It's Ash Wednesday and I read from Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book Great Lent every year. It is amazing. I read the following passage this morning at morning prayer / Ash Wednesday liturgy. It's just about perfect!
"For many, if not for the majority of Orthodox Christians, Lent consists of a limited number of formal, predominantly negative, rules and prescriptions: abstention from certain food, dancing, perhaps movies. Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that is is almost impossible for us to understand that there is “something else” in Lent—something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning. This “something” can best be described as an “atmosphere,” a “climate” into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to “soften” our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden “thirst and hunger” for communion with God.
This lenten “atmosphere,” this unique “state of mind,” is brought about mainly by means of worship, by the various changes introduced during that season into the liturgical life. Consider separately, these changes may appear as incomprehensible “rubrics,” as formal prescriptions to be formally adhered to; but understood as a whole, they reveal and communicate the spirit of Lent, they make us see, feel, and experience that bright sadness which is the true message and gift of Lent. ..."
From Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
He goes on to talk about the art of repentance among other things. As The Book of Common Prayer states; "I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer..."
May you enter into the bright sadness and the observance of a Holy Lent.