The ancient myth of Narcissus is a fascinating story about a man who had everything to live a life full of joy and happiness. But he never recognized his blessings and missed every opportunity that life presented to him. Instead, he embraced and resorted to a life of self-centered admiration, which only led to delusion, denial, despair and ultimately death.
The challenges and the demands of modern life, the hectic chase to meet every need that life throws on us, the social pressure to conform our lives, decisions and desires to the expectations of our society – all are potent forces that slowly but steadily and constantly twist and bend our outlook of life inwards. Gradually, we, our desires, our wants and needs replace God and become the center of our lives. At this point, we no longer actively long for and search for the presence of God in our lives. We accept and make peace with a lifestyle and faith where there is no love for a stranger, where forgiveness and mercy are not the predominant factors and motivators for us.
The Great Lent is the church’s answer and remedy for this problem. It is a therapeutic, spiritual discipline that reinstates and strengthens us in our faith by helping us to reexamine our priorities in life and faith prayerfully. The Great Lent helps us rediscover the importance of love towards a stranger, the joy of healing a wounded soul by our presence and prayer. Ultimately, the Great Lent is a spiritual journey to healing through finding and seeing God in people around us, in their struggles and suffering. The Great Lent achieves this through three important spiritual disciplines – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Fasting and abstinence from certain foods and activities are perhaps what we often associate with the lenten season. And while not entirely true or complete by itself, this is undoubtedly important. By encouraging us to separate ourselves from these materialistic pleasures and desires temporarily, the church invites us to reflect and recognize that our inner and true joy and peace do not depend on any of them. This reminds us that wholeness and happiness are a way, attitude and outlook of life and faith and not merely based on what we possess, eat or drink.
Prayer has an essential and central role in our Lenten journey. It is interesting to note that every time the Bible talks about fasting, it also mentions prayer. Prayer and fasting are inseparable and it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Our busy lives and schedules often deprive us of the opportunity to find the sacred time and space for prayer. The Great Lent presents a wonderful opportunity for us to pause, to set aside a time where we shut the doors of our hearts and minds to every worry and anxiety and are able to be alone in the healing presence of God in prayer. Today, more than ever, our world needs our prayers. Last year was a devastating period filled with the fear of a pandemic, turbulent political change, horrific and bloody war in Artsakh. As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer. We believe that prayer makes a real and tangible difference. It heals and restores our fractured lives and society.
Almsgiving extends us an opportunity to shift the focus of our lives outwards, towards embracing life and faith of mercy, compassion and charity. Faith is our desire to find, see and recognize the God in people around us, in a stranger and especially people we despise. The moment we give up on trying to love, forgive and seek the Savior in them is also the moment our faith degrades and becomes a mere ritual that has nothing to do with Christ or the Christian faith.
This Lenten season let us open our hearts and create opportunities for the life-giving rays of our Lord to touch our souls and renew our faith. Let us pray for the strangers and the estranged from our lives. Let us actively search and look for the image and reflection of Christ in the people around us. This Lantern season, let us pray for the pain of the world and ask the Lord to lift all hostility and hate, pain, suffering and disease from our world.