CLEAN WEEK: THE ORIGINAL SPRING CLEANING
We find ourselves in the first week of the Great Fast, known as “Clean Week” in the Orthodox Church. There are several ways to understand this title. There is the fact that in the final days before Great Lent we have cleaned our homes of the food from which we will abstain during the Fast. In this intensive liturgical time, we are working to clean our lives of the accumulation of sin, which can sometimes grow unnoticed. And it also refers to the goal of bringing cleanliness to all areas of our lives so we can reduce the distractions from our spiritual efforts. It is a good time to clean out a drawer, a closet, a room, or any and all areas in which we live or work.
For many of us, clutter is a normal aspect of our lives—one which we too often see as a virtue. We look at the clutter on our desks and pat ourselves on the back for how much work we do. We may have clutter in our homes and we say our house looks “lived in.” If you are like me, our overemphasis on food results in “clutter” clinging to our bodies (mine is mostly around the midsection!). And we justify the spiritual clutter of our sins by stating with contentment, “Well, I’m no saint.”
We may think of all this clutter as being normal, as having no effect. But the reality is that clutter is always stressful, in any of its forms. Cleaning out the clutter physically around us or the spiritual clutter within brings us closer to the “abundant life” Jesus promises us in John 10:10, in which He tells us He came that we all might live the “abundant life.” Only it turns out that to have true and meaningful abundance, we need to engage in what seems the opposite of the way to abundance: reduce. Reduce the amount of physical clutter in our surroundings. Reduce the cluttering of our bodies with indulgent eating. And most importantly, reduce the clutter of sin. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says this so beautifully and clearly, painting a picture where we are the athletes in a race, and the stands are filled with the Martyrs and all the Saints, cheering us on to receive the abundant life they have already begun to enjoy: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:1).
Back in the day, spring cleaning was a big deal. As the kids say, it was a “thing.” It was–and for some still is–the time for once-a-year clearing out of filth and clutter, left over from homes closed up all winter. Our hymns call the Great Fast the “Lenten Spring.” So let’s all do some “spiritual spring cleaning” this Clean Week. Let’s embrace this Great Lent with all of its struggles, so that we can find the abundant life our Lord came here to bring us.