And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13
Only a few days remain until the beginning of Great Lent. Everyone approaches Great Lent differently. For some, there is no real change at all in life. The time passes, Holy Week and Pascha happen and we feel like we’ve accomplished nothing. Others will jump in with both feet and will have an intense Lenten experience. Nothing wrong there. The risk of doing Lent this way is that by the end of Lent, rather than joy, there is exhaustion. Pascha comes not as a joy but as a relief. Then it is followed by rest, which leads to complacency which wipes out the benefits of the journey. I’ve become a fan of adding something small during Great Lent and then keeping that small habit after Pascha comes and goes. Over time, this leads to a more rich and deep spiritual journey, because we are not sprinting, only to rest and regress, but we are building a deeper and deeper foundation under ourselves.
Learning is a critical component of every life. Imagine if we had stopped learning once we knew our ABCs. If we knew the alphabet but we never learned how to write sentences—we would not be able to write cards, letters, shopping lists, etc. We all write something on a regular basis, even if it is simply making a list of something. Imagine if we knew addition but not subtraction. How could we balance a checkbook?
Without bragging, I can say that I know a lot. I have 4 years of college and 4 years of graduate school. I have 25 years of experience as a priest, 28 years of marriage, and 16 years as a dad. However, I have a great desire to learn more. I’d like to be a better husband, a better dad, a better priest. As a priest, I want to be a better writer, a better preacher, a better counselor, a better administrator. How can I become better? The simple answer is: learning.
There are many ways to learn—we can read a book, we can take a class, and we can learn through experience, either our own or the experience of someone else. There is a saying “Knowledge is power,” when we have knowledge of something, it has more power in our lives.
All of these things about knowledge apply to our Christian lives as well. If we know the names of the books of the Bible but we’ve never actually read the Bible, that knowledge is not very useful. If we know the order of icons on the icon screen in the church but never go to church or never pray in front of an icon, then that knowledge is not very useful either. The knowledge of times tables in math by itself is useless. It is only useful when applied to real life situations—like five pieces of fish that cost five dollars each will cost a total of 25 dollars. The knowledge of things in the Bible or in the church is useful when applied to our life situations. For instance, the order in the church sanctuary is supposed to remind us that as “temples of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16) we are supposed to have bodies, minds and souls that are clean and orderly, like the temple in which we worship. Christ’s teaching to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) is supposed to inspire us to serve others.
How can we get more knowledge this Lent? I can think of four possible ways (and undoubtedly there are many more):
1.     Go to church—most of the hymns in our church, especially during Holy Week, are hymns of information, they teach us. Not only can we worship in church, we can learn a great deal as well.
2.     Read a book—I so thankful that you read the Prayer Team messages that I write. I’m not a great reader, I enjoy writing but reading is hard for me. So I know that reading a book is a challenge. Over the years, I actually have read quite a few books, not only about the church, but about business, public speaking, etc., things that have helped me be a better priest. May I suggest two kinds of books that you might consider reading this Lent—a book of spiritual knowledge, and a book of professional knowledge. The book of spiritual knowledge will help you be a better Christian. The book of professional knowledge will help you be a better stewards of the talents God has blessed you with. The most important book to read during Lent (and any time of the year) is the Bible. If you aren’t accustomed to reading the Bible, that is definitely the book to start with. Start with the Gospels, read those during Lent. Ten minutes a day reading (approximately 20 chapters a day) will get all four of them in before Pascha.
3.     Take a class-Many churches are offering either a retreat or a Lenten class. We do a Wednesday night teaching/discussion in our parish in Tampa which will be livestreamed again this year. See what’s going on in your parish or in your area and consider taking a class.
4.     Go to confession-When we go to confession with a good spiritual father, you’ll actually learn more about yourself, as well as about the Lord.
Lord, thank You for all of Your gifts. There is so much to learn in the world. Help me to deepen my knowledge, not only of things that help me to provide for my family, but for things that help me understand You. As I learn more and more about You, may I serve You and others with even greater fervor and conviction. Amen.
Practical idea for Lent: Make a plan to read the Bible every day. This Lent, the Prayer Team will be reflecting on the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, with reflections each day about the rich theology in the prayers of that service. Thank you for continuing to learn through the Prayer Team and for giving me the opportunity to continue teaching through it.