The Great Fast (also called Great Lent) is a time of preparation, a time of spiritual struggle and repentance. During this time, we abstain from many different foods, focusing instead on the heavenly food that is Christ, filling more of our lives with Him and less with the things of this world. For Great Lent and Holy Week this year, challenge yourself to do something more. Here are 7 things we recommend doing during Lent this year.
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1. Recite the prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria every week day
If you attend any of the Lenten services, you may hear this prayer recited by the congregation. It goes like this: “Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of laziness, despair, lust for power, and idle talk. Give, rather, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to me, your servant. Yea, Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother. For Thou are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.”
This prayer helps center our hearts and minds on our Lord and Savior. Moreover, it brings our focus to the change of heart (repentance) that must happen if we want to grow closer to Him.
2. Spend spiritual time with your family
During the weeks of Lent, try to spend time every day doing something spiritual together as a family. Pray together, read the Bible together and discuss the lessons contained in the passages you read, attend extra services together. There are so many things you can do to deepen your own spiritual life, along with those of your spouse and children.
3. Replace the secular with spiritual things
Throughout the history of the Church, Great Lent has always excluded secular music and entertainment. Dancing and parties (i.e. birthday parties or any other celebrations) were moved to Saturday or Sunday – the two festive days of the week. Replace these secular things with spiritual ones. For example, listen to spiritual music, or read the Scriptures or other edifying books about the Faith. Read more on blogs like this one. If you tend to consume a lot of video content, search instead for content relating to the Faith.
If you cannot do this on all days, do so on Wednesdays and Fridays, in honor of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion.
4. Drop a bad habit
As fallen human beings, we often tend to develop habits that are not spiritually healthy. Things like playing excessive amounts of video games, spending too much time on social media, or watching too much television. These habits are a cunning snare that the evil one uses to draw us away from prayer and away from spiritual growth.
This year, choose one of these habits that you find yourself falling into, and give it up. Instead, fill that time with something that carries spiritual benefit. Finish a project you’ve left undone at home. Or find a way to volunteer your time to your parish or to a ministry. Better yet, devote that time to prayer.
5. Go to confession before Holy Week
At least once during Great Lent, you should prepare for and go to confession. Do this before Holy Week, as Holy Week is about our Lord and His Passion. We have the 40 days before this to spiritually prepare ourselves through repentance and humility, to work out our salvation “in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). From Clean Monday until the eve of Lazarus Saturday, we focus on preparing ourselves for the Lord’s Passion, for the saving works He will perform for us on the Cross. So take advantage of this time, and confess your sins to the Lord in the presence of one of His priests.
After this initial “big” confession, you can go back as many times as you feel you may need it to prepare adequately. However, these subsequent confessions should be rather brief in comparison.
The best times to go to confession during Lent are before or after the midweek services, before or after Vespers on Saturdays, or before Liturgies on Sundays. Whenever you plan on going to confession, please be courteous and make sure your priest is aware. If necessary, call or email him to make arrangements.
6. Choose a fasting plan that works for you
We all want to fast according to the rules of the Church. And although many of us want to fast this way, some of us cannot, for various reasons. But that doesn’t mean we should just give up and do nothing! As St. Isaac of Syria teaches: “If you cannot fast for two days at a time, at least fast till evening. And if you cannot fast until evening, then at least keep yourself from eating too much.”
We all have different circumstances (i.e. medical issues, dietary restrictions), some of which might make a traditional fast difficult or impossible. Speak with your spiritual father, and with his guidance, choose a fasting plan that works best for you.
7. Attend midweek services
Last, but certainly not least, try to attend some of the midweek services that your parish offers during the Fast. The first week of Great Lent, along with Holy Week, typically offers more opportunities for this. The most common days the Church celebrates services throughout the Fast are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Find one of these that works with your schedule, or make time in your schedule to go to services on that night until Lent comes to an end.
You will be pleasantly surprised at how peaceful you feel, just taking that extra hour or two a week to pray in God’s house. When we engage in corporate prayer with the Body of Christ, truly attentive to the prayers we are sending up to our good and loving God, we draw ever closer to Him and experience a foretaste of the world to come.
What are some beneficial spiritual practices that you have decided to incorporate into your Lenten journey this year? Let us know in the comments below!
May God strengthen you through this fast, and may we all soon celebrate His resurrection from the dead!
Keep Reading: 4 Things Fasting Is NOT