by Alexander Schmemann.
In order for our Lenten efforts to be effective and meaningful, we need a style of life which is not in contradiction with them, which does not lead to a "split existence."
In the past, in Orthodox countries, support for this was given by society itself. During Lent, the whole society accepted a certain rhythm of life, certain rules, which kept reminding people of the season.
In Russia, for example, one could not forget Lent if only because of a special Lenten church bell ringing. Theaters were closed, and, in more ancient times, the courts suspended their activities.
By themselves, all those externals were obviously not able to force man into repentance or toward a more active religious life. But they created a certain atmosphere—a kind of Lenten climate—in which personal effort was made easier. Being weak, we need external reminders, symbols, signs.
But we are not living in a religious society, and no Lenten "climate" can therefore be created on a social level. Lent or no Lent, the world around us, and of which we are an integral part, does not change.
The spiritual tragedy of secularism is that it forces us into a real religious "schizophrenia"—dividing our life into two parts: the religious and the secular. Thus a spiritual effort is needed in order for us to rethink the necessary religious relationship between the external and the internal.
One can consider this effort in terms, first of home and family life, and second, of out-of-home existence.
Since it is impossible to cover here all aspects of family life, I will concentrate on one of them.
Everyone will no doubt agree that the whole style of family existence has been radically altered by television. This media of mass communication permeates our whole life. And little by little, the elementary experience of living within an inner world, of the beauty of that interiority, simply disappeared from our modern culture.
If it is not television, it is music. Music has ceased to be something one listens to; it has become for many of us a kind of background sound for conversation, reading, writing, etc.
In fact, this need for permanent music reveals the incapacity of modern man to enjoy silence, to understand it not as something negative, as a mere absence, but precisely as a presence and the condition for all real presence.
If the Christian of the past lived in great measure in a silent world, giving him ample opportunity for concentration and inner life, today’s Christian has to make a special effort to recover that essential dimension of silence, which alone can put us in contact with higher realities.
Thus the problem of radio and TV during Lent is not a marginal one but in many ways a matter of spiritual life or death.
A first custom to be suggested, therefore, is that the use of TV be drastically reduced during Lent. We do not dare hope here for a total fast, but only for an ascetical one, which means, first of all, a change of diet and its reduction.
There is nothing wrong, for example, with continuing to watch the news or selecting serious, interesting, and intellectually or spiritually enriching programs.
What must be stopped during Lent is the "addiction"—the transformation of man into a vegetable in an armchair, glued to the screen and passively accepting anything coming from it.
However, as with fasting, a mere absence is not sufficient; it must have its positive counterpart.
The silence created by the absence of the world’s noises is to be filled with positive content. If prayer fills our soul, our intellect also needs its food.
It is precisely the intellect of man which is being destroyed today by the ceaseless hammering of TV, radio, newspapers, pictorial magazines, etc.
What we suggest then, in addition to the purely spiritual effort, is an intellectual effort.
How many masterpieces, how many wonderful fruits of human thought, imagination, and creativity we neglect in our life simply because it is so much easier, returning home from work in a state of physical and mental fatigue, to push the TV button.
But suppose we plan our Lent. Suppose we make in advance a reasonable list of books to be read during Lent.
Not all of them need be religious books. There is so much implicit theology in certain literary masterpieces, and everything which enriches our intellect, every fruit of true human creativity, is blessed by the Church and, properly used, acquires a spiritual value.
The Church wants us to seek the enrichment of our spiritual and intellectual inner world, to read and to meditate upon those things which are most likely to help us recover that inner world and its joy.
Of that joy, of the true vocation of man, the one that is fulfilled inside and not outside, the modern world gives us no taste today. Yet without it, without the understanding of Lent as a journey into the depth of our humanity, Lent loses it meaning.
Part 2 will tell about how to create a Lenten atmosphere in our out-of-home existence.
—Excerpted from Great Lent pp. 99-105, with permission from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 575 Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, NY 10707. It can be ordered from their website. (www.svspress.com)
To be continued
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