Lent 2021: “FIND A WAY”
"This is the way. Walk in it." (Isaiah 30.21)
This year's theme for Lent at Holy Trinity Church is "Find A Way." This multi-dimensional theme is offered to help us re-rededicate ourselves to "find a way" back fo God, back to Church and back to life. After an entire year of pandemic restrictions, it exemplifies the spirit of restoration and renewal that Lent brings every year, but one that is especially needed this year.
To introduce the theme, here is Father John's homily from Cheesefare Sunday, March 14, 2021. The text follows, and a link to the audio is below.
"FIND A WAY"
I was in an important meeting recently, working with Parish Council and other community leaders, and one of those present was a three-star U.S. Army general. As we went around the table, he made a fascinating comment. “In over 30 years of military leadership,” he said, “ I never lost an opportunity to use someone else’s great idea.” Well, today, as we stand at the doorstep of Lent, I must admit this year’s Lenten theme here at Holy Trinity Church was not my idea.
You may recall that on Valentine’s Day this year, our GOYA teens stepped forward during the youth sermon and shared how, even with our current restrictions, they still pulled off their annual Valentine’s Brunch. When cooking it all together in a large group was not possible, they said, “Let’s find a way,” and the divided up the job. When selling tickets at Coffee Hour wasn’t enough, they said, “Let’s find a way,” and they went online. When we couldn’t all sit down together as a community to enjoy the meal, they said, “Let’s find a way,” and made it a brunch-to-go. No matter the challenge, they said, “Let’s find a way.”
So credit for our 2021 Lenten theme, “Find A Way,” really goes to our dedicated and inspiring teens. As Lent starts tomorrow, we’re certainly better off as a community than we were last year, when, as you might painfully remember, we were permitted only 5 people in services, effectively forcing us all out of church and online. But we’re not 100% back yet. So rather than focus on what we can’t do, let’s build on the inspiration of our teens, take everything about Lent this year, and “Find A Way.” I am asking you, inviting you and offering you an opportunity to join together today as an entire Holy Trinity family: let’s “Find A Way.”
For each of us that might mean something different, but it requires all of us to shake off the “same old way” we’ve always approached Lent. Father Zacharias of Essex expands the idea beautifully as he writes, “God is well pleased when we ask Him to show us new ways of approaching Him. He comes readily to help us because He already desires to grant us a new beginning, a new grace, a new change within the heart which enables it to ascend to Him through new knowledge of Him…. As we experience Him anew He renews our spiritual vision and heals our hearts, fulfilling our hope, restoring us to wholeness and granting us ever-deeper knowledge of Himself” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, 85).
I know it’s been a hard year for everyone. In many ways we might feel like Lent was stolen from us last year. So under the general idea, “You don’t know what you had until you lost it,” let’s not let Lent get lost this year. We might still be a little shell-shocked, numb or even hesitant from everything that has happened. But if you will trust me on this, when it comes to making Lent real – which is just another way to say make our relationship with Jesus Christ alive and powerful – as we try to “Find A Way,” God will “Find A Way” to make it happen.
We know that because the Lord Himself has set a model of determination and a refusal to give up. We will be hearing it in the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil during the Sundays of Lent, starting next week. As the story goes, we disobeyed Him and were exiled from Paradise, but He did not reject us. He did not forget us. He visited us. He sent prophets to speak to us. He sent saints to do miracles for us. He sent angels to guard us. He gave us the law to help us. And “when the fullness of time had come, [He] spoke to us through [His] Son Himself” (Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil). In other words, God didn’t give up on us. HE FOUND A WAY!
Building on that model, I’ve taken some of the main Lenten themes and incorporated them into the graphic you will find in today’s Bulletin. I’m going to ask you to please pick it up for the remainder of this message as we work our way – no, actually – as we pray our way through them, invoking the strength and help of the Lord Himself.
There are six key areas, and for each of those points I have a brief scripture verse and a spiritual insight, then I invite you to make them yours by praying together that the Lord will bless each of them in our life and our heart. Let’s go.
Find A Way…To Pray
- In Philippians 4.6, Saint Paul advises us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
- In his book, The Mystical Marriage (p 69), Elder Aimilianos says it’s not that complicated. “You need simply to start praying. Don’t think about the results or outcome of your prayer… Simply pray, since this is what God wants you to do.”
Lord, help me to find a way to pray.
Find A Way…To Fast
- “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.” (Matthew 6.17)
- One contemporary writer puts it this way: “The purpose of fasting as a spiritual discipline is not to deprive us of the things we need, but to bring us to a place where we fully rely on God and appreciate his blessings in our lives.”
Lord, help me to find a way to fast.
Find A Way…To Love
- “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15.12)
- Saint Basil the Great says we have all we need to be able to love: “In the very nature of every human being has been sown the seed of the ability to love. You and I ought to welcome this seed, cultivate it carefully, nourish it attentively and foster its growth by going to the school of God’s commandments with the help of his grace.” (The Greater Rules)
Lord, help me to find a way to love.
Find A Way…To Forgive (an especially appropriate one today on Forgiveness Sunday)
- “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3.13)
- Forgiving the unintentional is hard enough, but Saint Mark the Ascetic says the true heart of forgiveness is found when we are most wounded: “The forgiveness of insults is a sign of true love, free from hypocrisy. For thus the Lord also loved this world.”
Lord, help me to find a way to forgive.
Find A Way…To Repent
- Saint Peter, speaking to the Israelites in the Books of Acts, promises a great blessing for those who repent: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3.19
- Saint Paisios says this should be our constant effort, because so many other blessings spring from it: “Repentance will bring you humility, humility will bring you the grace of God, and God will have in His grace everything you need for salvation.”
Lord, help me to find a way to repent.
Find A Way…To Return
- “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful.” Joel 2.13
- “It is important... that your spiritual senses are trained to recognize God's voice calling you to return to Him. Therefore you must correlate whatever you go through - whether disease, troubles, or problems - with your relationship with God. Make all of them an occasion to strengthen your fellowship with Him, to deepen your prayers and increase your love for God.” (Patriarch Shenoudah, The Life of Repentance and Purity, 105)
Lord, help me to find a way to return to You.
Let’s wrap up by bringing it all home to the place that makes it all happen: our own heart. I am certain that some of those requests to God hit your heart harder than others, because we all struggle differently in our spiritual and personal lives. No matter which one or two it was for you, there is a great reward waiting at the end, and many rewards waiting along the way. What's holding you back? Maybe you can’t work on them all at once. Pick a starting point…and start there. Saint Isaac the Syrian says everything we need it really already inside us. We just need to “Find A Way” to get there. “Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are of heaven - there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul. Flee from sin, dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.”
My dear Holy Trinity family, I pray for each of us to have a blessed beginning to Lent - and even more blessed ending - and the dedication to look at every opportunity, challenge and blessing along the way as a loving invitation from the Lord: No matter what it takes, “Find A Way.” Amen.
Looking for more information on Lent? Try these resources from Holy Trinity Church and the Archdiocese's award-winning website:
Podcast: "Find A Way"
Podcast: "Find A Way" (Youth Sermon)
Podcast: "Lent: A Time to Blossom" (Sermon)
In-person: Join us for services at Holy Trinity Church throughout Lent. The Lenten services schedule can be found here.
Online: Not able to make it in person? Join us online for all our Sunday and weekday services at www.HolyTrinityPgh.org/live.