Living the Archetype of All Earthly Order
A bookmark in time for my future self on how to approach Great Lent and Pascha and beyond
Nearing the end of Bright Week, I can look back and take stock, both on the early Paschal season (5 days down, 35 to go until Apodosis of Pascha and Ascension) and on Lent and Holy Week. Today marks the 7th straight day of liturgies (our church Joy of All Who Sorrow is one of the very few that serves a liturgy—and a Paschal vigil—for every day of Bright Week). In the week prior there were four more liturgies—Palm Sunday liturgy and three Presanctified liturgies for the first three days of Holy Week. Then there were the lengthy evening services—four Bridegroom Matins beginning Sunday evening, then the services of the Mystical Supper on Thursday night and the Burial Service of Christ on Friday night.
The rigorous schedule, if you're willing to partake, breaks you down and builds you back up, God willing a little more in His likeness. It’s akin to a spiritual bootcamp, and that's intentional. This year I felt moved to attend/serve at them all (which as a reader I have not much wiggle room in, granted, but I could have opted out of at least some of the Paschal vigils, for instance). But more crucially, this year I was more attentive to what was being read and sung, than in years previous.
Part of why is the slowly dawning realization that I quite literally have nothing better to do than to be in these services, which blur the lines between our earthly realm and His Kingdom. Every second of time I spend in services is time spent in another world, which means it’s time requiring a different type of accounting, which means it’s not as if it’s somehow taking time “away” from other things I could be doing, like my freelance work, or any one of my dozen creative projects, or leisure time with friends, etc. This is especially true of the Divine Liturgy, which we're told is attended by “thousands of archangels and tens of thousands of angels.”
The Kingdom of God is the archetype of all earthly order. Therefore, investing time in communion with it, and with the divine beings populating it, and with their Lord and ours, through attendance at the divine services of the Church, is like making periodic deposits into the orderliness of my life here on earth. The diminishment of entropy in my life the last several weeks has been palpable and I take it as vouchsafe to keep increasing focus on the one thing needful. That’s not to say it isn't still turbulent, because the nature of order is to tear down disorder first, just like healing is often painful. But, God willing, the pain's end is a stronger constitution aligned, however just slightly, more heavenward.
One's choice of Lenten reading, I’ve noticed, can also vastly condition one’s Lenten outcomes, and then the experience of Pascha and afterwards. Like many others do, I chose The Ladder of Divine Ascent, like I have chosen (without completing it) in past years. But this year I added the proviso that I would not stop reading once Lent was done. I would simply continue reading for however long it took to finish. That one small shift in intentionality made a huge difference, because I freed myself to take my time with it, re-read sections so they took root, and not feel pressured to finish it all by a deadline. Here at the end of Bright Week, I've only completed 6 of the steps (not all in order), but this time the reading has actually made a difference and shifted my earthly frame of reference, again, however slightly, but still measurably.
I coupled this with reading Mother Alexandra's The Holy Angels: partly from beginning to see angelic themes assert themselves in my art, partly from feeling an increased affinity for my angelic namesake, partly from my interest in ancient and medieval cosmology when angelic activity was taken for granted, partly from realizing that one's own guardian angel is perhaps the single most overlooked and underutilized resource in our faith. The book proved to be an excellent resource, filled with numerous springboards toward further investigation, covering as it does angelic references in scripture, in our inspired hymnography, and in the writings and testimonies of the saints.
Both books served to help re-align my desires away from transient things and more toward the things of the Kingdom to come, as has having added both a canon and an akathist to one's holy guardian angel to my prayer rule. And both books have contributed to the feeling that this Lenten season and the Paschal season succeeding it have left and are still leaving an indelible stamp, leaving me feeling subtly changed, as though I've acquired something inalienable, provided I persist in nurturing it. I think a test of how truly this has sunk in will be the extent to which I can maintain that unique Paschal vibe in my own life and in the services in which I serve, for the full forty days of Pascha.
There is no one-size fits all prescription for exactly how to “do” Lent and Bright Week, even for the same person across multiple years. But with this year's sacred season, maybe just maybe, God willing I've started etching a personal template that I can revisit in the years' fasting and feasting to come. May this reminiscence be a reminder for my future self, and may it hopefully help others find their own template as well if they haven't already done so.
Arise, O God, judge the earth, for to Thee belong all the nations! Christ is Risen!