In the year 325 CE, the first great world-wide council of the Christian Church deliberated in Nicaea under the leadership of the Bishops of the territory of the Roman Empire, and of the new Christian Emperor Constantine I. In addition to establishing a unified church dogma concerning the Holy Trinity and who Jesus is, the Council of Nicaea adjudicated many matters doctrinal and theological. One of these was a formal institution of the season of the liturgical calendar in which we find ourselves in March and April of 2014, Lent.
Two possible origins for Lent which pre-date the Nicaean Council are described by Dr. James F. White, Professor of Liturgics: “It was customary to think that Lent originated as the final intensive period of preparation for those catechumens (converts under training) who had been set apart, after considerable preparation, to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. New evidence shows a possibly earlier stand, a post-Epiphany fast of forty days in Egypt, associated with Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, which immediately follows the account of his baptism in the Synoptic Gospels.”
Isn’t this an interesting comparison to: “Hey, what are you giving up for Lent? Chocolate, white wine?”
Professor White continues: “At any rate, the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, first referred to Lent as “forty days” and made it immediately precede Easter.” Thus, the Lenten tradition is born and codified. The key element which I discern in the above descriptions is that of preparation! Lent is a means to an end, a preparatory period of time which leads to a spiritually fulfilled Easter experience. Even though part of the tradition is based on fasting, I do not necessarily subscribe to the via negativa method of achieving this fulfillment. Now don’t get me wrong, each of us has our own way of preparing for Easter, different traditions and practices abound.
For me though, and this is something new because even though I grew up in the church I usually ignore the advice about which I am writing; I normally attend four Lenten studies at my church (with a meal of course- after all I am a United Methodist) and lo and behold, I am ready for Holy Week! But in the time I have left before Holy Week this year I think I will reflect on some of this great tradition we have. Because the early Christians were normally baptized on Easter I will try and reflect on my own baptism and all that it means. I will attend Chapel services during the week at Seminary, in addition to Sunday services. I will read more, listen more and share fellowship more with friends and colleagues. I will reflect upon God’s blessings in my life and in the life of the community of which I have chosen to remain a part.
This year I am giving up nothing for Lent, I am adding to my plate. I trust this Pascha Season will be enriching!