April 15, 2011

Having Completed the Forty Days That Profit Our Souls

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

Friday of the Sixth Week ends the Holy Forty Day Fast. In the services for this day we sing:

Having completed the forty days that profit our souls, we ask You, O Lover of man: Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Your Passion, that we may glorify Your mighty acts and Your ineffable plan for our sakes.

Together with these in the service for this day the Holy Church prepares her children to worthily commemorate Lazarus raised from the dead and especially the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, appealing:

Having completed the Forty Day Fast that is pleasing to our soul, let us cry out: Rejoice, O City of Bethany, the home of Lazarus, rejoice Martha and Mary, his sisters. For tomorrow Christ will come, by His word to give life to your dead brother.

Those who are in the deserts and on the mountains, and in the caves, let us gather together carrying palms, to meet the King and the Master: for He comes to save our souls.

For this meeting we carefully go, offering branches of virtue to Him.

Those who carried out the Holy Forty Day Fast as taught by the Holy Church, with fasting and reverence, in prayer and fervent compunction who have cleansed the soul and heart with tears of repentance, who with fervent love for the Lord have sincerely united themselves to Him by partaking of His body, who created fruits worthy of repentance, and was strengthened, as much as possible, for the way of the Lord's precepts. For these the Holy Forty Day Fast was truly "pleasing to the soul".

Deprivation of the more pleasant, fattening food has brought forth, certainly, the perceived ease and vigor of the body, the freshness of ideas, the vivacity and activity of all the powers of the soul, the pleasant sensation of internal calm and inner peace. Prayerful vigils, seeming so difficult for the distracted mind, have become not only easy, but also sweetness for the heart, bearing fruit for the spirit, pouring into the soul truly lenten joy full of grace and comfort, light and life. Everything external has lost power and authority over him through the soul which has become more concentrated within itself, has grown fonder of conversation alone with God and with his own conscience; that before he was occupied, carried away with the imaginary and deceptive pleasure, which now has become worthless, having lost its allure, became unworthy of attention, finally, unpleasant and boring. The carnal passions themselves, not finding food any more in a body tamed by fasting, neither in the soul concentrated in thinking about God and prayer, have become weakened and have stopped. The very apparently untamable passions of the soul: anger and rage, ambition and envy, spite and hatred, having met with the spirit of repentance and sorrow before God, with thoughts about death and the judgment of God, with reflection about the suffering of Christ and about the truth of God punishing all kinds of sins, are pacified and suppressed. The conscience, having been delivered from the violence of the passions, having woken from the sleepiness of the vanity and sweetness of everyday life, clarified by the light of the Word of God, touched by the prayers and hymns of the Church, itself became impressionable by the power of its accusations, explanations and inclinations from the depth of sin on the mountain of the law of God and from the allure of temptations to the beauty of virtue and spiritual perfection. The entire soul fervently fasting and praying is illuminated by the grace of light: it knows itself and all the surroundings more clearly, it begins to understand through faith and hope the spiritual world more clearly, it rules more freely over its flesh, above its needs, propensities and strivings, it more deeply feels the need for the highest treasure, the righteousness in Christ, the easing of conscience, the grace of coexistence.

He who has felt in himself these spiritual fruits of fasting that awaits him coming on the eve of the higher holy days, has comfort without compare with anything earthly; therefore everything that is truly joyful and comforting for us in the present life, is enclosed for us in the death of the Savior on the Cross and His Resurrection, remembered by the Holy Church in the holy days of Passion Week and Pascha. And the true faster, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, will enter into the living, sincere partnership of His passion, in order to be glad later by the unutterable joy of His Resurrection which makes usual the more unusual joy of the Lord of pure spirits which no one and nothing on earth can take away from the soul, the loving Lord.

But, according to the unutterable mercy and longsuffering of God, those who carried out the Holy Forty Day Fast not as if it would demand holiness of its days and the true benefit of the soul, who even during these days of universal repentance and salvation did not begin, as it should, the work of his salvation, to them is still the opening of the door of the mercy of God, Who opens the entrance to the holy place of repentance for the reception of mercy and the remission of sins, life and salvation.

And each sinner should primarily take advantage of the coming saving days of the Passion of Christ for his sanctification and salvation, and not remain a cold and unfeeling spectator of the suffering of Christ undertaken for our salvation, and not be indifferent and for his own self to partake of the share which awaits him in eternity. Vividly thinking about the "intolerable anger of the Lord against sinners", he with special fervent compunction, according to the management of the Holy Church, must be moved to appeal:

Despising the divine commands, my soul, you have been embraced by the snares of the enemy, and by your own choice you have betrayed yourself to corruption. Sunk in slumber through your many sins, you have profaned the divinely woven garment and made yourself unfit for the royal marriage; but you shall be dragged away because of your sin. For if you sit at the wedding feast clad in the clothing of the passions, He will ask you how you came in, and you will be cast out from the bridal chamber. But call out to the Savior: O Dreadful Eye, You have become what I am, without ceasing to be who You were. Before Your Cross, for my sake You have worn a mantle of mockery, tear off my sackcloth, and clothe me with the robe of gladness; and deliver me from the outer darkness and eternal weeping, and have mercy on me.

And who will carry out the saving days of the Passion of Christ with the sincere confession of one's sins, with the resolute intention not to return to one's former sinful life, with the firm desire to please the Lord by fulfilling His sacred commandments, that one will not lose the reward of life-creating joy of the resurrection of Christ: "for He is the Master who loves mankind, who accepts the last, as He also accepts the first, who gives rest even at the eleventh hour as He does at the first hour". (See details in The Complete Sermons of Demetrius, Archbishop of Chersonese, vol.4, pp. 355).