’t make food the entire point of Great Lent. Going meatless can still be sinful if it becomes a source of pride.
My friend Katherine over at Orthodox And Vegan can show you how to prepare Lenten food that is balanced, meatless, and tasty.
3. Clean out your closet.
It’s been said that the backs of the poor are the closet of the rich. This vivid imagery is the kind of gut punch we need as we prepare for a time of increased almsgiving.
Use this as a time to donate clothing and household items to those in need. The things we cast off as useless may be a miracle to someone doing without.
Give your time and effort to those around you. Is there an elderly neighbor in need of yardwork or transportation? Is there a single mom that could use a babysitter? We don’t have to seek out those in need; they are all around us.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Look for the face of Jesus in those less fortunate and you will find Him.
4. Pray without ceasing.
Prayer is a discipline. It is a habit. My family and I are working on developing this habit together, and I encourage you to do the same.
We began our discipline with prayers before a meal. It’s now an ingrained part of our life, and we all remember to pray before meals even when we are apart. We’ve since added morning prayers standing before our icon corner, and it’s a brief moment of togetherness before we launch ourselves out into the world.
This Lenten season we are trying to add an evening prayer to our routine. We’ve tried and failed at this many times, but we will keep trying. These disciplines are a lifelong process, and our family is using this Lenten season to grow together in our faith.
5. Reading is fundamental.
Another challenge for my family is making time to read Scripture. There’s always another chore, another TV show, another distraction. Soon it’s bedtime and we vow to try again some other time.
This year we have challenged ourselves as a family to push past the distractions and read together. My daughter loves reading. She also loves to read to us, and that will make it easier for us to get through Great Lent with increased Scripture reading.
We’re starting small. The Orthodox Church in America provides daily readings that can be done in one sitting. Our daughter gets to read to us, and we get quiet time as a family before bed. We also join Orthodox Christians around the world in following the path to Pascha with the daily readings.
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Perhaps it’s wrong to say we are trying to “get through Great Lent.” It’s true that this is a time of increased self-discipline. But the rewards are more than getting across a finish line. We get to strip away the passions that bind us, and keep our eyes on our salvation.
I hope these pointers from a family struggling together are helpful. We’d love to hear what you’re doing this year to get ready for Great Lent. Any tips or advice? Take a moment to leave us a comment below.
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