Malankara World

Great Lent

Lent - A Time for Repentance and Forgiveness

by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

Scripture: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

I remember reading a story in high school about life in Puritan New England during the early years of this country's founding. Perhaps you too had to read it as a student, or perhaps you have come across it on your own. It is the graphic novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne entitled The Scarlet Letter.

In the book, there is a lady by the name of Hester Prynne who had a child outside of the bonds of marriage and was thus guilty of adultery, a punishable offense in Puritan society. As an adulterer she was forced to undergo some rather demeaning punishment. The courts made her wear a large scarlet colored A across her chest and to stand in view of everyone in town so that they would all know of her shameful sin of indiscretion.

Sin is one of those things that we do not like to exhibit. Sin is something that modern people think is a private matter - something just between me and God. However, in the Church, sin is something that is very public and private. That is not to say that we should require all those who have sinned to wear giant letters on their chest and stand outside the Post Office for everybody to see, but it is to say that sin is not just something between us and God. It is also something between me and you, between you me, between us and everyone else. Sin affects us all. It is something that we are all hurt by. It is something that we do that hurts others.

I had an ethics professor at Duke who used to always tell us, "Realizing you are a sinner is a great moral achievement!" I think he is right. Ash Wednesday, and indeed the whole season of Lent, calls us to do just that - to realize that we are sinners in need of repentance and in need of God's grace and mercy. If we didn't need that, then Christ came to this world in vain. If we were not sinners in need of forgiveness and mercy, we wouldn't need Jesus. But we do need Jesus, and Jesus needs us.

In the ancient Church, if a person had been removed from the community because of something they had done, they were not given a scarlet Alpha or Omicron to wear on their chest for everybody to see and humiliate. People were given the chance to come back to the Church each year during the season of Lent, forty days before Easter, on what we now call Ash Wednesday but on what was then simply called the Day of Ashes. If the person who had been removed from the community had repented of their sin, the priest would mark their forehead with ashes in the sign of the cross. This habit of putting ashes on one's head and the wearing of sackcloth was the universal sign in the ancient world for repentance and grief.

However, it didn't take the Church long to realize that all Christians were in need of repentance and forgiveness. So, as time progressed, every Christian would come forward to receive ashes on their head as a sign of repentance and humility. Like a scarlet letter, these ashes signify to the world that we are sorry for our sins that we have committed against God and against one another.

These ashes prepare us for the time of self-denial and reflection that we will go through during Lent. So, do not wash it off until you go to bed. Look at the cross of ashes on the heads of each other and know that we are all sinful, know that we are all imperfect, and know that we are all forgiven, by the grace of God. Amen.

See Also:

Pierce Thou My Heart, Love Crucified by Fr. Mark
This excellent article by Fr. Mark dwells on the meaning of lent. He explains the various facets of the lent - fasting, meditation, scripture reading and reflection, charity, etc.

The Great Lent in the View of Bar Ebroyo by Fr. Dr. Biji Chirathilattu
The famous thirteenth century Syrian Orthodox Maphrian Yuhanon Gregorios Aboul Faraj Bar Ebroyo, who dominates the Syrian Orthodox Church History and who is rightly called the Thomas of Acquinas of the Syrian Orthodox Christianity, was the last Syrian Father to do an extensive codification of the different patristic directions towards the spiritual exercises in his Church. ...

A Daily Time Alone with God
For many people this time of year brings more activities and  personal obligations. When this occurs, a person's devotional times get squeezed out of their daily schedule, and soon their relationship with the Lord becomes distant. Having a daily Time Alone with God is vital to keeping a strong, vibrant, relationship with the Lord.

The Beauty of Humility
In a human being, there is nothing more beautiful, more attractive than humility.

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