Monday, February 9, 2009

the most wonderful time of the year

No, this isn't about yet another observance of Christmas according to some obscure, ancient calendar. It's about the 17 glorious weeks (or 19, if I get really grabby) when all the Orthodox churches of the world (except Finland ) are mostly on the same calendar. It's about the Serbian and Russian bloggers talking about the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee together with the Greek and Antiochian. It's about wishing each other a blessed fast and a blessed feast, without the usual caveat that some are two weeks early and some are two weeks late. It's about celebrating the compromise that at least preserved the Traditional Paschalion in the so-called New Calendar (since when did Orthodox want anything new?), even if we still feel a twinge over the separation that exists in the fixed feasts.

Ironically, much of the reason that we even have two calendars to think about (and I do recognize that this is a rather petty sentiment on which to start the season, but I can't deny that I enjoy it nonetheless) stems from the more fundamental, the more--dare I say it--crucial point, that everything in this third of the year revolves around Pascha. Some have asked why we can't just date Pascha by astronomical observation and be done with all these artificial systems. The practical answer (leaving aside the example that even Muslims, who use direct observation, generally end up observing Ramadan on different schedules separated by a day) is another question--how do you observe the first moon of spring ten weeks ahead of time? The most important point is a center, with Great Lent looking forward and Pentecost looking back. It makes calendars more complicated, but on the issues of life and death, it is how everything falls into place.

And that's what really makes this "the most wonderful time of the year." Would that our lives were always a sober preparation of Great Lent for the coming of God to save our souls. Would that they were always a joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of the resurrection promises. For these all-too-brief weeks we pull back the veil and glimpse how the ever-rippling glory of the cross touches our lives, past and future. If we don't come away unchanged, our eyes adjust to see that glory a bit longer in each direction.

This week we remember the Publican and the Pharisee, the latter of whom was scrupulous in his obedience but forgot only one thing--that we never really measure up by what we ourselves can do. What the Publican had, and what he lacked, was a humble heart of repentance. And to remind us that the best of intentions and good works don't make us impressive in God's sight, we live this week without fasting--perhaps the only week all year that's fast-free without a specific celebration. For this rule-boy, it still doesn't feel quite right.

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