First Friday in Great Lent
Kathisma 3 (Psalms 17-23)
“He will deliver me from mine enemies which are mighty and from them that hate me, for they are stronger than I… I shall pursue mine enemies and I shall overtake them, and I shall not turn back until they fail.” (Psalm 17)
Who are your enemies who are mighty and hate you? Who are your enemies who are mightier than you? St. Paul tells the Church that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness and against the evil spiritual forces of the supernatural realms.’ (Ephesians 6:12) The devils are your true enemies, and it is with these enemies that you struggle during Great Lent.
The desire that fuels and drives our Lenten disciplines is the desire to know Christ better, to deepen our relationship with Him, to live in Him; the very opposite desire drove the demons to rebellion and their warfare is directed toward hardening your heart, destroying or misguiding your desire, and drawing you to share their willful separation from the Lord.
It is a struggle. It is warfare, and ‘war is hell,’ but don’t lose heart! The Holy Scriptures are absolutely full of the assurance that, even though it may look like we are losing the battle, we will win the war. This is arguably the very theme and message of the Apocalypse: it looks like evil is going to win, but God and His saints emerge victorious in the end. As Great Lent plunges toward the mystery of the three-day entombment of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, imagine how complete the defeat appeared on Holy Friday! This is the heart of our hope and faith: the Lord is victorious!
St. John Climacus writes: “Join to your breathing the word of him who said: ‘When devils plagued me, I put on sackcloth, humbled my soul with fasting,and my prayer stuck to the bosom of my soul.’” (Ps.34:11)
It is to this we cling during Great Lent – during our own ascetic struggle with the devils, with death, and with all these enemies that are mightier than we. In Christ (and union with Christ in Holy Baptism is the historic end of the Lenten Fast), we are confident and grow in confidence in our own resurrection with Christ. With the Lord, we will suddenly turn the tables on our enemies. In resurrection we will rise up like Ezekiel’s host (Ezekiel 37) and pursue our enemies. We will overtake them, and we will not turn back from them until every last one of them has been destroyed!
When the devils plague you, read the Psalms to them. Say with boldness: ‘See your end! On the Last Day, I will be the one to pursue you!’ With the martyrs, let us ‘destroy the devils’ strengthless presumption!’