Today, the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of Poon Paregentan, which is translated to literally “joyous living;” a day in which we take a moment of celebration in our spiritual lives before entering the contemplative period of Great Lent, which is set to begin on Monday. Great Lent is a preparatory, spiritual journey with its destination being Easter.
Today, we recall the joy of Paradise, in which Adam and Eve embarked upon a new journey to return to the very Garden from which they were banished. The period of Great Lent has been established by the church in order to lead us back to that place where Adam was in direct communion with God. As we celebrate today and experience the bliss of fellowship in Christ, we should do so with the looming season of repentance and contemplation that is found in our journeys through Great Lent in mind. Poon Paregentan marks the very beginning of this spiritually renewing cycle that will eventually lead us all the way to Resurrection Sunday.
As we take our first step forward into the season of Great Lent, let us be reminded that our God is a loving and kind one; a compassionate Father who doesn’t love us because we are good, but because He is. Secondly, it is important to keep in mind that our invitation to hold more disciplined fasts, to pray more often, to do more good works and charity in the name of the Lord, is not a punishment for our sins but are rather tools for us to steer away from sin and draw us closer to God. These things are meant to help us discover and transform all the obstacles found within our minds and hearts to the free flow of God’s love in us and through us. When we are unable to love each other, it is often because our hearts are uneasy, bothered, and hindered by something unknown. We must search deep within ourselves to find out what these hindrances are, and, with a loving awareness, bring about light and healing to those dark places.
In this way, it is important to realize that the period of Great Lent and all of its tools and disciplines and constraints, can be used as a rubric to help find and exile that which is stifling our hearts. It is a period of great contemplation and self-direction that can be used to our benefit, both as individuals and as a community, to fix the broken things in our lives. To perhaps reintroduce some spiritual joy that we feel we’ve been missing in our hearts and minds. Fasting is one of those tools whose aim is mindfulness and whose call is for us to be attentive to our spiritual selves. Traditionally, our church asks us to give up all dairy and meat. Perhaps you will choose to give up a habit or a hobby. Whatever the object of your fast may be, know that the time and energy that you would have otherwise spent on it, is now open and available to your spiritual efforts, to developing your prayer life, so you may be strong in the face of all the challenges life is known to throw your way.
It is important for us to realize that if we want to truly succeed in this effort, we must accompany our fasts with spiritual practices. We need to be fully aware of what is right before our very eyes, that is mindfulness, the pathway to holiness. I highly recommend to all of you the actual practice of mindfulness as your Lenten practice; paying attention to life in the present moment with openness and receptivity, without judgment or commentary, giving thanks to God for all things. Mindfulness or watchfulness, is a very profound and simple practice. Why are we so rarely at peace? Because we are so rarely in the present. Living in the past, we are conquered by regret. Living in the future, we live in fear and disappointment. But God is in the present! And he is the source of all good things.
So, let’s focus this Lent on expanding our awareness through mindfulness along with our other Lenten practices. Each day pay close attention to the little details of life. In this way, we will water the divine seeds in our souls. Think of the list St. Paul gives us in Galatians known as the “fruit of the spirit.” Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If we focus on the nurturing of these divine seeds, then we will have done something that we will not discard when Lent is over.
By doing this, we will have developed a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, and a new way of life that we will carry with us always. As we enter this season of Lent together, let us develop a new way of life by not running from our problems but confronting them head on: there we will find the healing for our souls. Let us become more like Christ in the midst of our daily lives and recognize that whatever makes us more like God, in the end, makes us more truly ourselves. And so, during this Lenten season let us all begin a new way of life which will make us more like God, to whom is befitting glory and honor now and always, Amen.