THE FIRST CHRISTIAN LENT
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
The Eastern Orthodox Church Year closely follows the events of the life of Christ on earth. I would like to tell you more about the period of time in Christís Life that He fasted for forty days. In effect Jesus Christ started the first Great Lent by His 40 day fast in the wilderness. As the Scripture lesson that I am about to share with you indicates; the forty day fast marked the beginning of Christ's formal ministry on earth. Shortly after his Baptism in the River Jordan, by John the Baptist, Christ was led of the Spirit into the wilderness where He began his forty day fast.
From The Gospel According to SAINT MATTHEW CHAPTER 3
13 "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
From the Gospel According to SAINT MATTHEW CHAPTER 4
1 "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
John the Baptist foretold of the coming of the Christ into the world. John recognized Jesus as the Christ and naturally, he was hesitant to baptize Him. John was thinking in earthly terms, but Jesus corrected Johnís thinking by telling him that it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Christ was baptized not to cleanse Himself of any sin, because Jesus is totally sinless. Jesus was baptized to purity the waters of Baptism for us. Through His Baptism, we receive Grace and Spiritual cleansing at our baptisms. Christ had began the task of setting in place the Sacraments of the Holy Christian Church. At this important event in Christian history, we are given evidence that our God is a Trinity, consisting of God the Father, in Heaven, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It was God the Son that John Baptized. God the Father exclaimed from Heaven, "This is Me Beloved Son," and God the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in the form of a Dove.
Led of the Holy Spirit, Jesus then retreated into the wilderness to fast for forty days. No doubt, Jesus suffered greatly during this period of total isolation and harsh fasting. There were references to the fact that Jesus was tired and hungry following the fast. Imagine how very susceptible we would be after fasting in total isolation for forty days? Then to fulfill Scripture, Jesus was tempted of the evil one. Satan tried to get him to turn stones to bread and eat, but Jesus would not yield to the temptation. Satan tried to persuade Jesus to destroy Himself, but Jesus resisted the temptation. Satan tried to coax Jesus into worshiping him, but Jesus cast Satan from His presence by rebuking him."
Jesus was able to resist these temptations because He is sinless and perfect. However, He also knew that we are not perfect, and are prone to sin, therefore, He endured these temptations to understand how we, being weak, could so easily be led astray by them. Satan tempts Christians every day, sometimes we are not even aware that we are being tempted, never-the-less, we are, and we often fall from grace by yielding to these temptations. Fortunately, Jesus understands our dilemma, because He has suffered the same temptations.
As we begin the great fast of Lent I want each of you to remember the forty day fast that Jesus endured in the wilderness. Not only did He fast from food, but he fasted in solitary confinement. Can you personally imagine spending forty days in hunger and isolation, denied even a roof over your head to shelter you from the heat and cold? How many times have you felt lonely when you were away from contact with others for even short periods of time, like, perhaps a day or so. Imagine forty days of seeing no other human being. Jesus knows that we are social creatures, we need interaction with others for our mental well being. Our Lenten season need not be as severe as the forty day fast that Christ suffered. We have each other for support through the long fast period.
We can go to church and worship and learn of Christ's love for us. We have fellow travelers along the path that leads to Holy Pascha. We need not make this journey alone, nor are we asked to give up all food and our dwelling places as well. Our forty day fast is by far, less severe than the fast that Christ endured. Even though we do not follow such an extreme path as Christ did, during Lent, we learn from our efforts anyway. We learn to curb our passions to some degree. We learn to focus on Holy things instead of trivial matters. We learn to put our Spiritual life in the foreground for a season.
What Great Lent teaches you is primarily up to you! You are the one in charge of your destiny, it is you that will make the ultimate decision. You might ask, why forty days? Why are so many things in the Scripture done in forty days? Forty days, or three score and ten as it is sometimes referred to in the Scripture, has always been a Holy number, there are 145 references to the number forty in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Here are a few examples of the number forty in the Scriptures:
Genesis 7:4 "For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth." In this passage, God is purifying the earth of evil by destroying it with a rain that lasted forty days and forty nights.
Exodus 24:18 "And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights."
Exodus 34:28 "And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."
Deuteronomy 9:9 "When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water:" These three references are referring to the time that Moses went up onto the Holy Mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Here we are told that Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights.
Deuteronomy 8:2 "And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no."
Amos 5:25 "Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?" These two references are concerning the Jewish people while they wandered in the wilderness for forty years on their journey to the Promised Land.
Acts 1:3 "To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:"
The last quotation from the Scripture is pertaining to Jesus Christ when He appeared to His Disciples for forty days after His Resurrection, then Ascended into Heaven at Bethany. The number forty is very blessed in the Holy Orthodox Church, as well as the number three, which stands for the Holy Trinity. One of the traditions of the Holy Orthodox Church is the sanctification of icons for forty days in the Holy Altar. After forty days in the Altar, an icon is especially blessed. Just as icons are blessed in forty days, so we, as people go through a Lenten sanctification period of forty days, preparing our earthly bodies for the celebration of the glorious Resurrection of Christ. The pivotal event in Christian History and in our salvation.
A LENTEN PRAYER
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
O Lord, our God, Who was Baptized in the River Jordan to restore life-giving power to the waters of Baptism.
O Lord our God, Who suffered fasting in the wilderness for forty days, and was tempted of the Devil, and overcame the temptations.
Do Thou, the same Lord, renew the Grace we received at our Baptism at this time, restore us by Your Divine Power to the correct path of righteousness.
Do Thou the same Lord, fortify us with the strength to overcome the temptations that we shall surely face during this time of Great Lent.
Do Thou the same Lord, bless us with a greater understanding of Your Holy Will, that we may become true believers in Spirit and in Truth.
Pray to God the Father that the Holy Spirit will descend upon us as a congregation, enlightening us with Christian zeal and courage, that we may become a unified congregation, held together by Your Truth, and Your Holy Love.
Give each of us that special encouragement we need to embark upon the long period of Great Lent, that we may emerge from our struggles, stronger, and ever directed in the path that leads to Your Holy Kingdom which shall have no end.
These things we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One of God, the Only-Begotten of the Father, Who sits enthroned at the Right Hand of God the Father, Almighty. Amen.
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