The season of the Great Fast is a journey that begins in exile and ends joining myself to the joy of Christ’s resurrection. The spirit of the season is a profound acknowledgement of my separation from God by my own actions. I have prepared for the season through the five themes during the preparation period. I end the preparation in exile and expelled from paradise with Adam. I sit at the gates of paradise and cry: “Woe is Me!…Formerly I was clothed in an immortal brightness; now, as a poor mortal, I am wrapped in the shroud of death. Alas! Whom shall I find to weep with me?” (Matins on Cheesefare Sunday) With this dark, sad theme I begin my journey. This somber mood permeates the hymnography of the Great Fast. But during the same Matins service, just two hymns later I sing: “You are truly most blessed, O virgin Mother of God. Through the One who was incarnate of you, Hades was chained, Adam revived, the curse wiped out, Eve set free, Death put to death, and we ourselves were brought back to life”
At the same time that I openly acknowledge my shortcomings and my separation from God, I see the bright light of Pascha shining with the hope of my salvation. This mixed message is found in every service throughout the Great Fast. Bright Sadness is the term coined by Father Schmemann for this spirit of our Great Fast services. We experience the sadness of our human situation, in both words and the minor key of our music for the season. But at the same time I cannot forget that our salvation has already been achieved. Christ is still risen, I am still saved. But I cannot become proud or settled in my salvation. I must experience the real sadness of exile every year. I have accepted my savior but I have not become perfect yet. I have my shortcomings, I exile myself by my daily sins. Once a year I accept this exile and resolve to change my life anew, to consciously journey back to the Resurrection and join Christ on that road during Holy Week. I can join Jesus on this pilgrimage during Holy Week by filling my spirit with this Bright Sadness during the season of the Great Fast. The daily hymns of the Church will take me step by step through my spiritual inventory for the journey.