(From the Newsletter of St. Joseph of Arimathea Orthodox Church, Toronto, Canada, Great Lent, 1986)
The Great and Holy Fast of Lent is here once again. The best possible way for us to keep this holy time is to attend as many of the Divine Services as possible. The spirit of Great Lent is conveyed best by the services of the Church. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, while essential, cannot take the place of the Lenten services.
The Holy Fathers tell us that when we come to stand before the dread judgment seat of Christ we shall not be judged on our real (or imaginary) virtues, but on the depth and sincerity of our repentance par excellence. We have, already, on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, one of our Sundays which prepare us for Lent, sung at Matins: Open unto me, O Giver of Life, the gates of repentance.
We should not be wondering, at this late date, how we are going to keep Lent. But if we are, the answer is: To increase our attendance at services. If we are "Sunday only Christians," then our Lenten observance will be no different from the rest of the year, and what we may do on our own can never make up for what we do together as that cell of the body of Christ known as St. Joseph of Arimathea Church!
During Great Lent, there are services every day, morning and evening. Consult the schedule which follows. Everyone should be able to come to one extra service during the week. If that is impossible, the vigil on Saturday evening is the best possible preparation for Sunday. If nothing else, Great Lent is the time for us to try to recapture just a little of that spirit of the early Christians who gathered overnight, week by week, to celebrate the weekly anniversary of Pascha (if they were not dragged away to their deaths). This all-night vigil concluded with the Liturgy, and the Christians hoped that the Lord Jesus would return (He shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, Nicene Creed), and find them in watching and in prayer.
Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come (Matt. 24: 42).
Watch, therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh: At even, or midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch (Mark 13: 35-37).
Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching. . . and if He shall come in the second watch, or in the third watch and find them so, blessed are those servants. Be ye therefore ready
also, for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not (Luke 12: 37-40).
Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 22: 36).
But the end of all things is at hand. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer (1 Peter 4: 7).
Tarry ye here and watch with me (Matt. 26: 38).
Could ye not watch one hour with me? (Matt. 26: 40).
Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation (Matt. 26: 41).
No wonder the early Christians loved watching, vigil and prayer! What we do at our so-called "All-Night Vigil" on Saturday evenings is only a token of what the first Christians did. Even then, we are free to attend as much of the service as we want. Come for the vespers only, stay for matins, leave before the First Hour or whenever you need to or stay for the whole vigil which is about three hours long. Hardly an "All-Night Vigill" Do whatever you are able to do. Wouldn't you be surprised if the Lord came "in glory to judge the living and the dead" before the end of the vigil! Even if He shouldn't, I shall still face that Judge at the end of my own life. Who knows when that will be? Perhaps it will be before the end of Great Lent, 1986! In any case, I shall not have this Lent, 1986, again. When I come to stand before that Judgment Seat (whenever that may be) the evenings I have spent watching in vigil and in prayer will be more precious to me than all the parties, the dances, the movies and even the evenings at home curled up with a good book . . . put together!
If I can't attend any Lenten services at any hour of the night or day, or any day of the week, than at least let me be present for the vigil of the weekly anniversary of Pascha so that when that joyous day of Resurrection arrives, I may hear, with those women who "very early in the morning, the first day of the week, came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun" the words: "He is risen; He is not here, behold the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16: 6).
—Fr. David BeldenGo to Orthodoxyinfo.org for a wide variety of articles on the Faith