There is no Divine Liturgy on this day. We are getting very close to Great Lent now.
The time of Great Lent should be a period or repentance and change. This reading from Joel sums it up quite well: “Now therefore saith the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. 13 And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil.” (Vs 12,13)
This explains the purpose of fasting – to be converted. Fasting helps us to “turn to the Lord … God”, for various physical and spiritual reasons. Of course, fasting must be coupled with prayer and repentance, or else the faster will only be hungry. Try fasting with seriousness and vigor, and you will understand.
How do we “rend our hearts”? The text tells us to do this instead of rending (tearing) our garments. The Jews would rend their garments when they heard blasphemy. We must rend our hearts when we fall from the way of truth, because of our sins, passions, habits, stupidity. We must develop a soft and emotive heart, which feels the blackness and coldness of sin. This is not an exercise in self-loathing, as the West misunderstands (and either focuses too much on depravity or ignores sin because it is too difficult to emotionally bear), but the ability to feel pain in the heart because of sin, whether it be one’s own or that of others. This pain in our heart should lead us towards the Great Physician, the Only One who can assuage our pain, and it should motivate and help us to in some small way emulate the Great Physician in helping others wounded like ourselves.
“23 And you, O children of Sion, rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God: because he hath given you a teacher of justice, and he will make the early and the latter rain to come down to you as in the beginning. 24 And the floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow with wine and oil.”
The preceding refers to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The “latter rain” is the Holy Spirit.
“And I will restore to you the ears which the locust, and the bruchus, and the mildew, and the palmerworm have eaten; my great host which I sent upon you. 26 And you shall eat in plenty, and shall be filled: and you shall praise the name of the Lord your God, who hath done wonders with you, and my people shall not be confounded for ever.”
Here is the outlook we should have in Lent. There must be expectation. The passage is describing the restoration of Israel, but for we Christians, this is the restoration and healing of the human soul. We must feel the pain to see the gain.
Joel tells his people to “Put ye in the sickles, for the harvest is ripe” (13), and I cannot help but read this in the context of being on the threshold of Great Lent. Truly, this is a time to “put in the sickle” and harvest the virtues. God will help them grow, but we must put in the time and effort. The beginning of Lent should be a time of excitement, expectation. It is a time to work. May God “cause the growth”.
From the most recent Prison Ministry Letter: