Proof of Your Fasting by your works
Let us Begin the Great Lent
As we begin the Great Lent, let us meditate on the topic of Fasting! Let us first recite the Lenten prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian.
O Lord and Master of my life,
drive from me the spirit of indifference,
despair, lust for power and idle chatter.
Instead, bestow on me, Your servant,
the spirit of integrity, humility,
patience and love.
Yes, O Lord and King,
let me see my own sins
And not judge my brothers and sisters,
For You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.
Saint Maximus the Confessor says that, “Fasting withers evil desires.” Saint Symeon the New Theologian says that, “fasting softens our hearts.” Through fasting every good work is accomplished and perfected, says Saint Gregory Palamas. St. John Chrysostom confesses his love for fasting: “I love fasting, because it is the mother of wisdom and the well of philosophical acts.”
Fasting is an essential element of the Christian Life. Christ fasted and taught men to fast. Blessed fasting is done in secret, without ostentation or accusation of others (St. Mathew 6:16; Romans 14). It has as its goal the purification of our lives, the liberation of our souls and bodies from sin, the strengthening of our human powers of love for God and man, the enlightening of our entire being for communion with the Blessed Holy Trinity.
The origin of Orthodox rules for fasting is of the monastic rules. No meat, eggs or dairy products. These rules exist not as a Pharisaic “burden too hard to bear” (St. Luke 11:46), but as an ideal to be striven for; not as an end in themselves, but as a means to spiritual perfection crowned in love. The Lenten prayers themselves continually remind us of this – “Let us fast with a fast pleasing to the Lord. This is the true fast: the casting off of evil, the bridling of the tongue, the cutting off of anger, the cessation of lusts, evil talking, lies and cursing. The stopping of these is the fast true and acceptable.” The Lenten prayers also make the undeniable point that we should not pride ourselves with external fasting since the devil also never eats! The most important aspect is – focus on our relationship with God!
During my stay on the Holy Mountain, my spiritual father taught me that, “Fasting is not the aim, but the means towards it.” He further told me that, “it was your aim to come to Mount Athos, and it was your destination. The boat, which brought you, was the means by which you arrived. Such is fasting; it is one of the means given to us by the love of God to crave for Him. God is our destination.” St. Basil said, “fasting is commingled with humanity. In Paradise it was given to man by God.” St. John Chrysostom wrote that, “when God created man He took him and placed him in the hands of fasting, which is an affectionate mother and excellent teacher. He entrusted it for his salvation. Though fasting is a teacher, it does not limit but it cultivates man.” According to my spiritual Father, “If fasting was necessary in Paradise, it is much more necessary outside of Paradise. If medicine was useful before an injury, it is much more useful after an injury. Fasting was given in Paradise as a precaution to not fall. Since man fell it is given therapeutically.”
We must understand that, fasting is a means and spiritual tool, which is not limited to food, but the entire man must participate in it psychosomatically. St. John Chrysostom tells us: “Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fish, but bite and devour our brothers? May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us!”
The only way to participate in Lent is to make some basic changes in our lives. We know that along with changes comes inner resistance and rebellion of the “fallen Adam” in each one of us. What kind of changes are involved in a good Lenten effort? From where will we expect the resistance?
Fasting and abstinence: We do not eat any meat, eggs, or dairy products during the time of Great Lent and until Easter itself. I would also add Internet to this list. Fasting is a basic and simple change, based upon the theory that if we can change our eating habits (not so easy), then we may have a chance to change our bad habits, ideas, hopes and plans from being so self-centered to God-centered. When we start to fast we must also pray. We need to overcome this rebellion—we must overcome it—if we are to become free.
Prayer, Worship, and spiritual reading: We pray more during Lent. Lent is a small slice of our year, which we offer to God to sanctify. Worship especially during Lent provides a feeling of compunction, quietness and sorrow at our distance from the Lord. There is a special beauty to the Lenten Services that speaks deeply to the soul that is listening—so listen! A small suggestion for each one of us is to turn off the television and spend time reading the Scriptures and writings of the Fathers.
Repentance, change and confession: During Lent we should take the opportunity to come to confess more frequently. Fasting and prayer are going to reveal, in the light of the Gospel, your sins to you. We must not neglect to properly prepare for Holy Communion by fasting, prayer, almsgiving, forgiving all wrongs, and the love of God. We should examine our conscience in light of the Holy Gospel to repent of those sins that we have committed. These should be confessed so we may receive absolution.
Caring and Compassionate to Those Suffering in Life: St. Paul reminded his flock in Corinth that when they came to the Liturgy they were to offer a portion of what they had been given by God for His children in thanksgiving. This is not alms, nor is it charity. We are to give out of thanksgiving to God for the gifts He has given to us and to share with the poor, hungry, and homeless. If you have only few gifts of time, talent and financial resources, then give a percentage of that for His Glory. We are empowered, equipped and sustained to do His work on this earth. All have a calling and a duty before the Lord, so use your God-given talent, time and financial resources to His glory.
Jesus’ Instructions on Fasting: Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (St. Matthew 6:16-18)
My prayer for this Great Lenten Season is “Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things. Come and abide in us. Cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.” My dear friends, may this Great Lent be a blessed experience for us to open our hearts to Christ for Him to come in to our lives and purify us to receive the Eternal Kingdom!