Lent, Spiritual Renewal and the Parousia

Much has always been made about “end times.” Economic difficulties, escalating conflicts in the Middle East and other places including the violence in our own cities, and natural disasters (some scientists are concerned about a sizable asteroid that could hit the earth in the very near future) cause fear in many. Non-christians, like as many Christians, are concerned about “predictions” regarding the final act of history (e.g. Nostradamus and the Mayan Calendar). Christ Himself has pointed out that the Parousia (i.e. Second Coming-end of history) is known only to the Father (e.g. Mark 13: 32; Acts 1: 7). At the same time, He always emphasized being prepared. Lent and Pascha express that preparation and end.

Lent (Latin for “springtime”) originally was the final stage of preparation for those catechumens who were to be “birthed” into the Body of Christ at Pascha (the time all baptisms were done) and the restoration of penitents to the Eucharist. Prayer, fasting and the increased giving of gifts to the Church and those in need, involved the entire Community (including those being baptized and restored to full communion). This was done that the local Church be a spiritually healthier environment, whose network of relationships, centered on Christ, integrate, nurture and support the new and restored members. This meant that each member made sure their priorities (schedules and lifestyles) were focused on Christ and took the time to repent (deliberately readjust their lives) if they were not. It was humbling if one felt that they were starting over, but, like the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, if we fall it is best to get back on the Ladder and restart the ascent again as soon as possible and take things further than before. The goal was not just to “become more pious” but to allow God’s healing grace to grow us towards the “re-birth” that will be manifest at the Parousia, which for centuries was expected to happen at Pascha. All the preparation leading to the baptisms celebrated in the Pascha Vespers Saturday evening (now done Saturday morning in most parishes) was a vigil wherein the Parousia (the final Presentation-Appearance) of Christ was expected to take place actualizing being “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3: 27) as we sing at every baptism. Our own bodily resurrection will complete what Christ began and reflect the goal of union with Him at the Parousia.

As the Israelites learned that crossing the Red Sea was not the end of their journey, so it is with us. Lent is not simply a time of more spiritual feelings or individuals becoming more neurotic about pious practices. Fasting teaches us that we are not to just “cram” Christ and the Church into all the other activities of our lives any more than “lenten foods” are simply added to already existing meat dishes. Fasting and praying as a Church also teaches us that we do this together –we’ve learned we achieve the goal of becoming Christ as isolated individuals. We see more that the seeming weariness of Lent is from the efforts to readjust our priorities, “let go and surrender” our pride, our impulses, control issues and sins rather than the fasting and extra Services themselves.

The definitive goal, through our own healing and deepening transformation into Christ, is the full actualization of the Kingdom of God on earth and the redemption of all creation. All the Services of the Church are geared toward uncovering, in and among us, bringing the whole world to the reality of Pascha and Pascha to the world. The theme of “exile and return,” – “death and resurrection” lace the whole of Scripture. We cannot experience the latter until we have gone through the former. We know life in creation involves change (only the uncreated God Himself does not change), otherwise the Christian concepts of conversion, healing and transformation are ludicrous. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, not only this life, but also now death itself is temporary. The Parousia is the goal.

Over the years, St Matthew’s has experienced many “restarts.” As you are reading this, we are finalizing obtaining a new interim location needed to better meet the Parish’s needs to glorify Christ in worship and ministry. Paying a greater amount in rent will be a challenge, but the outcome of having more space that is “our own” transcends concerns for just a “balanced budget.” The perseverance of St Matthew’s is due to the people allowing themselves to be “seized” by the reality of the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection and His healing love. When our own Parish has helped others, it is clear that the risk of extending ourselves comes from an awareness of Christ as God’s free gift to us. We ask for your continued prayerful support and thank those who have supported us as their gifts draw each deeper into the transforming process reflected this season. May we journey through Lent anticipating, as we prepare to sing “Christ is risen!” in a darkened world, not only what ended and began with His Cross and Resurrection, but also the complete end of our sin and death in His Parousia that we taste of now and piercing us. For in the Parousia Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ and our process of healing and transformation are fully and finally manifest.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I John 3: 2).

A Blessed Pascha and Resurrection.