Excerpts from Fr Alexander Schmemann's "Great Lent"

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13 févr. 2004, 07:46:4513/02/2004
An Introduction to Great Lent

Excerpts from Fr Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent

When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus
with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination
is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the
"fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." We must begin,
therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and
Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about
our Christian faith and life.

Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the
feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who
has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is "brighter than
the day," who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. [...] On Easter
we celebrate Christ's Resurrection as something that happened and
still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new
life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which
radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world,
including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm:
"Death is no more!" Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still
face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole
faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death,
made it a passage — a "passover," a "Pascha" — into the Kingdom of
God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory.

Such is that faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her
countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this
faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the
"new life" which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if
Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no
meaning whatsoever for us? [...] We simply forget all this — so busy
are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations — and because we
forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our
life becomes "old" again — petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless — a
meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. [...] We may from time
to time acknowledge and confess our various "sins," yet we cease to
refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us.
Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the
sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal

If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it
needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the
liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services,
exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the
taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we
may repent and return to it. [...] And yet the "old" life, that of sin
and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects
and requires from man an effort of which, in his present state, he is
virtually incapable. [...] This is where Great Lent comes in. This is
the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance which
alone will make it possible to receive Easter not as mere permission
to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the "old" in
us, as our entrance into the "new." [...] For each year Lent and
Easter are, once again, the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what
we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first
step into the "bright sadness" of Lent, we see — far, far away — the
destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the
glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter,
that makes Lent's sadness bright and our lenten effort a "spiritual
spring." The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a
mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon. "Do not
deprive us of our expectation, O Lover of man!"

Glory be to God!

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