March, 2023

Orthopraxis - Lenten Govenie

Govenie: The Path of a Virtuous Life

In the St. Theophan Study Group, we are reading “The Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it” by St. Theophan the Recluse. St. Theophan is one of those 19th century Saints who are especially valuable for us, because he is closer to us in time, understood the modern mindset, and can “translate” the wisdom of the more ancient Holy Fathers for us who are further removed from their time and place.

“The Spiritual Life” is a collection of letters to a young woman who has asked for guidance from St. Theophan. She has been raised in the church, but she is not yet a fully conscious spiritual struggler who has taken responsibility for the actions of her own faith. The saint counsels her in various actions by which she can form a resolve that becomes a center that directs the actions of her life.

One of the activities that St. Theophan instructs her in is Govenie. This is defined as reverential activity during a fast (particularly Lent), by which one focuses a bit more on their spiritual life and preparation to receive the holy mysteries. One traditional time for this is clean week or the first week of Lent. Govenie is made up of time in church, with the penitenital nature of the services (especially the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete), as well as time in prayer and reading at home. Many of us confess and commune regularly, so what is so special about this preparation? It is a time to go a bit deeper, looking more closely at the patterns of thoughts and behaviors, and deepening our resolve to live for Christ. Govenie implies that we are setting aside our normal activities and schedule as much as is possible, and instead, dedicate time to our preparation and repentance. Some of the activities that can be enaged in at this time:

  • A more attentive participation in the church services
  • Extra prayers at home
  • Spiritual Reading that inspires and instructs us
  • A deeper examination of ourselves with the aim to do a complete confession and to form a better resolve to live for Christ - considering how we should conduct ourselves as Chistians.
  • Fasting from both foods, distractions and other passions. Having a measure of stillness so that we can more easily examine our selves and hear the still small voice in our conscience
  • A small non-distracting handcraft to keep us busy in-between.

The above is the ideal. Most of us will struggle to balance such activities with jobs, family responsibilities, energy levels, etc., but we should try to do what we can. You might notice that when you make an effort to do extra spiritual labors, that it seems like resistance and temptations multiply! That is to be expected - we should not be discouraged by the problems that come up, but rather see them as challenges to help us. We might find ourselves becoming more anxious, irritable, discouraged and the like. At those times, we should stop and recognize that these things are valuable to help us know ourselves, and repent more deeply. The temptations and problems are created by the friction that is created when we resist our normal patterns for more spiritual work. When looked at prayerfully, these problems can become fuel for the fire of greater zeal, repentance, self-knowledge, war against the passions and prayer. When these temptations arise, we can stop, look inside ourselves to identify what is happening, and then use the Jesus Prayer to transform our trouble into growth.

Lent is a valuable time to work on our spiritual growth, and Govenie is a toolbox with a good set of tools for spiritual growth. Having washed ourselves with repentance during the fast, we may find our sense of freedom and joy increased when we celebrate the bright resurrection of Christ!

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