“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Joel 2: 12-13)
This is part of our Church’s reading for today, Cheesefare Wednesday. Because this week preceding Lent, or Cheesefare Week (Maslenitsa in Russian), is liturgically already preparing us for the season of fasting and “return to the Lord” that is Lent. In fact today, on Cheesefare Wednesday, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated, and the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem is read throughout the services of the Hours or the Divine Office (with great prostrations), according to the order prescribed by the Typikon for this day, so as to prepare us for the upcoming season of Lent.
Today let me take a bit of time for some pre-Lenten preparations, both spiritual and physical. As I’m called to do in the passage quoted above, I “rend my heart and not my clothing.“ So I take care of my clothing and other physical needs (as the Lord says elsewhere, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,“ Mt 6:17), and also begin to stock my pantry with some of the beans, grains, etc., which I will need for healthy-fasting beginning next Monday. And let me begin to return to the Lord “with all my heart,” in heartfelt prayer and also some healthy “mourning” which, if we neglect to do it, can build up inside in the unhealthy form of resentments toward ourselves and others. Let me hand all of it over to God, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing,” as our Church’s reading for today reminds me. (Please NOTE that our Lenten Guidebook, heretofore available only to Patreon-subscribers, is NOW available as a digital download here at our website's Gift Shop!) #happycheesefare