Whenever either the Summer or Winter Olympics ends the athletes that are victorious return home to bask in their achievements, while those who did not win medals return to begin training for the next Olympics. Television coverage provides us with a bird's-eye view of the long and difficult sacrifices they make to train for this event. We are able to share the pride and joy expressed in the words and faces of their parents. The satisfaction of the athletes and their families are well noted in these heart-warming vignettes.

We are in the midst of our training for the Olympics... the spiritual Olympics that will take us to Pascha and the joy of the Resurrection. During the Great Fast we have the chance, and the choice, to strive toward being the best "spiritual athletes" we can be by renewing our hearts, our minds, and our souls. As parents, we are to provide our children with opportunities to practice our Orthodox faith in the daily routines of fasting, charitable works, sorrow for our transgressions, and a resolve to reach for the joy of Pascha in these remaining weeks of the Great Fast. During this period, as in the Olympics, those who hold fast to their goals will emerge renewed and thankful for the opportunity to grow as Orthodox Christians.

There is still time to experience Lent in a meaningful way if we fight off the enemy of action and resolve - procrastination. It is so much easier to tell ourselves that we will begin next Monday, or respond to our children's requests to follow the tenets of the Great Fast with "it is too late to start this year, but next year we will try to do better." Instead, let's begin by considering a few ways to fight off procrastination.

  • Place a list on the refrigerator, as a reminder to yourself and your children, of special deeds for others you hope to complete during the Great Fast.
  • As a family plan the daily spiritual activities you can engage in together, like Scripture reading before meals and bedtime, prayer, choosing and preparing Lenten menus, and encouraging your children to participate.
  • Make a family commitment to limit television viewing and other unnecessary social activities for the duration of the Lenten period.
  • As a parent, set the example and take the lead in participating in those activities scheduled and prescribed by the Church.
  • Help your children to understand that being a good Christian demands sacrifices, constant care, and participation.
  • Help your children to understand that being a good Christian demands sacrifices, constant care, and participation.
  • Encourage and support your children's requests to participate in Lenten services each week and their efforts to meet their schedules as altar servers, teacher assistants, choir members, and any special projects with a smile.
  • Let your children know you are pleased with their attempts to fast, increase their good deeds, and practice Orthodox Christianity regardless of how small their efforts appear.

The Orthodox Church truly provides us with an opportunity to increase our spiritual participation during the Lenten period. It is not just something "we have to do," but something we can cheerfully "choose to do" because the Church prescribes it to help us walk towards the victory of the Resurrection. We need only be willing to make those difficult sacrifices that bring us to the end of the race. The knowledge that we have truly tried to please God and strengthen ourselves for Holy Pascha will give us peace. Some individuals may have no strength to experience Great Lent, others who begin with good intentions may drop by the wayside, but those who move towards Pascha will truly experience the fullness of Christ's Resurrection.

Nutritionists and medical experts tell us that what we eat, how we exercise, and what we think has an important impact on our physical well being. The wisdom of the Church tells us that same thing concerning our spiritual well being. Can we afford not to provide a good Lenten experience for our children, when we so willingly give them the "best of everything" else? A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step ... and there is always time ... today ... and with God's blessings we will all have the strength and conviction to experience Holy Pascha with renewed faith, love, and joy.

Dr. Violet Leathers is Associate Professor Emeritus in Early Childhood Development at the University of Akron. As a mother of three and grandmother of three more, her interest has focused on the development in children from birth to age 8. Dr. Leathers and her family attend Presentation of Our Lord Romanian Orthodox Church (OCA), Fairlawn, OH.