March Pastoral Message
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
March is upon us and with it Holy and Great Lent. When we think of this period of the Church year, how do we feel? Is it a knee jerk reaction of the “somber, disfigured face” that Jesus warns us about. Are we embracing it as we should as a church? What is fasting anyway and why do we have to do it? I hope to clarify a few of these questions in a way that will not only encourage us to participate in the fast, but also help understand why fasting is so important in the life of the church.
Fasting has been around since Moses. In Exodus 34:28 we are reminded of his abstinence from food and drink before receiving the commandments of God. Throughout the old testament we see this formula for the fast repeated: for spiritual reasons a fast was selfimposed for those asking for God’s assistance. It was this same formula through which the Theotokos was born, a time of selfimposed prayer and a fasting by her parents Joachim and Anna. Today we fast for a similar reason, we are seeking God, except we know for certain we will find him, laying in a manger on Christmas morning, and Resurrected from the dead on Pascha. The church prescribes for us, during these times, a fast in preparation for these encounters.
Fasting is for the body what prayer is for the soul. Something we don’t often consider is that our soul and body are inseparably fused during our time here in God creation. We have different ways to feed our souls; prayer, almsgiving and good deeds. These spiritual virtues feed only half of our existence. Our soul is feed but our body is neglected and allowed to lapse into an unhealthy state. Fasting is the spiritual exercise for our bodies. It allows us a way to learn self-control in hope that by controlling our bodies in the simple way of eating we learn to control ourselves in all the passions of the flesh. It is also important to note that prayer and fasting should be as inseparable as the soul and body are. The church teaches that fasting without prayer has no value and can even be harmful.
The goal of fasting if to remind us of our dependence of God. By fasting we are allowing ourselves to become hungry knowing that God will fill us. So often we are looking for God in our lives and when we do not find Him we get discouraged. This is not because He is not there and not because we are not listening for Him, but I believe we are not leaving space for Him. Only if we invite Him into our lives and leave space from Him to work can we then see Him.
In understanding the fast, it also important to know what the fast is not. The fast is not only intended for monks and nun, it is a benefit to all Christians. Also, we must not pretend that we are saving ourselves through our effort of fasting, God only can save us, our fast is not unto salvation but continual obedience. On that note, the way we fast should not be made up on our own or selfguided. The church offers the prescription and only through consultation with your spiritual father should it ever be adjusted. Also, the fast is not a sad or sorrowful time, it is a time of Joy. St. John Climacus calls it a “joy-creating sorrow” It is a struggle, but one that is maintained joyfully, it is not a punishment. Lastly, we do not fast as a rejection or punishment of the flesh. Because our world is fallen we have the need to be purified through the self-discipline that fasting offers us, we were in fact created “very good”.
With that brothers and sisters I urge all of you to take to time to be intentional about your fast this lent. Christ warns us in our Holy Week passages not be white washed tombs, where the outside is cleaned but the inside is full of death and decay as the Pharisees were with their external sign of piety. We must take the time now to prepare the inside of the tomb with the virtues of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Blessed Lent and Kali Sarakosti!
+Fr. Thomas Alatzakis
2nd Thursday after Pascha
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