April 26, 2013

An Ecclesiastical Great Lent and Holy Week

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

The period that begins tomorrow and ends the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus, together with Holy Week, is a period of alertness, resistance, upliftment and creation. The hymns of the Church prepare us for a struggle towards fulfillment. Fasting, prayer and worship, which consist of the spiritual atmosphere of this period, fit in to this genuine Orthodox humanism.

Ecclesiastical Experience

All of this could sound weird, fitting in to a formality and ritualism, and regarded as some religious procedures. Prayer and fasting can be considered as an exercise of the will and as a singular religious meditation, as observed in all religions. Yet it is distinguished for another purpose, a secret and substantial "entelechy".

When we speak of Orthodoxy we do not mean it as an ideological system or religious organization, but as a Church. There is a great difference between a religion and the Church. The former involves individual beings struggling to survive the pressure of mechanistic processes, while the latter (the Church) requires a community of persons.

The Church is a special and particular community, a family in which we learn to live maturely, responsibly and integrated. An entire community prays, every member cares about each other, as well the entire Church is concerned with the problems that concern wider society. Fasting and prayer are related with philanthropy and awareness for the entire world. Individualism is a mental and spiritual illness.

Speaking of community, we can also consider the Church a therapeutic community, in which humanity and society is healed, because in actuality it is used as primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. I once said in an interview that every parish, and there are many, serves as a perfect therapeutic community, in which entire problems that concern humans are unraveled.

Masks and Persons

This period is important because the Church helps its members remove its masks in order to become persons. All year we wear our masks of hypocrisy, presenting ourselves as just, democratic, virtuous, and holy, while in reality we are experiencing conflicting situations. Through the existential struggle, which is done with the uncreated Grace of God, we eliminate the "hideous masks" and become persons. Then there is no difference between "what we are and what we appear to be".

When one speaks of persons much can be said. I will confine myself to highlighting two key elements. The person is distinguished by love and freedom. And of course in speaking of person, I do not mean personality, as is done in psychology, but of existence, the development of the hypostatic principle. The person/hypostasis is distinguished by love and freedom.

Love is not an emotional state, nor a superficial and typical altruism, but a mutual interchange of hypostaseis. One comes out of their hypostasis, without losing his personal character, and enters into the hypostasis of another. He tries to understand the other, outside of his own specifications, and continuously struggles to appropriate the strengths of the other and then obtain hypostatic unity, without of course eliminating the particular, the otherness.

Freedom is not a choice among many things, as we learned through Western philosophy, but it is the elimination of the gnomic will and the survival of the natural will, the freedom of the person from every power that wants to impose upon created things, even the institutions. The person is not dominated by any necessity. Ultimately, freedom is the transcendence of death.

The Problem of Death

Death is not a final act that will happen at the end of biological life, but a reality that is experienced by our birth. It is a paradoxical thing to talk about the coexistence of life and death, from birth. Corruptibility and mortality, which occurs with diseases, the increase of the body, insecurity, uncertainty, insurances and pensions, the existential void that occurs in a particular way at all ages, is the experience of death.

That is why this period is the heart of the ecclesiastical year, with worship, prayer, fasting, and philanthropy, which give us the opportunity to gain experience of the community, and to dispel emotional and psychological bereavement. At the same time we become persons, destroying all of its numerous and diverse masks, and above all driving out of the depths of our being the foundation of death. Because the most tragic death and fearsome foundation is located in the bowels of existence.

Source: Paremvasi, February 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos