Once upon a time there was a Dad who had a very young daughter, maybe two years old. The daughter had done something very, very wicked, as wicked as a two year old can do, and the father was scolding her for what she had done. As he spoke he was trying to impress upon her the importance of good behavior versus bad behavior. “Good behavior brings forth good results,” he said, “but bad behavior brings bad results.” Although she was very young, the message got through loudly and clearly. “I ‘have’ (pronounced like wave), papa, I ‘have” she responded with eyes the size of salad plates. Maybe she was a little unclear about the word, but she had no illusions about its meaning. It’s the same for us adults. We know what Christian behaviour is and what it isn’t. The Lord only has to name a few righteous acts – feeding the hungry; bringing drink to the thirsty; providing shelter to those who have no roof over their head; clothing those who need it; visiting the sick or imprisoned – to make the point. These are but a symbol of a much broader number of good deeds, good works, that should always be manifest among us. Why? Because the worldview of an Orthodox Christian stipulates that we see all human beings as our neighbours, all human beings as our dearest relatives, all human beings as, indeed, Christ Himself!
King Solomon in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 writes (in Part):
To all things there is a time, and a season for every matter under heaven.
a time to pull down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to lament, and a time to dance; a time to embrace, and a time to abstain from embracing; a time to be silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
The Great Fast which is at the very doors is just such a season, just such a time. It’s the time to pull down the spiritual strongholds that demons have constructed in us and around us, and build instead (with the help of God) towers and fortifications of good deeds. It’s a season to put away foolish laughter and instead to weep over our sins. It’s a time to put aside entertainments and other carnal distractions and instead to embrace the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as our chief focus in life. It’s a season to be quiet, to find God in the silence rather than offending Him by our much-speaking. It’s a time to declare war on the passions, on Satan and his minions, in order to rest in “God’s peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
The Holy Church of Christ insists that we perform good deeds especially during the time of Great Lent. Why? Because our acts of mercy not only relieve other people’s burdens, making their lives easier and brighter, but they turn our own attention away from ourselves to others, thereby quietly freeing us from our usual ego-centric nature. The wave of love that arises in us when we share in the misfortunes of others fills us with Divine life, animating and inspiring us while driving the passions far away, thereby cleansing us from their harmful and troublesome effects. Good works in themselves are not enough to save us. There must first be faith, which empowers the works. Faith without works is dead, says the Holy Apostles James (2:17), but equally, “works without faith” is also dead. Good deeds are the evidence of faith. “I will show you my faith BY my deeds” says James (v. 18). But St Paul says “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Great Lent is a “tithe” of the year. It is an offering of ourselves rather than money to God. It is a “change of mind” (metanoia, repentance) that involves our behavior. Let’s become different people, brethren, not only this Lent but all year, and in fact, ever day of every year. Amen.