Tag Archives: Fasting

As we begin the Great Fast…

O Nymphios

O Nymphios

Monday, February 17th, marked the beginning of Lent for the Eastern Orthodox churches and today is the first day of Lent in the West (this year both East and West will actually celebrate Easter on the same date! This only happens a few times every century). The Church presents some wonderful hymns to strengthen us during this time. One of my favorite goes:

The arena of virtues is open. Let all who are willing to compete enter, girding themselves. For those who genuinely compete will be deservedly crowned. Let us do battle with the enemy. Let us take on the armor of the Cross, having Faith as an invincible rampart, prayer as our breastplate, and charity as our helmet.

This period really can be a battle for us, as we intensify our efforts to deny our own, individual wills. One of the battles – and weapons – of the this time is fasting. A lot of people who work with me and notice my fasting ask me, “Why do you fast? What is the point?” Usually I tell them that it is a form of training, a way to overcome the passion of hunger which presents itself and to learn to control that passion. While reading The Freedom of Morality however I’ve come across another, wonderfully explained reason:

…the instinctive need for food, the greed for the individual’s self-preservation, is transfigured in the context of the Church’s fasting: submission to the common practice of the Church becomes paramount, turning it into an act of relationship and communion. The Christian does not fast in order to subjugate matter to the spirit, nor because he accepts a division of foods int “clean” and “unclean.” he fasts because in this way he ceases to make the intake of food an autonomous act; he turns it into obedience to the common will and common practice of the Church, and subjugates   preferences to the Church rules of fasting which determine his choice of food. And obedience freely given always presupposes love: it is always an act of communion.

To all my Christian brothers and sisters who are embarking on this Lenten journey, I pray that God watches over us all, strengthens us, and I pray that we use this time to grow ever closer to him, ever more in His image.


God will take away your gifts…

So here we are, ending the third day of the Great Fast. This is the time of the year when we are to really strive to live lives pleasing to God, to purify ourselves of harmful passions, and to fill our lives with spiritual thing things. I’ve been reading a wholly edifying book known as the Unseen Warfare which was written by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1600s, and over time made its way to Mt. Athos, and then to Russia where two Eastern Orthodox monks, St. Nikodemus and St. Theophan translated, edited, and made some changes to it.

In chapter 20, How to overcome negligence, it states:

Let the conviction never leave your thought that a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honour has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world; that every time we banish negligence and force ourselves  to do the work we should with diligence, Angles in heaven prepare for us the crown of a glorious victory; and that, on the contrary, not only has God no crowns for the negligent, but that little by little He takes back from them the gifts He bestowed upon them for their former diligence in His service, and will finally deprive them of His kingdom if they continue to be negligent, as He said in the parable of guests bidden to supper, who were too lazy to come: ‘For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper’ (Luke xiv. 24).

This is a very power statement, and one that I believe we should really think over during this lenten period.  It is only be continuing to progress on the spiritual path, by continuing to subdue and conquer our harmful passions and striving to align our will with the will of God that we can be assured of the Kingdom of God. If we are negligent in this task, and focus instead of gratifying our own base instincts and working to please our selves, or even if we just stop in a neutral position, God won’t punish us right away, but the longer we wait to restart our work, the more of His grace God removes from us until we have fallen so far from Him that we lose our salvation.

I pray that God will keep us all strong over the next 46 days until Easter, that we will have the strength, courage, and conviction to run the entire course of the fast, and that we can use this time of “concentrated Christianity” to regain what Grace we’ve lost, and refocus our energies into worshiping the Most Holy Trinity. May God bless you all!


Return to me…with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offereings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridgroom quit his room, and the brider her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, and say “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say amon the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

With that, one of the daily readings for today as specified by the Chruch calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her faithful to begin preparing for Great Lent. This is a 40 day period of purification and prepation for the faithful as we eagerly await Pascha–the celebration of Christ’s ressurection from the dead, the single most important moment in all of Christianity and without which the entire religion would not exist.

This 40 day period is also the strictest when it comes the Church’s proscribed fasting rule.  Officially from the morning of the firstday of Great Lent, a Monday, until evening three days later on Wednesday, no food is eaten. After that for the remaining time we do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, oil, or anything with those ingredients in them or are animal byproducts, with the exception being Saturdays and Sundays when wine and oil are permitted.

This more than the just “I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent” mentality that seems so pervasive. This is mortifying our bodies in an effort to overcome our own passionate will and to recognize that we rely on our God to provide for us and ensure our continued existence.

The Church Fathers have recognized for two millenium the value of hunger when fighting against the passions.  The Desert Father Abba Evagnus has said:

Lust is extinguished by hunger.

The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

The passions are exiterminated by sorrow and suffereing, either voluntary or sent by Providence.

And these are just two of many examples.

Great Lent begins on March 2nd according to the New Calendar this year. For all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, both here and worldwide, I humbly pray to God that this Lenten season will be edifying and profitable to you all. Let us struggle together to carry the weight of a self-inflicted cross, to fight against our passionate wills, and reflect upon what it is that our Great and Glorious King and God has done for us: He has set us from the snares of everlasting death and has corrected the Ancient Error so that we might have the means and the opportunity to recapture the Divine Image and Likeness and live in love in His presence.

To my Roman Catholic cousins who begin their Lenten period today, I pray that you will humble your hearts before God during this period, that you might treat it as not ‘Ordinary Time,’ but as extra-ordinary, other-worldly, sanctified time. Treat it as such, change your life to conform to this holy period and I am sure that it will be beneficial  to your souls as well.

Lastly, for the Protestants who do not follow a liturgical Church calendar, I pray that you might find your way back to this ancient observance and set it apart as a time of repentance and anticipation as well.

We are preparing for the second and more glorious Advent of Christ our God, greater than even Christmas. The only event that will ever be more important than this one to Christians will the third one! May God bless you all!


You -think- you’re holy…

Icon of the Publican and the Pharisee

Oh God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector.

These are the words which the Pharisee prayed to God in the temple. Jesus told this to his disciples in the parable about the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax-collector, which can be found in Luke 18:10-14

This past Sunday the (New Calendar) Orthodox Chruch celebrated the day reserved for this teaching from our God and this entire week is fast free, even from the normal Wednesday and Friday fasting. While most see this as being because we are about enter the Lenten period and the 40 day “Great Fast,” I heard another, more edifying explanation; we do not fast this week as a reminder that we should not think highly of ourselves just because we perform spiritual duties. Attempting to further justify himself before God, the Pharisee continues his prayer:

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.

It’s easy as an Orthodox Christian to get a  high opinion of yourself. For instance, I can think about my life and see that I too fast twice a week, I attended Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and I’m a chanter. I can look around me and easily see others who don’t do as much as me. But I cannot allow the idea that just because I do more means I’m more righteous stay in my head.

The tax-collector, a man who takes money from others, lies about fees, steals from those he’s collecting from; this man stood of at a distance, away from the crowd and those who might hear him. He beat his chest with compunction and lowered his eyes, not thinking himself worthy to raise his eyes to heaven and he prayed a simple prayer:

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

A simple prayer,  but because of the compunction, because of the repentance, Christ tells his disciples that it was the Publican who left the temple justified before God that day, while the Pharisee left unforgiven.

So this week we do not fast. Partially to give us time to prepare ourselves for Lent, but also to remind us that fasting and other spiritual acts will not gain our God’s favour. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 50 (51):

For if you desired sacrifice, I would have given it: you will not take pleasure in whole burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart God will not despise.

I pray that God will bless you all, and continually give us all opportunities to humble ourselves before Him and others.