The Lenten Spring
by Thomas Hopko
Recommended by: Dan Christopulos
“Joy is at the heart of everything in the Christian life, and Great Lent is no exception.” The words that begin the second meditation in Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book The Lenten Spring, might seem counterintuitive to us as Orthodox Christians in the new world. And yet, as the author demonstrates throughout the forty meditations, this theme of joy, and brightness and light, is one that permeates the prayers, the fasting, and the almsgiving of Great Lent.
How often have we heard fasting described in terms of “giving something up for Lent,” or as a means to mortify our flesh? Or, been exposed to therapeutic theories that espouse the psychosomatic benefits of abstinence (from food and other indulgences) recently popularized by Hollywood stars who ascribe their new “health” to such practices. But, as the author explains, “The lenten spring is welcomed by Christians in the Church not as the time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It is greeted as the sanctified season consecrated to the correction, purification, and enlightenment of the total person through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God.”
If one does not fall into the typical western society oversimplifications of fasting (and hence Great Lent), stated above, there is the equally pervasive temptation among faithful Orthodox to experience Great Lent with a darkness, gloom, sentimentality and sadness that we mistakenly appropriate as proper Lenten piety. Again, the author cautions, “How distressing that so many take this time…as a season for sentimental devotions, anxious introspections, and pietistic pseudo-sufferings ‘together with Jesus.’”
After reorienting us to the true nature of this period, supported by Holy Scripture and the Church’s hymnology, the author accompanies us on our Lenten journey as a seasoned guide, pointing out, through his meditations, all the beauty and joy that is ours to experience as we go to up to Jerusalem with our Lord.
Drawing upon his vast experience as a pastor and professor, the mediations are profound and yet accessible for all Christians. One by one they unfold as spring flowers blooming and ushering in the lenten spring. The book is an ideal travel-guide for all who undertake this yearly lenten journey to the cross and the empty tomb.
The Resurrection and Modern Man
by Ignatius IV Patriarch of Antioch
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5). There are books that are so profoundly and beautifully written that their contents and wisdom alter your perception and understanding of all that is. By examining this sublime statement of the Father and the divine purpose of the coming of the Son The Resurrection and Modern Man is one such book. The author, Ignatius IV Patriarch of Antioch, is the one hundred and seventieth Patriarch after Saint Peter and has grafted a work of seminal importance regarding the Orthodox view of the resurrection that transcends space and time, shattering the earthly bounds that stifles and kills modern theology.
In a concise 97-page volume His Beatitude Ignatius IV has woven an intricate tapestry of words that express the resurrection not in terms historical occurrence or cause and effect phenomenon affecting only the realm of the physical, but as an ever present and future present act of creation at work in the realm of the spirit. The church, he argues should not merely exist in the past, but also in the present and the future. Not in attempt to attain sociological or anthropological relevancy but to embrace reality through an appreciation of, and an existence in, the Holy Spirit, which is and will be at work for all time. This “prophetic theology” breathes life and relevancy into what it means to be Christian. “It is because God comes as man that man cannot really be himself unless he is deified.”
This is a bold yet gentle restatement of truths that have been forgotten by the West and lost to the distraction of man’s perplexing fascination with the scientific analysis of the physical world. This book will invigorate the spirit and is perfect for Lenten reading. It goes well beyond simple commentary, revealing a way for us to emerge from the shadows and to immerse ourselves in the creative light of the Holy Trinity.
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Q: There seems to be a growing attitude of disbelief in any kind of evil force or even the devil as a reality; what do we believe as Orthodox?
A: There are many of us who find it hard to believe in a personal force of evil, Satan or the devil. Though the Church has taught the existence of a personal devil from its very beginning, the one very clear and obvious thing to even the most sophisticated of us, is that the power and force of evil is very real. From "sophistication," many who have denied both God and the devil have now fallen into the service of evil and submitted themselves to its power. Some of these have "rediscovered" the devil and turned to Satanism and devil worship. A recent issue of a national news magazine highlighted the resurgence of occultism in our cultivated, highly educated and technological society. It is a sad commentary on our secular society, which seeks to push out the influence of Christian faith from its public life, for in the place of the religion of Christ, there now appear the covens of superstition and devil worship. Long ago the New Testament book of 1 Peter gave the necessary direction to all Christians:
Awake! be on the alert! Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls round looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, firm in faith . . . and the God of grace, who called you into his eternal glory in Christ, will. . . restore, establish, and strengthen you on a firm foundation. He holds dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11) The church's continuation of the work of Christ as the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Light, the salvation of men from evil and of Christ's victory over death, sin and evil, clearly make it violently and sharply opposed to all forms of occultism. We see this in the theology of the Church, which explains the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ as victory over the force of evil in the life of mankind. The exorcisms of the baptismal service and the joy of the midnight Resurrection service point to this fundamental enmity between the church and any movement which would identify itself with the powers of evil. In the words of the Apostle John, "the Son of God appeared for the very purpose of undoing the devil's work" (1 John 3:8)..
"Contemporary Moral Issues
Facing the Orthodox Christian"
by Stanley S. Harakas
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