In a few hours we will embark on another journey of Great and Holy Lent. This great season of taking stock starts with the Forgiveness Vespers. It begins a period of asceticism, of silence, of cleaning the slate. The beginning of Great Lent corresponds to the time that Adam and Eve got expelled from the garden of Eden. This is the beginning of the journey through the valley of tears; it symbolizes the long path to salvation that culminates in the joyous Resurrection. That day seems so very far away from today. That long journey involves a scaling back, of getting rid of the extraneous, the gunk that clogs up your life and most importantly fogs your vision of what is truly necessary.
Clean Monday is a reboot. A detox for the soul. A chance to strip away what is unnecessary and start from a clean slate. This is so important physically and psychologically especially in our mad mad mad world that races from one thought to the next, from one errand to another, from one rung of the to-do list ladder to the other.
What does it mean to get clean? I believe you need to start with staying in one place. It needs to start with prayer a centering of soul. Then it needs to begin by decluttering, by an emptying of everything that stands in the way of the bare naked soul and its Maker. Getting clean involves a good washing through—even in those places behind the ears and under the folds that hide the dark spots, the shadows of self. Getting clean involves coming clean. Confessing what is dirty in you.
Clean Monday starts the fast period during which we abstain from any products containing blood or animal by-products. This is an internal physical cleansing on one hand to take us out of the cycles of flesh-devouring flesh, the law of nature “red in tooth and claw” that dictates that one thing must die so that another live. It is a way to release the flesh from its prison house of slaughter. Not partaking of a mouthful of blood humbles the flesh so that it is thrust out of the ways of the fallen world, in order that it might take on a spiritual sustenance.
Clean Monday means putting aside all distractions—Instagram, phone chats and texts, luxuries, and the trappings of convenience—to do the one thing needful—the one thing Man was created for—to live in mindfulness of his or her Maker and to worship Him.
It is so hard to get clean. To purge, declutter, throw away. We get trapped in the very mechanisms that were meant to make our lives easier. When you think about it, a human being needs so little to survive. The bare necessities are so bare bones—a half a cup of rice, a liter of water, a shelter, something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to. The people of the developing world know this; they are for a large part happier and more content with their lives because they are in tune with the basics. We in the West are so overtaxed by accumulating so much and hankering over this and that, we make ourselves miserable. Our possessions posses us. We fill our houses and our open spaces with stuff, most of which is trivial, cheap and replaceable and probably made in China with a horrible track record of human exploitation. We fill our mind with noise, the static of our own selfish pursuits. We fill our living spaces and our bodies with the accoutrements of conspicuous consumption. But these do not fill us; they only make us hungrier for things of more precious substance. The Gospel on Cheesefare Sunday warned, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21)
The treasures of the soul are so much more valuable than the earthly ones.
The ancient Greeks had a wonderful word, it was called “pemptousia” which translates into the Latin “quintessence.” The thinking was that beyond the four elements that made up the universe, there was a Fifth element, one that brought them all together. It was this essential element, the bare minimum, the most fundamental that transpired through the universe and kept it all together.
I challenge you to think about this: Who are you in your most quintessential self? What would you do and feel if you could rid yourself of all the distractions that you put in your own way? What is most important for you?
This is what Clean Monday means for me. Keeping mind and body free of superfluous distractions; creating a discipline of prayer and fasting; looking within for signs of dirt and shadow. When you think of the possibilities this time offers us, it does not register as a chore or a trial. It is actually a way to freedom, physical, mental, and spiritual.