The primary message in both the season of Autumn and the season of Lent is change. For us living in the Southern Hemisphere, Autumn reminds us in various ways of the central 'change' in Lent.
Let's take a closer look at Autumn. There's a change in weather. You can both feel and taste the change in the air and the sunlight. Gone is the humidity of summer. The chill of winter hasn't yet arrived. There is no extreme of temperature. So it's a very temperate season - not hot, not cold, but measured. On the 21st March we have the Autumnal Equinox. Once again, we see that 'measured' idea of equality, equilibrium, balance. The equinox is in fact one of the criteria used to calculate the date of Easter. These physical phenomena play a role in the Church too.
The spiritual season of Lent always coincides with Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. They blend well together! The Lenten themes are of repentance, training, self-control. We work hard in the forty days before Easter to readjust our way of life, make ourselves able to survive the ups and downs and trials of life.
The palette of Autumn, you will notice, is linked to our spirituality - the colours of the Autumn leaves are predominately the the colours which dominate our iconography - reds, golds, warm yellows and purples. Porphyron, the Greek word for purple: the word "porphyry" which I will discuss in a moment - as you see, it is a type of rock - derives from this word. The whole spirit of Lent is coloured with the colour purple - not just the colour purple in fact, but the reds, the golds, the warm yellows.
The vestments of priests and bishops in Lent are usually purple. Mostly they wear red-purple, since blue-purple is actually more a Western influence. Purple cloth is placed upon the altar-table, the icon stands, and so on. What is the intention of this? Purple symbolises wealth, yes - but it also symbolises mourning. It reminds you to restrain yourself during Lent, to cultivate the "healthy sadness" or "joyful sorrow" of Lent. Let's discuss that idea ...
Autumn is the time of harvest, the time when many fruits ripen. The Greek word for autumn - fthinoporo - means the ripening of fruit. The message here is of maturity, ripeness, readiness. John Keats described autumn as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The connection to Lent here is plain.
"Healthy sadness" - charmolipi - is a sadness that ends up producing happiness. It is not quite sad in the English term - it means to be sad but also happy, sober and yet content. Today sadness is not something you're supposed to experience. Our society promotes joy without sadness, gain without pain, fruit without cultivation - there is a big focus on transient joy, not deep fulfilment. Be careful of this. Sadness and joy are natural aspects of life, present in Lent as well as in the rest of the year.
Now you may be wondering, "but what about the Northern Hemisphere"? In the North as we know, Lent is in Spring, and the Northern Hemisphere was where Christianity first began. So a lot of the hymns speak of springtime in this period - there aren't many mentions of it, but they are significant, speaking of the "spring time of our hearts". What this shows is the connection the hymn-writers made between their spiritual and physical environments, which is an important idea. It is the idea that people don't just feel things spiritually, but organically also.
So what to do with us here in the Southern Hemisphere? Certainly, Easter matches the season of Spring far more than Autumn - but what about Lent itself? That is certainly an autumnal period. Spiritually, Easter brings spring time; but in terms of cultivation, ripening and repentance, we see that Lent is a far more autumnal period.
For us here, Autumn is Lent, and Lent is Autumn. Lent then becomes a vioma - a special Greek word that means more than just hearing or experiencing something, but living it, having a life experience. When people from the North come here, Christmas is just not right to them - there's no cold, no snow. The vioma of Christmas for them remains coloured with snow.
So for you, every Autumn in your life will be coloured with Pascha.
Think of our vioma of Holy Week. Don't you always think of Holy Thursday as a day of cooking red eggs, as a smell of waking up to dye and vinegar?
Now I will tell you that you cannot feel Easter without fasting.
These are forty days where you make an effort. We start on Clean Monday, which is really like a day of detox. Very strict fasting, no oil or anything. We've worked on not eating meat for a week previously to that - Cheesefare Week. The Church was very kind to us for doing this. Imagine eating meat right up until the day before Lent, then suddenly asking your body to go cold turkey! That's why we have a week of preparation beforehand, to get us into the idea of fasting. In the same way, the Church in these weeks before Lent provides certain Gospel readings and services that are preparing us for the idea of spiritual fasting and effort.
So think on the idea of Autumn and Lent as you fast. Remember that this is a period of soberness, patience, and slow maturing, so that by the end of Lent, we become ripe for Easter.