The Invitation-Promise-Mandate of Lent

Psalms 1Follow_Me pilgrim icon
[1] Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
[3] He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
[4] The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
[5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
[6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

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Acts 2.12-21
[12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
[13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
[14] But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
[15] For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day;
[16] but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
[17] `And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
[18] yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
[19] And I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth beneath,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
[20] the sun shall be turned into darkness
and the moon into blood,
before the day of the Lord comes,
the great and manifest day.
[21] And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall
be saved.’Be not drunk with wine but with the spirit.

——————–

Love Divine
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley

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The Aim of the Christian Life
“The Lord has revealed to me,” said the great elder, “that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of our Christian life, and that you have continually asked many great spiritual persons about it.”

I must admit, that from the age of twelve this thought had constantly troubled me. In fact, I had approached many clergy about it, however their answers had not satisfied me. This could not have been known to the elder.

“But no one,’ continued St. Seraphim, ‘has given you a precise answer. They have said to you: “Go to church, pray to God, do the commandments of God, do good – that is the aim of the Christian life.” Some were even indignant with you for being occupied with such profane curiosity and said to you, “Do not seek things which are beyond you.” But they did not speak as they should. Now humble Seraphim will explain to you of what this aim really consists.

“However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good. The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35). Saint Seraphim of Sarov, On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

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Divine Sweetness Tasted by Man
When a man progresses in good discipline and succeeds in mounting the step of repentance, when he draws nigh to the experience of the divine vision that results from is righteous works, and when a gift from on high descends upon him that he may taste the sweetness of spiritual knowledge, a second activity after the first will arise.

First he becomes certain of God’s providence for every man, he is illuminated by His love for creation, and he is filled with wonder at His governance of rational beings and His great care for them. This is the beginning of the sweetness of God and the fire of His love, which is kindled in the heart and consumes the passions of the soul and body. A man will be conscious of this power when, in all the natures in creation and in everything that he encounters, he ponders them with understanding, and searches them out, and discerns them in a spiritual manner.

Wherefore, through such zealous and divine diligence and through his good conscience a man begins to be stirred to divine love, and straightway he is made drunk by it as by wine; his limbs become limp, his mind stands still in awestruck wonder, and his heart follows God as a captive. He becomes, as I said, like a man drunk with wine. The more the inner senses grow strong, the more this divine vision gains in strength. And the more a man struggles to live a righteous life, to be watchful, and to labor in reading and prayer, the more its power is established and made fast within him. In very truth, O brethren, a man comes to this at times when he does not remember himself, that he is clad with a body, and he does not know that he is found in this world.

The second activity is the beginning of spiritual theoria (divine vision – the activity of the Holy Spirit in the soul, giving it spiritual vision and understanding beyond the reach of human efforts) in man and this is the beginning of every revelation in the understanding; by this activity the understanding grows and becomes powerful in hidden things, and by this the understanding advances to other revelations that surpass the nature of man. In a word, guided by the hand of the second activity, all divine theoria and all revelations of the Spirit that the saints receive in this world, and whatever gifts and revelations human nature can come to know in this life, pass over to a man. This is the root of our perception of our Creator. Blessed is the man who has kept well this good seed once it has fallen into his soul, and has given it increase, and has not lost it by scattering it in vain concerns and in the distractions of transient and fleeting things! But to our God be glory unto ages. Amen. Saint Isaac the Syrian – Homily Forty-Nine

The Value of a Right Fear of God
“There is a humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is a humility that comes from the fervent love of God. One man is humbled because of his fear of God; another is humbled because of his joy. The man humbled from fear of God is possessed of modesty in his members, a right ordering of his senses. and a heart contrite at all times. But the man humbled because of joy is possessed of great exuberance and an open and irrepressible heart.” Saint Isaac the Syrian – Homily Fifty-One

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If I were to sum up the fruit I desire this year to be born from the Spirit’s tending the garden of my soul and body during lent, it would be summed up in the previous quotes. I desire an increase in genuine humility and love that issues from the sweet joy of union with God and the members of His Body.

Have a great and transformative lent!

God Bless you mightily,

Fr. Thomas

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5 thoughts on “The Invitation-Promise-Mandate of Lent

  1. Question: St. Seraphim seems to contradict himself in the last paragraph. First he says that only good deeds done for Christ’s sake bring grace in this life and the next; and later, he says that even good deeds not done for Christ’s sake are acceptable to God. What am I missing?

  2. I believe the key to the underlying consistency is “intention.” What is the desire of your heart? If the the deeds we perform – disciplines of fasting and almsgiving for example – are done out of pride or with little or no conscious desire to glorify God, they accomplish nothing (they do us harm). And, likewise, those deeds done by a person who might not “know Christ” but are done with a deep intention to honor and serve the good they do know is acceptable to God. I think St. Paul attempts to make this point in the opening chapters of Romans. What is more, Jesus makes the point on several occasions. In other words, are we being true to what we do know or are we behaving out of presumption and selfishness?

    Does that help?

    Fr. Thomas

    • Yes, thank you. That makes sense and is surely consistent with all the other quotes. I struggle every Lent with a kind of disconnect in my mind about fasting and other disciplines of sacrifice. I don’t quite “get” how fasting increases love. At least, not yet in my journey! I have a feeling that saying this wll bring a lesson . . . .

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