It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent. If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend. For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states. After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast.
We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection. We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent. At each stage there is a victory. The victory enables us to move on to the next. As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level. During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn. Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts. Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured. Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor. The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension. Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration. Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass. Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over. Everyone is a winner. We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.