Saint George Orthodox Church
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The Year There Was No NORMAL Great Lent
Probably none of us can remember a time when we were so isolated from one another during Great Lent. Great Lent is normally a time when due to the fast we are nourished not from rich foods but from being with and praying with each other many times each week and receiving the nourishment of the precious sacrament of our Lord's Precious Body and Blood more often.
 
Perhaps we can receive some inspiration during this time from the Life of St. Mary of Egypt which can be found HERE in Arabic and English (and read aloud in English). Why? Because she was a holy woman who lived in isolation and whose life was given to us because St. Zossima lived in a monastery who, during Great Lent, also followed a practice of isolation.
 
The presence of isolation in both of their lives is what God provided so that we could be encouraged by both of them today.
 
It is also the case that the isolation that is being prescribed for us in the present moment, by the civil authorities and the Church, will with prayer also lead us to discover spiritual riches in the desert of our own hearts and lives.
 
St. Mary's life was given to us by St. Zossima who found her while he was in the desert for 40 days during Great Lent, participating in a practice at his monastery on the banks of the Jordan. What practice? That each member of the community struggled through Great Lent alone "neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted."
 
It is far from ideal for us in our parishes to be alone and isolated during this time; however, as we can see from the "Life" we do not know what God has for us as a suprise in our spiritual life. The fact is that we are "isolated" now in a certain way.
 
Yet, if we fast, if we pray, if we discipline ourselves, if we open our hearts to God, then perhaps we might also receive a great spiritual suprise in our lives. We cannot be sure, even if we approach our period of isolation with joy and faith that we will receive such a surprise; but, we can be absolutely certain that if we do not we will not!

Below is an excerpt from the "Life" that speaks to this practice. Take the time to go to the link above and read the entire story and God will use it to strengthen you during this unusual time.
 
At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little lenten food. Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them.

After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert. After crossing the Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed -- neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food.

In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labour, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Everyone of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the struggle -- God -- not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honour, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment.

Zosima did the same as all. And he went far, far into the desert with a secret hope of finding some father who might be living there and who might be able to satisfy his thirst and longing. And he wandered on tireless, as if hurrying on to some definite place. He had already waled for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to pray on bent knees. And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started with fear. But, having guarded himself with he sign of the Cross and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in truth saw some form gliding southwards. It was naked, the skin dark as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Zosima was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in pursuit, but the form fled from him. He followed. At length, when he was near enough to be heard, he shouted: "Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God's name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert."
 
"Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosima. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing." Here terror seized Zosima, for he heard that she called him by name. But he realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual insight. He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old, tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. she picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body.
 

 

Resources For Praying at Home

Online Texts for Daily Services via Auto Generated Ecclesiatical Services (AGES) Desktop

  • Note that this is also available as a smartphone APP
  • Note also that I have personally used this in the Greek tradition and found it to track exactly to the local Church Service.

Readers services to be used at home by the faithful without a priest are now available (as of Vespers for March 21, 2020).

  • Click HERE to access the services available for March 21 and from that page you can find the date of your choice (e.g., if you go to March 22nd you will find Readers Matins / Orthros as well as Typica which would be used at home versus Liturgy).
  • Click HERE for instructions and the service texts for Great Compline to be read at home.
  • There are also a growing number of churches and monasteries that are streaming online services on Youtube and Facebook.
  • Click HERE for a list of Churches and Monasteries that are streaming their services

 

Ancient Prayer to the Mother of God for help (good to memorize): Under your tender compassion we run O Mother of God. Despise us not in the time of affliction but deliver us from danger only pure, only blessed one!

 

Great Compline in English and Arabic

 

The Paraklesis to the Mother of God is traditionally done in times of difficulty and struggle. Below are some links for it as well as an ancient prayer to the Mother of God for help

    • I've also attached two files (side 1, side 2) that you can print as a booklet. One file is the even pages, the other is the odd pages. The same (basically) is here online or here (and lots of other places)

 

A Moleben (Service of Prayer & Intercession) In Times of Devastating & Deathbearing Pestilence

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