We are on the threshold of the Holy and Great Lent. This Sunday of the expulsion of Adam from Paradise as the last rest before our spiritual struggle, places us at the beginning of our sinful life on earth. We are banished from Heaven because of disobedience, pride and non-abstinence. A life on earth full of struggle, suffering, tears and death, is our “reward” for sin.
The state of Adam banished from paradise, which is also our state, is reflected in the humble hymns of this Sunday: “Standing Adam at the gate of Eden, wiping for his nakedness and moaning:
Woe to me, that I disobeyed Your good commandment and being stripped of Your glory, alas, with shame I am laden. Woe to me, naked of my innocence and left in poverty. Now oh Eden, I will not delight in your sweetness…”
So, the struggles, the sorrow and wiping of lent are the sorrow and mourning for our lost Heaven, which we ought to regain with much suffering. This Sunday Gospel reminds us again of the two great deeds: humility and love, which are the basis of all good deeds. But fasting together with prayer and struggle can be thwarted by the enemy if we are not attentive. Therefore our Savior teaches us: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. […] But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father.” (Matthew 6: 16-18).
Let’s not forget the lesson from the parable of the Publican and Pharisee when we fast. Lets struggles with love but guard our work and keep it silent. Let the withering of our body be clothed in the gladness of our heart, thinking about the great benefit that fasting brings. The anointing of our head and the washing of our face should not be taken literally, but in a spiritual sense. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us that the face is the icon of our entire live, and the head is the symbol of the mind (see Philokalia). So the washing of the face means to cleanse our lives from all defilement of sin, and to anointing of the head means to acquire a mind full of divine knowledge.
Worldly cares usually occupy all of our time and there is no respite to care for the soul. But the worries should be proportioned to the significance of our labor. As our Savior tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven […] For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21).
These earthly possessions compared to the one expensive treasure – our soul, do not deserve the attention they are given. We cannot ignore the bodily careless, but the caring for the soul should come first, so this Lenten journey, a time of weariness and cleansing of soul, should not be spent in many of the worldly cares.
In particularly, The Holy Gospel draws our attention to the love of neighbor, namely the forgiveness of our neighbor as a great deed, well pleasing to God. So much our Savior stresses the forgiveness of our neighbor that without it, He does not forgive our sins: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6: 14-15)
While all sin is directed against God and only from Him we can obtain forgiveness, however, of the sin against our neighbor God does not forgive us without his/her approval. Therefore, when we ask someone forgiveness that we offended him, he replies: “May God forgive you! ” Meaning: I ‘ve forgiven you, so the Lord God will forgive you. And that is how God forgives us.
First we need forgiveness from God for the renewal of our mind and our labor during this lent will follow this path. So in our daily Prayer to our Lord, we commit before God: “Forgive us Lord, our sins, as we forgive our debtors.” Without this forgiveness, God does not forgive us. Not only that He doesn’t forgive us, but He also will not receive our good deeds. This is told clearly by our Saviour: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother halt aught against you, leave there you gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer you gift.” (Matthew 5: 23-24)
Elder Petroniu Tanase of the Mt Athos