My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE NATURE OF FASTING
The JOY of the RESURRECTION, so vividly described by Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, forms the foundation of ALL THE WORSHIP THE Orthodox Church, it is the one and only basis for our Christian life and hope. Yet, in order for us to experience the full power of this Paschal rejoicing, EACH OF US NEEDS TO PASS THROUGH A TIME OF PREPARATION. ‘We waited,’ says Bishop Nikolai, ‘and at last our expectations were fulfilled.’ Without this waiting, without this expectant preparation, the deeper meaning of the Pascha celebration will be lost.
So it is that before the festival of Pascha, there has developed a long preparatory season of REPENTANCE and FASTING, extending in present Orthodox usage over TEN WEEKS. First, come TWENTY-TWO DAYS (four successive Sundays) of preliminary observance; then the SIX WEEKS OR FORTY DAYS of the Great Fast of Lent; and finally HOLY WEEK. Balancing the seven weeks of Lent and Holy Week, there follows after Pascha a corresponding season of FIFTY DAYS OF THANKSGIVING, CONCLUDING WITH THE FEAST OF PENTECOST.
"…Until the 14th century, most Western Christians (Roman Catholics), IN COMMON WITH THEIR BRETHREN IN THE Orthodox East, ABSTAINING DURING LENT NOT ONLY FROM MEAT BUT FROM ANIMAL PRODUCTS, SUCH AS EGGS, MILK, BUTTER, AND CHEESE. In East and West alike, the Lenten Fast involved a severe physical effort. But in Western Christendom (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) over the past 500 years, the physical requirements of fasting have been steadily reduced, until by now they are little more than symbolic. How many, one wonders, of those who eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday are aware of the original reason for this custom — to use up any remaining eggs and butter before the Lenten Fast begins? Exposed as it is to Western secularism, the Orthodox Christian world in our time IS ALSO FOLLOWING THE SAME PATH OF LAXITY.
One reason for THIS DECLINE IN FASTING is surely A HERETICAL ATTITUDE TOWARDS HUMAN NATURE, A FALSE ‘SPIRITUALISM’ WHICH REJECTS OR IGNORES THE BODY, VIEWING MAN SOLELY IN TERMS OF HIS REASONING BRAIN. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost A TRUE VISION OF MAN AS AN INTEGRAL UNITY OF THE VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE; THEY NEGLECT THE POSITIVE ROLE PLAYED BY THE BODY IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, FORGETTING Saint Paul’s affirmation: "YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT…GLORIFY GOD WITH YOUR BODY" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox Christians is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that THE TRADITIONAL RULES ARE NO LONGER POSSIBLE TODAY…However, fasting as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved hardship…Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the Heavenly Kingdom? Why should THE SELF-DENIAL gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox Christians prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once Saint Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this, he replied: ‘ONLY ONE THING IS LACKING – A FIRM RESOLVE,’
THE PRIMARY AIM OF FASTING IS TO MAKE US "CONSCIOUS OF OUR DEPENDENCY UPON GOD." If practiced seriously, the Lenten abstinence from food – particularly in the opening days – involves considerable measure of real hunger, and also a feeling of tiredness and physical exhaustion. The purpose of this is TO LEAD US IN TURN TO A SENSE OF INWARD BROKENESS AND CONTRITION; TO BRING US, THAT IS, TO THE POINT WHERE WE APPRECIATE THE FULL FORCE OF CHRIST’S STATEMENT, "WITHOUT ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING" (John 15:5). THE OBSERVANCE OF A PHYSICAL FAST UNDERMINES THIS SINFUL COMPLACENCY… FASTING IS NOT A MERE DIET. IT IS MORAL AS WELL AS PHYSICAL. TRUE FASTING IS TO BE CONVERTED IN HEART AND WILL; IT IS TO RETURN TO GOD, TO COME HOME LIKE THE PRODIGAL SON TO OUR FATHER’S HOUSE. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, it means "ABSTINENCE NOT ONLY FROM FOOD BUT FROM SIN." (Source: The Lenten Triodion)
According to Nikitas Stithatos, "Our spiritual growth corresponds to the different stages in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. While we are infants in need of milk (cf. Hebrews 5:12) we are suckled on the milk of the introductory virtues acqired through bodily discipline, yet this is of but limited profit (cf. Timothy 4:8) to us once we begin to grow in virtue and gradually leave our infancy behind. When we attain adolescence and are nourished by the solid food of the contemplation of the spiritual essence of things – for our soul’s organs of perception are now well attuned (cf. Hebrews 5:14) – it may be said that we increase in stature and in grace (cf. Luke 2:52) and sit among the elders (cf. Luke 2:46). disclosing to them things hidden in the depths of darkness (cf. Job 12:22). When wew have reached ‘MATURE MANHOOD, THE MEASURE OF THE STATURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST’ (Ephesidans 4:13), WE PROCLAIM TO ALL THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE, TEACH OTHERS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (cf. Mattthew 4:17), and press on towards the Passion (cf. Luke 12:50). For this is the ULTIMATE GOAL OF EVERYONE WHO HAS REACHED PERFECTION IN THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE after passing through all the different ages of Christ he finally undergoes the trials that Christ suffered on the Cross."
In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew Jesus instructs His Disciples when they asked Him, "Why could se not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief, for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. However, THIS KIND DOES NOT GO OUT EXCEPT BY PRAYER AND FASTING" (Matthew 17:19-21). So, it is certain that if one is to drive out evil one needs to combine FAITH, PRAYER, AND FASTING in order to accomplish it. This exactly what Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church teaches us to do throughout Lent but also throughout our lives.
"Glory Be To GODa
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God