The season of Lent has been set aside by the Church as a time to concentrate more intensely on the disciplines that we, as Christians, should practice all the time. By emphasizing some of the particular marks of the Christian life in Lent, we pray that we will be strengthened to continue these practices during the rest of the liturgical year. We would do well to heed the practical advice of the monastics, theologians and fathers of the Church on these practices.
On Prayer: Prayer is a golden link connecting the Christian man, the wanderer and stranger upon earth, with the spiritual world of which he is a member, and above all, with God, the source of life. The soul came forth from God, and to God may it ever ascend through prayer. Prayer is the constant feeling of our own spiritual poverty and infirmity, the contemplation in ourselves, in others, and in nature, of the works of the great wisdom and mercy, and almighty power, of God; it is a continually grateful frame of mind.
All you who draw near to serve God in prayer, learn to be like him – meek, humble and pure of heart; do not let there be any deceit or duplicity or coldness in your soul. Strive to have his spirit…the Lord seeks in us that which is like to himself, onto which his grace may be grafted.
When you pray, whether inwardly only, or both inwardly and outwardly, be firmly convinced that the Lord is there, beside you and within you, and hears every word, even if it is uttered only within yourself, even when you only pray mentally; speak from your whole heart, sincerely, and likewise judge yourself sincerely, without in the least justifying yourself; have faith that the Lord will have mercy upon you and you will not remain unforgiven. [St. John of Kronstadt, from Spiritual Counsels: Select Passages from “My Life in Christ”]
On Confession: Confession of sins is the door or the entrance through which a sinful man passes over to the true Christian path. It is the first and indispensable act which is necessary for that person who decides to change his behavior, to abandon the habit of sin, and to follow a holy Christian life. The sinner faces a certain difficulty when he wants to confess, because of shame. Let each one of us know, however, that this small shame which we feel in confessing our sins to only one person will deliver us from the great shame we will feel on the Day of Judgment, when our sins will be revealed before all men. It is therefore necessary to endure the shame of confession… We must confess our sins with all seriousness, with feeling, and if possible, with tears for our sins. He who hides a sin out of shame and does not confess it, will gain nothing good from the mystery of confession. [Monk John Vranos of Mt. Athos, from The Illustrated Sayings of the Holy Fathers]
On Almsgiving: Jesus assumed His followers would give alms… Free and open-handed giving is essential if you are to grow to be like Christ our God. Almsgiving is a private matter. We don’t boast about it, announce it, or drop subtle hints about how generous we’ve been with the needy. The Lord said regarding almsgiving, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” [Matthew 6:3]
The world is full of opportunities to help unfortunate people. We don’t need a case study to determine whether a hungry person is worthy of a few dollars of our hard-earned money… If your compassion for the poor and needy doesn’t bring you to give, you won’t make much progress as a Christian. St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662), whose tongue was cut out and right hand cut off for speaking and writing in defense of the Faith, said of almsgiving: “He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the uprightness of his intention.”
Throughout the centuries the Church has believed that the person who loves God and is growing in that love is an open-handed giver. Again, St. Maximus writes, “A person who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well, and such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need.” [Fr. Jon Braun, from Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory]
On the Study of Holy Scripture: A means of practicing God’s presence daily is by opening His personal letter to us, the Bible, and letting Him speak to us. The Bible has very aptly been called God’s personal love letter to us with a proposal for marriage and an R.S.V.P. How much more real God’s presence can become if we allow Him to speak to us for a few moments each day. The secret is never to put the Bible away without taking a promise from it and claiming it for yourself. For example, “Lord, You are my rock and my fortress” [Ps. 31:3] Take this promise and say it to yourself two or three dozen times during the day. It will do something to you. If you say it until your conscious mind accepts it, until it sinks down into your unconscious being, you will become aware that God is a real and living presence in your life. [Fr. Anthony Coniaris, from Discovering God Through the Daily Practice of His Presence.]
On Fasting: The purpose of fasting is to teach us discipline. Its purpose is also to cleanse us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many people have a practice of regularly taking an entire day off from eating, so that the body has a chance to cleanse itself of toxins. Certainly, the same can happen by the abstinence from specific foods and drinks during the Lenten period or anytime, for that matter. And this physical cleansing also affects the spirit of a person. It makes us better prepared to repent, “to change our minds” about things. It removes from us the inner sluggishness that is associated with too much eating and drinking even of innocent foods and drinks, a sluggishness that wants to paralyze us in our spiritual struggle. So, fasting is a good thing in many more ways than one would think. But, it ought to be done in moderation and without the stain of pride. [Archimandrite Laurence Mancuso, from Being Good: Responding to Our Faith: Notes from a Poor Monk]