The liberating time of Lent is ahead of us. The Lord expects us not only to limit our food but also to give alms. Besides that, He expects us to pray both individually and collectively in church, because prayer is inseparable from the Lent. Most importantly, there should be a proper relationship between the external actions and the internal attitude of the soul. In that case, all your efforts, whether they are great or small, will be of benefit.
Now, speaking of alms, the Lord does not call for excessive generosity. He says, Behold, do not destroy your little charity: do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. First of all, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. It is not enough just not to sound a trumpet. We should actively try to hide our good deeds, even to the point that let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. In addition, you should be happy if your good is paid for by ingratitude or malice.
Nevertheless, alms are intended for man, and it is very difficult to keep your hand invisible. Prayer, however, is addressed to the invisible God. The Lord says, And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. If alms are defiled by praise and yet reach the man, where will the prayer for which we seek praise from people go? To avoid waste of effort, the Lord advises, But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
There are two things you have to watch out for in order to ensure that your prayer in the church is solely for God’s sake. First, you should not stand out from the crowd by performing external signs of prayer. The Typikon of the First Monday of Lent prescribes exactly when you have to make prostrations or bows. Otherwise, “one precedes the other, rumbling like a cane in the wind.” Secondly, no matter how much you pray in the church, you can not forgo your home prayer. It is especially dangerous for those who sing in the choir. Isn’t it enough that they are pestered by a temptation to show off their skills? If they also stop praying at home, in secret, then prayer in the church will gradually cease to be about praying and will become merely “singing and reading”, for praise and salary.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. Nothing serves this better than to please the Father which is in secret. He Himself will make all secret things visible, when and how He sees fit, for the benefit of all and for their edification.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds