St Michael’s Orthodox Church, Mount Carmel PA
Growing up, I always wondered what was so important of making it a priority to attend the weekly Lenten services and even an additional Vespers serviceon Sunday evenings during Orthodox Lent. It seemed so overwhelming for a teenager and an early twentysomething that I could imagine what a mother of children would approach the situation. It’s not easy to make every service, even most services, but many people don’t even try for one. But that’s not enough to meditate and understand the struggle, the lives of the saints or to get to know your parishioners.
Sunday mornings during Divine Liturgy don’t really give you a chance to do that – unless you plan on arriving very early to meditate but even that’s difficult and unpredictable with children who may or may not always unpredictably throw fits about going to church. It is also not the time to pray to yourself when you are standing in praise of corporal prayer. It is during the Vesperal services and the Lenten services when the church is dim and somber looking that invites you to see the church and the lives of the saints from another angle where you eventually develop clarity and meditation with your thoughts, emotions and developing your own prayer life to regain peace of mind and unity with Christ.
My personal favorite Lenten service are the mission services. I grew to learn about these Sunday evening Vesperal services for years. It was a short Vesperal service with a homily by the visiting priest followed by Lenten fellowship with the community afterwards.
For many of us, this seems overwhelming. Others may have trouble relating to the lives of the saints. I know I always struggled with trying to relate to St. John Climacus who was a monk most noted for The Ladder of the Divine Ascent which is a book on asceticism written as almost like a manual for monastics to follow. So, why still commemorate St. John? There’s a little something of the saints that we can take with us. The third Sunday of Lent commemorates St John where he is most noted for his book, as laity, we can learn best about St John by examining our conscience and habits and what helps us to learn how to do this most is by focusing on prayerful reading every morning or every night. Prayerful reading of church literature, Holy Scripture, books can be a fruitful, peaceful exchange from an old habit that we always turn to every morning or night – whether that’s the news cycle, social media, the television or radio.
The main takeaway of our Lenten services is to become closer to God. If you find you’re getting farther apart or you are riding a roller coaster, perhaps you need to reexamine your conscience and assess the condition of your spiritual health. May the rest of Lent continue to be fruitful and peaceful for you!