Let us now strive more, my children, and the benefits will be great. No one finds grace without toil. If the farmer does not farm his field, he will not see the results. When our fasting coexists, is strengthened, and is encompassed with prayer, with contemplation, with watchfulness, with church attendance, with Confession, with Holy Communion, with good works and almsgiving, then is fulfilled the beauty of the soul’s preparation for the reception of Holy Week. Then we feel the holy and honorable Passion of Christ more profoundly, because our hearts will soften, and they will alter and recognize how boundless the love of God is for man. Then the holy Resurrection will be alive within us with great strength. We will feast in a divinely-fitting manner and celebrate together with the angels the Holy Pascha. +Elder Ephraim of Arizona
Now that we have entered the Great Fast—the ascetical marathon—it is worthwhile for us to remember what we are seeking. What is our goal? Pascha is the feast, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. But it is not the goal. That would be like saying our goal in a marathon is the finish line. While the finish line is what we’re running toward, we don’t run marathons for the sake of finish lines. That’s not our goal. The goal is the thing that drives us forward, not the place we’re going.
So what drives us forward in Great Lent? Or rather what should drive us forward? As Elder Ephraim states so clearly above, our goal is the experience of God’s love. More broadly, it is the taste of eternal things—divine love, joy, and peace—within our temporal life. When this inbreaking happens, when we experience God’s own love, we are transformed.
God wants to give us His love. In fact He has no other goal or motive or desire than this. He created us for that one purpose: to shower us with His love. Our problem is that we don’t really want it most of the time. We prefer lesser “loves”: the passions which give us temporary fulfillment and distract us from our one true goal.
Great Lent is the time when, with greater resolve, we turn away from the lesser “loves” so that we can experience God’s love more fully. This turning away—repentance and asceticism—is at the heart of Lent. In fact it is such an inextricable aspect of Lent that we often only think of Lent in these terms: “What do I have to give up?”
Lent is such a daunting and grueling time. It is a marathon, and we sometimes feel like runners who have never practiced or trained. But there is always hope because Pascha will come. The finish line always arrives, even if we have been hobbling and crawling. So take heart and be of good courage: Run the marathon with all of the strength you have, no matter how meager it is. God knows where you’re at, and He will reward every little measure with a greater experience of His love.
We must keep our focus on the goal. Don’t let the finish line be your lesser goal, wherein everything is focused on getting to the feast of Pascha so that we can return to the insatiable feasting that we are so accustomed to in our mundane passion-driven lives.
Our goal is the experience of God’s love! When you taste of His love, your desire for anything else will diminish, and you will be transformed, slowly by slowly. This is the great joy of Lent: That through it we can have a greater experience of God’s love. May your Holy Week be blessed by God’s love!