Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou has written a lovely book entitled Meditations for Great Lent. The book is a short series of reflections on the readings in the season of the Triodion which comprises the four weeks before Lent, Great Lent, and Holy Week. Fr Vassilios’ writing is, as always, clear, erudite, and pastoral. He shows clearly how the Church has arranged the season to guide the faithful through self-awareness and repentance. The early Fathers of the Church demonstrate a clear perception of human psychology which is demonstrated in the first chapter, “Humility: The Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee.” When Jesus tells the story of the tax collector and the pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, His intention was to demonstrate the true piety of the tax collector as opposed to the self-aggrandizing “piety” of the pharisee. The Fathers realized that we would tend to become proud of ourselves even in our humility and began the season of the Triodion to remind us that we should always seek identify with the tax collector rather than the pharisee; we should always strive to be humble before God and men (yet not be proud of our humility).
The rest of the book guides us through our continuing struggle to remain humble and not to become proud in our humility. We encounter the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus’ identification with the poor, destitute, and outcast among us. Fr Vassilios wonderfully demonstrates that, “There is more to Lent than fasting, and there is more to fasting than food” (from the Introduction).
Despite the brevity of the book, Fr Vassilios has put enough insight into it that I expect it to be an enlightening read for years to come.
Fr Vassilios shows his pastoral care throughout the text, but especially when we get to the chapters toward the end of the book: “Lent is characterized by what the Greek Fathers call harmolypi (bright sadness or joyful sorrow). This is because Lent, like repentance, is at the same time both sad and bright, both sorrowful and joyful.” And, “Those who think of Lent purely in terms of fasting and obligations can never fully experience the joy of Lent.” (from Chapter 9, “The Virtue of Joy”).
One of my favorite passages in the book is in the penultimate chapter and is a quote from the Paschal Vigil service:
Have any wearied themselves with fasting? Let them now enjoy their payment. Has anyone labored since the first hour? Let him today receive his due. Did any come after the third hour? Let them feast with gratitude. Did any arrive after the sixth hour? Let them not hesitate: for there is no penalty. Did any delay until after the ninth hour? Let them approach without hesitating. Did any arrive only for the eleventh hour? Let them not fear because of their lateness: for the Lord is generous and receives the last as the first: He gives rest to the worker of the eleventh hour as to those of the first. He has pity on the latter, He cares for the former. He gives to the one, he is generous to the other. He accepts the work done, He welcomes the intention. He honors the achievement, He praises the purpose.
Meditations for Great Lent is a wonderful book for the faithful, and is a great gift as we prepare ourselves for Great Lent (no matter where we are in our process).