Father's Corner: Beginning the Fast
Beloved brothers and sisters of St. Thomas,
The Lord bless you all!
We have set off on a marvelous journey of repentance, self-discovery and fulfillment. This journey began at midnight this past Sunday and continues until midnight on April 16th.
For centuries, in order to distinguish this time period from the three other holy seasons (Dormition, preparation for the Feast of the Apostles, and the preparation for Christ’s holy Nativity), this period is called the Great Fast. It is the longest and the strictest fast of the year.
It is also called “Lent,” but this word is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon term for Spring. Of course, this period is akin to the rebirth or springtime of our souls and as such, is perfectly appropriate to describe this sacred season.
The Great Fast has its own unique atmosphere. The best summary of the development and practice of the Fast that I know can be found in the introduction to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s translation of the “manual” of this season, the Lenten Triodion.
How should we approach these days?
First, with positivity! We should rejoice that God has given us this period to step back from the daily rush, and to consider our souls in the light of eternity. Lent is not a burden or a time of self-flagellation. It is freedom from the chains of our habitual sins, our endless fascination with tasty foods and our general obsession with bodily pleasures.
The Great Fast is a vehicle of Grace. In other words, through the Fast, we come to ourselves and begin to (albeit indistinctly) see ourselves as the wretches that we really are. God’s Presence (Grace) awakens us from our worldly slumber and we hasten with joy to the somber and majestic services and prayers.
Secondly, the Great Fast offers us the opportunity to “be” God’s mouth, hands and feet. We can speak comfort to others as we are inspired by Christ. We can reach out helping hands to those in need (especially our closest ones) to lighten the burdens that they are carrying. We can run to those who are struggling; drowning in the sea of cares.
St. Gabriel the New of Georgia often used “foolishness for Christ” to teach salvific lessons to his people. He once wrote, “God is love!” on a piece of paper and taped it to his forehead for all to see as he walked among the people. They were startled, but understood. During this time of penitence, when the Enemy constantly sows foolish thoughts in our minds about how difficult and burdensome these days are, we need all the more to reiterate the lesson: God is Love.
The primary task of the Fast is to return His love by prayer and repentance ... but also to show that love to “the least of these” by serving those in need. Often, this starts in our homes, where we are the least loving and the most demanding of others.
Our hunger and self-denial is but a tool which opens the gates of loving adoration for God and sacrificial love for people.
So much more could be said in this space, but “time fails us” and it is no use to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Let’s not perceive this period as a time of burdensome obligations, but rather as freedom from the servitude of the passions and a de-coupling from the “sin which so easily ensnares us.”
With fervent prayers for our parish and love for each and all of you, I remain Your servant in Christ our God,