By Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
1. Because our faith is light. Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.
2. In order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).
3. In order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matt. 5:16).
4. So that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.
5. So that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.
6. So that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God's will.
At this time we’re entering the great spiritual arena of the blessed Great Lent. Holy and Great Lent is a time of compunction, for repentance, for tears, for a change in ourselves, for a new stage in the spiritual life. Like an affectionate mother caring for her children, us Christians, the Church has designated this time of Lent as dedicated to the struggle, in order to help its children fight harder, to purify themselves, draw closer to God and to counted worthy of celebrating the great day of the radiant Resurrection.
Christians, especially monks, have always paid particular attention to this spiritual arena and have thought it especially sacred, because it is a period which envisages both spiritual and bodily struggles. There’s the struggle of fasting, the struggle of vigils, the struggle of purification and the struggle to fulfill one’s spiritual duties which are many more than at other times of the year. There’s a spiritual “defragmentation” and people pay greater attention to the voice of their conscience in order to correct what they’ve maybe neglected and to improve spiritually.
The Church assists us but with penitential hymns and services, as well as with teachings, to oil us up for the fight for the purification of our souls.
We have the penitential evening Divine Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts. The Presanctified is extremely beneficial. Its Cherubic Hymn is full of spirituality, contemplation, angelic presence. That’s why we should come to these liturgies during Great Lent with even greater compunction. We who consume the Body and Blood of Christ must be so pure and clean, so straight in body and soul for divine grace to have its effect. For this reason, we must lead very careful lives. Both n our cells and in church we must wet our face with tears so as to wash our souls and be worthy to take communion. Of course, the devil often makes us wanting in compunction, me more than anyone. Which means we can’t have tears and we often have bad thoughts. Bad thoughts and the sinful images that accompany them must be rejected as soon as they make their appearance. And when we have wicked thoughts or our soul is cold towards one of the brethren, let’s not approach the God of lover, Who is so pure and holy.
Throughout this period, at every service in Great Lent, we say the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, which is as follows:
Do not fabricate raptures for yourself, do not excite your nerves, do not inflame yourself with a material fire, with the fire of your blood. The sacrifice pleasing to God is humility of heart, contrition of spirit. With wrath does God turn away from sacrifices offered with self-confident presumption, with a proud opinion of oneself, though the sacrifice be a whole burnt offering.
Pride excites the nerves, heats the blood, arouses daydreaming, enlivens the life of the fall; humility calms the nerves, subdues the motion of the blood, eliminates daydreaming, mortifies falls, enlivens the life in Jesus Christ.
“Obedience” before the Lord “is greater than good sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams,” said the Prophet to the Israelite king who had dared to offer to God a wrong sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). When you wish to offer to God the sacrifice of love, do not offer it self-willfully, from a thoughtless impulse; offer it with humility, in that time and that place which the Lord commanded.
The spiritual place on which alone spiritual sacrifices are commanded to be offered is humility. (Saying of St. Pimen the Great from the ).
The Lord marked the one who loves and the one who does not love by true and exact signs: “If a man love Me, he will keep My word. He that loveth Me not keepeth not My sayings”(John 14:23,24).