St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Looking at Lent as the Season of Learning

When Peter was a small boy, he often went off by himself to learn or to do new things, sometimes with comical and sometimes with less than funny results. Perhaps the most surprising thing my oldest son did was to enter the house one day and proudly announce, “I can ride a bike. He had furtively borrowed his older sister’s bicycle and dragged it up the driveway then ridden it down, dragged it up and ridden it down again. Nobody saw him. It took a few days of hidden labor. He was not yet six years old. I was proud but incredulous and of course asked how he managed this feat. “I just kept doing it,” he said, “until I got it right.”

Lent is the season that reminds me of Peter dragging the bike up the hill, riding it down, falling, getting up, and trying over again. Lent is the season for stubbed toes, bruised shins, and brush-burnt knees. It is the season for falling down and getting up and trying over again. We just keep doing it until we get it right.

What are we trying to “get right”? Well, it is the Faith itself. Tertullian the second century writer said, “Christians are made, not born.”

“Now if any are eager to learn why baptismal grace is given by means of water, and not by any other of the elements, they will find the answer if they take up the Scriptures,” says St Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures. For Cyril, Lent was the time of taking candidates for baptism through their final period of instruction. In some churches, it still is. Cyril responds to real or assumed questions his hearers bring, like: “Tell me again why we do this thing with the water and the words about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” and Cyril would tell it so those candidates would “get it right.”

You see, the only way they could worship “decently and in order,” as Paul had said, was if they got it right. To be orthodox, remember, means that you offer the right praise. You offer this praise to Abba, God the Father, through Jesus the Messiah in the power and through the means of the Holy Spirit. This is the way to make words and actions of praise properly. To make a doxology means that your praise is orthodox. So this was education for a purpose; it is education to give praise to the Holy One. This is education so that we “get it right.”

Let us remember one last thing about this doxa (praise). Doxa means “glory,” and so when we are orthodox we are rendering proper praise, yes, but what that also means is that we are giving praise to the One to whom it is genuinely due. In Christian worship, this means that we are glorifying the One who came among us as a servant and the One who raised him from death, and the One who communicates God’s Truth from generation to generation in community. This is not natural; it is something we learn, like riding a bike.

Lent is a time for getting the story straight, for remembering Christ as the One through whom we are graciously and gracefully and sacrificially invited into the realm where Love reigns, a Love which is at one and the same time Holy. (Now this is a mystery, that Love and Holiness can meet as One.)

In Lent we all suffer bruised shins and bloody knees as we fall down trying to learn how to ride our way through the season, which is so crucial for the development of Christians.

published 18 Mar 2011