Lent, Our Exile"
the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion."
In these words of the Lenten psalm, we Orthodox Christians, the
New Israel, remember that we are in exile. For Orthodox Russians
banished from Holy Russia, the psalm has a special meaning; but
all Orthodox Christians, too, live in exile in this world, longing
to return to our true home, Heaven. For us the Great Fast is a season
of exile ordained for us by our Mother, the Church, to keep fresh
in us the memory of the Zion from which we have wandered so far.
We have deserved our exile and we have great need of it because
of our great sinfulness. Only through the chastisement of exile,
which we remember in the fasting, prayers, and repentance of this
season, do we remain mindful of our Zion.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”
Weak and forgetful, even in the midst of the Great Fast we live
as though Jerusalem did not exist for us. We fall in love with the
world, our Babylon; we are seduced by the frivolous pastimes of
this “strange land” and neglect the services and discipline of the
Church which remind us of our true home. Worse yet, we love our
very captors - for our sins hold us captive more surely than any
human master - and in their service we pass in idleness the precious
days of Lent when we should be preparing to meet the rising sun
of the New Jerusalem - the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is still time; we must remember our true home and weep over
the sins which have exiled us from it. Let us take to heart the
words of St. John of the Ladder: “Exile is separation from everything
in order to keep the mind inseparable from God. Exile loves and
produces continual weeping.” Exiled from Paradise, we must become
exiles from this world if we hope to return. This we may do by spending
these days in fasting, prayer, separation from the world, attendance
at the services of the Church, in tears of repentance, in preparation
for the joyful Feast that is to end this time of exile; and by bearing
witness to all in this “strange land” of our remembrance of that
even greater Feast that shall be when our Lord returns to take home
His people to the New Jerusalem, from which there shall be no more
exile, for it is eternal.
Father Seraphim Rose.