Great Lent shows man the path to Easter – to the Resurrection. During this time, man limits his food as well as entertainment, but this fasting is not merely abstinence from food; it is the restoration of inner peace in our hearts. This journey of a soul towards God is a struggle with sin. Sin distracts a person from God, destroying his inner peace. Thus, we must control our words, thoughts, and feelings, as this is the basis of our inner struggle towards God.
In order for our hearts to be able to embrace the love of Christ, they must be open to embracing the virtues of love, compassion, humility, and patience.
We are all inclined to sin. Therefore, the purpose of the fast is to focus on the struggle with our sinful nature, so that we may gain that inner spiritual freedom and beauty, which can only be bestowed through the love of Christ.
The mind and feelings of an intemperate and proud man wanders. He looks for sinful foods to satisfy his emotions and desires and seeks opportunities to quarrel with others. For sin develops roots that entwine the inner world of the soul, distorting man's perception of the world and hindering his focus.
Fasting is not just outward abstinence. The external abstinence of food, entertainment and pleasures enables man to focus inwardly, in the silence of his heart, allowing him to make way for God to dwell in his heart through prayer and repentance.
One week before Great Lent, our Church prepares us for the ‘arena of the virtues’. The main events in which we’re called upon to make a particular effort are fasting and prayer. But these are events which aren’t aimed at independent prizes, particularly ones which would threaten to fill us with self-satisfaction and hubris. The aim of all the ascetic struggles is the chief crown: love, a garland of blossoms which grow only in the ground of humility. Humility and love, then, are an inseparable pairing- one never exists without the other- and it’s to these that we should look as we perform our ascetic efforts in Lent, which will soon be upon us.
Love over all
Love over all
The Epistle reading helps us to understand the deep meaning of fasting, in particular. For the Church, ‘fasting’ means neither diet nor some vague notion of the exercise of self-control. Saint Paul says that whether you eat or don’t eat is a matter of indifference in moral or religious terms. It acquires a spiritual dimension when it’s linked to the person of Christ.
For believers, ‘fasting’ means ‘I don’t eat, because of my love for Christ and out of obedience to the Church’. Of course, there can be no love for Christ if we don’t love other people, who weren’t only made ‘in the image of God’ but for whose salvation ‘Christ died’. This is why, if you put the smallest stumbling-block in the way of the salvation of your neighbor, ‘you sin against Christ’. Because he built his work on his sacrifice on the cross, and scandal-mongers destroy it through their selfishness.
Praying with Humility: Our "Cell Phone" to the Heavenly Father (by Dcn. Michael Schlaack)
Throughout the Gospels Jesus taught in parables. The word we translate as parable in English is the Greek word parabolhn, which literally means in English, “Beside-Cast,” and is meant to convey the act of laying something next to another object for the purpose of comparison. And this is exactly what Jesus does as He describes certain aspects of the Kingdom of God. In the case of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is dealing with prayer, and more specifically, humble prayer.
A good place for us to start when considering humble prayer and its impact on our lives is to simply ask ourselves, “How’s my prayer life?” There is a beautiful quote from the 19th century Russian monk and bishop, St. Theophan the Recluse, which helps us to redirect our focus towards our prayer life;
Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to a be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.”
Take a couple of minutes to really consider what St. Theophan is saying here. To the ancient Holy Fathers, prayer was as necessary as breathing. If your ability to breathe is in any way hindered, you suffer a slow death. Breathing is something we must do for our entire lives; from the very moment of our birth to quite literally our last dying breath. Breathing is a sign of life and a basic requirement for our existence.
Now consider this in light of our spiritual rather than our physical life. When our prayers become hindered or non-existent, then our spiritual life begins to suffer, and all aspects of our faith slowly dies. And just as breathing is a basic function that demonstrates the existence of life, so too does prayer indicate the existence of our spiritual life. Most of us will agree that no one can be considered a faithful Christian if he or she does not pray. We cannot claim to be in communion with God if we do not spend time in dialogue with Him.