It’s Clean Monday, the first day of the Great Fast for Byzantine Catholics. While there is a tendency to think of Lent as a time of sorrow, it’s interesting to read how it’s portrayed at Vespers:
Let us enter the season of Lent in the spirit of joy, giving ourselves to spiritual struggle, cleansing our soul and body, controlling our passions, as we limit our food, living on the virtues of the Spirit; let us persevere in our longing for Him so as to be worthy to behold the most solemn Passion of Christ and the most holy Pascha, rejoicing all the time with spiritual joy.
The spirit of Lent is a paradox, for it is a joyful sorrow; we have the joy of Christ, leading us closer and closer to God, and the more we partake of Lent and its admonitions, the nearer we find ourselves to be with God. Yet, the nearer we are, the more we see ourselves in the light of God’s just mercy, and the more we realize how far we are from God’s desire for us, and the more we must humble ourselves so as to achieve it.
It is in this spirit that the prayer of St Ephrem can be said to be the prayer par excellence of Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.
But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
and of love.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.
Lord, have mercy!