The Great Lent has crashed on our doors
Alas the Great Lent is upon us. This week began the holiest and strictest fast of the church calender. This Monday the Coptic Church began a 55 day long fast (and I believe most other Orthodox families have begun their Lent too) to help direct our minds and hearts towards the crucified Christ, to lift our spirits and thoughts to heaven and to teach us to the spurn the vain and boring and fruitless pleasures of the world.
It is probably no secret that the practice of fasting in the 21 century is not very well alive. It was probably very much more alive in past decades where people were in greater need, where they were trained more in patience and gratitude due to lack of technology and less accessibility of needful things such as food, communication with others, entertainment, education, etc. They walked to places or used horses, they showered in uncomfortable ways, they had trouble finding daily food, they died from simple illnesses, they wore less appealing clothes then we wear today and more.
When people would without a thought, fast according to the teaching of the very blessed Orthodox church, nowadays we easily find people just simply choosing not to fast. And even for the very holy Great Lent where I cannot begin to explain to you the amount of reverence some people had towards this sacred period!
Those non-fasters are either too absorbed by worldly cares and delights and don’t care for the spiritual world, which by their own will leads to the miserable end of living an unfulfilled life and inward emptiness. And hence they are utterly bereft of Christ’s presence and are left as helpless slaves to bad habits and sins.
Or maybe they do care a bit but just genuinely find it really hard to fast with the church due to the myriad of intense passions that beset us today such as addiction to TV and visual media options, gluttony, sexual passions, drinking, smoking, drugs, wasting time, etc.
So here are a few great resources that I hope will inspire us all to fast the Great Lent in some sort of form and help us UNDERSTAND why we do it. We must understand why we do the horribly difficult things that have been handed down to us by by our saintly ancestors and the fiery Coptic church of the past, and as it still active in parts of Egypt. If we don’t understand, and we don’t care to try to understand, we will simply stop doing it altogether out of apathy after a period of time. Just like the school student who doesn’t want to study and doesn’t try to understand why its useful would probably drop out before they finish their final grade.
1) Crazy crazy fasting
To start you off I want to blow your mind away and for you to observe fascinatingly how a Christian who lived not too long ago fasted the Holy Lent. Off course this is absolutely, extremely, insanely out of our league and even the modern-day saints I know about didn’t try this. But be inspired my spiritual audience and look at his incredible incredible zeal!
Additionally, learn this vital lesson! Without his extreme and vigorous prayer life, Fr Jonah would have dropped dead after a few days. So we too if we desire to have the POWER and GRACE to fast longer and stricter, must struggle first in the holy work of prayer. Because fasting without TRUE prayer is useless bodily mutilation.
An interesting aside fact is that St Jonah Atamansky was a married priest with 9 children. He wasn’t a monk. Isn’t that interesting that he still had the time to become a saint?
2) Fr Thomas Hopko
Of course, Jesus says, it’s not what goes into a person that defiles, but what comes out. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, as the Apostle Paul says, but peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So we don’t boast in our fasting. As the Church songs say, it’s silly to boast in fasting, because the demons never eat, and they’re the most evil beings that you can think of.
But it is the teaching that, without fasting, we cannot really live a spiritual life, without that self-discipline, abstinence, controlling, not worshipping our belly, not simply giving ourselves over to satiety and food, not filling ourselves with the kinds of food that stir up the passions and so on…
And in every case he says you must do it; it’s simply part of the discipline of being a human being and being a Christian. Abandonment of self-will is one of the main disciplines for doing the will of God, because the clash is: either God’s will or my will. One of the places that we are the most willful is in our eating and drinking, so it’s a very great training.
3) Archbishop Averky of Syracuse of Blessed Memory
A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one’s cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity.
This one is tough. It really is. It’s probably really disheartening…. “avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian” “bearing one’s cross” “self-crucifixion”, ughhhhh, honestly so much pain and effort required
But this is the height of the Christian life, this is our lot on earth: to discipline ourselves to the extremest level possible for the reward of heavenly glory and riches, to shine with the radiance and luminosity of divine grace, to be revered by others for our struggle and holiness and inspire them to struggle to eternal salvation and love God and man with a fervent and deep love. It is the most noblest, most perfect and highest possible way to live life. No pain, no gain.
4) The best and shortest summary of fasting
Again emphasizes the point of prayer. Fasting without true prayer is useless! This one is very easy to memorize and very easy to understand and is the perfect summary of fasting.
5) Take very very very baby steps, fast from your main weakness
What if you can’t keep a strict fast? Then don’t! Fast in a way that is challenging to you. If you’ve never fasted before, try something small that will be a challenge, like fasting Wednesdays and Fridays from meat. If that is not a challenge, then try to fast from meat the first week of Lent and Holy Week in addition to Wednesdays and Fridays. If that is not a challenge, then fast for the whole Lent from meat, then jump to not eating fish, and gradually increase the intensity of your fasting each year.
The other comment I have on fasting, which I hope will not scandalize people, is that for many people, fasting doesn’t fix what trips them up spiritually. There are some people who are addicted to pornography, x-rated movies, alcohol, weed, drugs, profanity, smoking, etc. Fasting from these things during Lent (and purging them from your life after Lent) is going to do you a lot more good than fasting from meat. (Fr. Stavros)
The area in the spiritual life that is the most dangerous to jump in is fasting. We must deeply internalize how extremely gradual and how much patience is needed for one to develop stricter fasting. It is acquired after years … not weeks, months or days! In St Jonah’s case it was decades.
However, I believe that if you truly know it’s in your power to fast from meat, fish and dairy products and that it is simply inconvenient and a bearable pain rather than impossible for you to fast, by the blessings naturally conveyed to those who faithfully adhere to the teachings of the church, you are obliged to fast.
Church rule states that if you don’t fast apart for some important reason, you are not supposed to take Holy Communion. The church in her wisdom knows just how purifying the great habit of fasting is.
6) Great analogy
Whenever I come to doubt the use of fasting and even prayer too, I very very simply rebuff the thoughts by telling myself: “think of the saints lives” or “what would the modern-day saints do?” Can any of you deny that fasting and prayer did not utterly transform the modern-day saints? Think…
- How did Pope Kyrillos sleep < 4 hrs night for decades straight and not drop dead due to being overworked?
- How did Mother Erini (-2006) and Fr Faltaous el Sorianni (-2010) perform so many miracles for people?
- How did Fr Pishoy Kamel grant such soothing comfort to those tens of thousands of people?
- How did all the saints have such supernatural and seemingly unattainable devotion to the spiritual world, which for those living in the flesh, seems to be the most terrible boredom in the world?
It was primarily through those two things: prayer and fasting.
“Study holy books regularly. Live like the saints.”
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