Wednesdays during Lent are typically church days for the Orthodox. In the evening, the Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated (presanctified meaning that the communion is prepared on the previous Sunday).
I wasn't able to go to Presanctified during the first week of Lent, but I did go last Wednesday. During the service, Lent just kind of crept up and hit me on the head. Of course, I knew it was Lent as soon as Lent started, and many of the changes that come with Lent continued to remind me of that fact, but participating in the Wednesday service brings it all home. The atmosphere (a smaller church crowd, dimmed lights, psalm after psalm being recited, a lenten potluck afterwards), combined with the fact that this service is observed only during this time of year, puts everything into a certain perspective.
This is the sixth Orthodox Lent/Easter that I am taking part in (only the fifth as an Orthodox person), and I am amazed at the progression it has taken in my life. Progression seems like an ironic word to use, because Lent is pretty much the exact same thing every year. In general, all of the Orthodox services seemed strange to me at first, because they don't really change much. The liturgy unfolds in the same way every week, with only a few hymns changing each time. Shouldn't people be bored by this? How do you learn anything? And yet I have learned so much more in the last 6 years than in my whole life. It's the same with the Jesus prayer, a prayer that many use as a meditation (see The Way of a Pilgrim if you're not familiar with it, or Franny and Zooey if you're not into religion books-- just don't pass out trying it). I think it's that sense of focus and simplicity that lend so much to the repetition and constancy. And there is a humility about it that makes it more than just a mindless religiosity.
But I am getting away from what I was trying to say. This time around, I have more excitement for holy week than ever. Yes, I've always had some excitement, but with that always came a little bit of dread about the number of services, and the length of services, especially leading up to the Passion. Now, all I really think about is this week that is so much more meaningful to me than any other time of year. It feels more like the new year than January 1st, because it is the time when I actually feel recharged- spiritually, mentally, and physically.
I realized in reading an article on the Greek Orthodox website that it's pretty ironic (and amusing) that a discovery of bones in Jerusalem would be hyped up during the lenten season. There was a show on last Sunday (produced by James Cameron-- yes the James Cameron who did "Titanic") trying to make the argument that these bones they found were most likely Jesus', and the bones with his were most like Mary Magdalene's. I'm not in too much distress over the status of my faith when all this comes out- partly because I have heard enough of the rebuttal to the show to know how flimsy the research is, and partly because I'm more willing to trust hundreds of years of church tradition than the production of a guy who made a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. But the article I just read was titled "Why do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?", a reference from scripture that is said millions of times in church, and is more poignant during this time of year than any other.
In a few weeks it will again be clear that Christ is risen. Truly He is risen.