“From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive to love God above all, and fulfill His holy will” — St. Herman of Alaska
Wednesday, February 21st, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It would be very difficult to over-emphasize the importance of Lent to our spiritual lives, so please do your best to clear your schedule and to be in church at 6:30 PM for Ash Wednesday Services.
Confessions will be heard at mid-day on Ash Wednesday from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM.
Ash Wednesday Services begin at 6:30 PM, and will consist of Solemn Vespers, the Imposition of Ashes, and the Sung Litany.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church. Ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians on Ash Wednesday in the form of a cross. The words (based on Genesis 3:19) used to accompany this ceremony are, "Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris" — “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
Beginning Lent with the imposition of ashes is credited to St. Gregory I, the Great (c. 540–604). The formula, based on the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their fall, reminds the faithful of their own sinfulness and mortality, and thus of their need to repent and turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Fr. William Saunders writes, “The liturgical use of ashes originates in Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality and penance. For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 B.C.) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Est 4:1). Job (whose story was written between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C.) repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel (c. 550 B.C.) wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Dn 9:3). In the fifth century B.C., after Jonah's preaching of conversion and repentance, the town of Ninevah proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, and the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes (Jon 3:5-6). These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.
Jesus Himself also made reference to ashes. Referring to towns that refused to repent of sin although they had witnessed the miracles and heard the good news, our Lord said, "If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago" (Mt 11:21).
The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. In his book, De Poenitentia, Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must "live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes." Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness. Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.
In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, "Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." After the sprinkling, the priest asked, "Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?" To which the dying person replied, "I am content." In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality and penance is clear.
Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40-day preparation period (not including Sundays) for Easter. The ritual for the "Day of Ashes" is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates at least to the eighth century. About the year 1000, an Anglo-Saxon priest named Aelfric preached: "We read in the books, both in the Old Law and in the New, that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast." As an aside, Aelfric reinforced his point by then telling of a man who refused to go to Church on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes; the man was killed a few days later in a boar hunt. Since this time, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.
In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made from the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross … As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ. Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in Heaven.”
Those of us who have been trying to follow the Lord, but have the humility to recognize the sin in our lives and that we continue fall short of our high calling in Christ, can say on Ash Wednesday, “Today, I will begin again.” And those who have never turned to Christ, or who have fallen away from following Him can say, “Today, I will begin.” Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season is a time for beginnings and for new beginnings. Let us make the most of this important and grace-filled day and season. Please invite family and friends to join us for Ash Wednesday Services. It can be the beginning of a new life as an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ.
To help us begin a holy and spiritually profitable Lent, I am attaching links to a several helpful articles. Please remember that they are written by Eastern Rite priests and may mention certain Eastern Rite Services or practices that do not necessarily apply to us in the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church.
THE HEALING POWER OF FORGIVENESS
ON NOT TRYING HARDER
THE FIRST WEEK OF GREAT LENT: PASTORAL ADVICE
ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICES — Wednesday, February 21
CONFESSIONS will be heard from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM.
Confessions can also be heard during the Psalms (but not the Canticles) at Solemn Vespers on Wednesday evening.
SOLEMN VESPERS, IMPOSITION OF ASHES, AND THE SUNG LITANY at 6:30 PM.
Everyone is invited to attend. Visitors are always welcome. We are a faithful, friendly and vibrant parish, and we have a place for you. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you on Ash Wednesday.
Please forgive me, a sinner, for any offense I may have caused you. Pray for me as I do for you. Many God grant us all a holy and spiritually profitable Lent.
HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127