Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fast from your sins not only from food

This is Cheese Week, so named because this is the last week, for those of us who are able and do follow the fasting discipline of the church, to eat dairy products. We have already given up meat and are now easing our ways into the gravity of the Great Lenten Fast.

The epistle from this past Sunday, Meatfare Sunday or also known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment comes from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, beginning at the eighth verse of Chapter 8. We are told by St. Paul that our freedom should not be a stumbling block for the weak. Now, those who oppose any sort of fasting since they regard it as merely legalistic proscriptions which are designed to gain favor with God and thus "merit" forgiveness of our sins, have really missed the point. We are given the freedom to do either. Now, I am not saying that fasting and not fasting are one in the same thing--they are clearly not. But I should not (and hopefully will not) notice my Orthodox brother not fasting and then condemn him for it. And I should not be condemned because I choose to observe strictly and faithfully the fast as it has been handed down by the church. Fasting is good spiritual discipline. If we don't deprive ourselves, both physically and spiritually, how then can we truly begin to know the compassions of God which are the reasons for our rejoicing and celebration at the Holiest of Days, our Lord's Pascha? I don't believe that someone can, but that's a matter of opinion.

But fasting from food without ceasing our sins is nothing more than dieting. If we continually show anger towards our neighbor, look lustfully at a man or woman, steal a dollar while someone isn't looking, curse under our breath at God or man, but still fast, then we have really missed the point. And many who do fast (including me) do miss the point. If we have not fasted from our pride, our greed, our envy, our lust, our gluttony, our laziness, yet we take care not to eat meat and not to eat dairy, we have not begun to prepare ourselves. Our preparation is empty and our journey to the empty tomb of our Lord will simply pass as an event in time which has no spiritual repurcussions for us and for our salvation.

At Hagia Sophia there was a sign which in Greek spelled out a palindrome. In English it reads, "Wash your sins, not only your face." Such, when it comes to fasting, our freeing ourselves from food is but a first step. It is a good first step, to be sure, but if it is not coupled with prayer (especially more prayer than what we are generally accustomed) and alms-giving, then our fasting will be in vain. We will not be judged for whether we kept the dietary restrictions of the fast; we will be judged for not purging ourselves from the thoughts and passions using fasting as the means.

God keep you all during the Great and Holy Fast.

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