Most of us realize that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three basic Christian and lenten necessities, but we often realize as well that we cannot keep the strictest lenten regulations of the Church which are, in fact, monastic rules. We know that we will not make a maximum effort and so we sometimes feel frustrated, lost, and without guidance.
DO WHAT YOU CAN
When seeking practical advice concerning lenten practices, the only realistic guideline is to do what you can. You know that the essentials are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Intensify your prayer. Fast as fully as possible. (More and more, people are finding that the total abstinence from meat for the entire lenten season is surely not out of the question, even for the laity!) Give to others, asking nothing in return. Know, as well, that all of your fasting, praying, and almsgiving must be exercised in secret. The only real goal and purpose of Great Lent is to enter into a deeper love for God and for those around us.
Another concrete, yet traditional suggestion, is to keep certain lenten weeks in a more careful and strict way than others. For example, the first and third weeks of Great Lent, in addition to Holy Week, can be set aside for a greater and more concentrated lenten effort. Very practically speaking, everyone can keep certain weeks, or at least one week, in a very special way. If this is done, there is no doubt that the result will be very positive and the time spent may prove to be the most inspiring and fruitful time of our entire life. We can only try it and see!
WHAT TO DO
Here are some concrete guidelines for taking Great Lent more seriously:
• Turn off the television, radio, and stereo for the entire lenten season, except for news and serious or educational programs.
• Do not visit or engage in outside activities for their own sake. Keep useless talking to a minimum. Do only necessary business, good works, and acts of charity.
• Examine and measure every aspect of your life—family, work, society, politics, economics, values, and desires—against the model set forth by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
• Question yourself in regard to love, truth, honest, purity, humility, peace, forgiveness, justice, mercy, hungering, and thirsting for God, wisdom, and knowledge.
• In the name of Jesus Christ, forgive all who have offended you and seek forgiveness from those whom you have offended. If it will not be embarrassing or misinterpreted as an act of self-righteousness, express yourself as concretely as possible. Visit, make a phone call, and so forth.
• Set aside and give a sizeable portion of your resources to others; the parish, the poor, a social or educational agency. Tell no one what you have done. Ask no gratitude and forgo requesting a receipt. Do not advertise what you are doing.
• Fast strictly at all times. Eat no meat, as the basic minimum. Suit your fast to your work, but avoid luxury. Again, tell no one. Do not advertise or discuss your fasting with anyone and avoid judging others who may not be fasting with you.
• Pray at home at least at one fixed time each day. Choose a brief rule of prayer, but keep it faithfully.
• Read the scriptures in the same brief, yet regular way. You may wish to follow the Church's calendar, read a chapter of a given book on a daily basis, or simply read and reflect upon passages which you happen upon. In addition, meditate upon these: 1 John; Romans 12-14; Matthew 5 - 7, and John 14-17.
• Be faithful to Christ's gospel in every word, action, and thought—even the smallest or most insignificant.
• Participate in all of the weekly lenten services, especially the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Saturday evening Great Vespers, and the Sunday Divine Liturgy, confessing seriously and receiving Holy Communion frequently.
PEACE AND JOY
If we do these things, not in a spirit of gloomy self-denial or irritated self-pity,
we will gain an awareness of genuine peace and joy in communion with God and those around us. This is guaranteed, and, our participation in and celebration of the least of Our Lord's resurrection will be cherished forever!
[Taken from a brochure from the Department of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America (OCA)]