Christ is in our midst!
But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast (Mt 9:15).
We have come to the end of the Paschal cycle of services. We will now count the Sundays from Pentecost until the next cycle begins (36 Sundays this year, as the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee isn’t until February 25th). The Paschal cycle of services in and of themselves are quite instructive, both for this life and, especially, for the next.
The Paschal cycle, as we have said many times, is divided into two parts: the Lenten Triodion and the Flowery Triodion, more commonly known as the Pentecostarion.
The Lenten Tridion begins with the four preparatory Sunday services for the great fast, as well as all of the lenten services, through Palm Sunday and Passion Week. The Pentecostarion has all the services from Pascha, through the Lord’s Ascension, Pentecost and All Saints.
The Lenten Triodion is the longer of the two, containing 13 weeks of services. These services are quite penitential as they prepare us to properly celebrate the Lord’s Passion.
The Pentecostarion, the wondrous, luminous, celebratory book of Pascha through Pentecost and All-Saints, has services for 8 weeks of glorious celebration.
You may wonder why I am mentioning this. This is certainly not a class in liturgics (although it is most desirable that we all have a basic understanding of the cycle of the feasts and seasons of the Church year). What I want you to do is notice that the Lenten Triodion is larger, both in volume, as the lenten services, being penitential, are quite long, and length of time devoted to repentance. Only after this repentance comes the celebration. Then the fast - again.
Why is this?
Both the Forerunner and the Lord Christ preached: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. We cannot obtain salvation, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, without repentance. To repent is to turn back to God, to forsake all that separates us from Him. It is a continual struggle.
We have spoken on this and shall speak of it again - frequently, but not now. Suffice it to say that our life, our sojourn here on earth, is primarily a time of repentance, of spiritual struggle, a time of trial and tribulation as we strive to keep the commandments of Christ, for if we love Him we will endevor to keep His commandments. As we well know, the more we struggle to live according to the Gospel, the more the enemy of our salvation attacks and does all that he can to hinder us and deprive us of salvation. This is why we have been filled with power from on high. This is why the Holy Spirit has come: we cannot do it alone. Yes, we must struggle, as we must participate in our salvation. We are not and cannot be saved against our will or passively. Yet we cannot do it without God’s help. Without Me ye can do nothing our Lord clearly said.
So, having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, we go into the world to bear witness to Christ. We do this by simply doing our best to live as Orthodox Christians. To be Orthodox and not merely be called Orthodox, this is of utmost importance. To be called Orthodox and yet not live Orthodox is an egregious sin. To live Orthodox is a powerful witness.
The Bridegroom has departed. The glorious feasts - ever present - have passed. It is time to fast, to pray, to struggle to be faithful by keeping watch and being vigilant; by being uncompromisingly faithful to the Lord regardless of the consequences - until He return. There was a time when there were no consequences for being a faithful Christian, in this country at least. Those days, sadly, are passing and the time for struggle - for bearing witness (need I say martyrdom as martyr means witness) - is at hand.
Let us not be fainthearted. It is ours to merely be faithful to the One who is Faithful and True. He clearly told us that in the world we will have tribulation, but He also told us that we are not to worry, for He has overcome the world.
This word is never out of season. It fills us with faith when it is faint and doubt besieges us, life when we are weary, and light when we are surrounded by darkness and despair. What word you may ask?
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
We must never forget this - even for a moment.