Have you realized that the fast has begun? I have not. How fast time flies! It was not that long ago that we wished each other a Happy New Year, experienced the joyful events of the Nativity of Christ, we have not yet fully comprehended those days – and now… Great Lent has come. We celebrate Pascha very early this year… The Church seems to call us to live at a different, faster pace this year, to spend days in a cheerful state, leaving us no time for relaxation.
St. John Chrysostom said, “No matter how many holidays come, a wise man is not the one, who has fun so that he forgets the meaning of the celebrated events, but the one, who, after the holidays, continues to keep not only this joy to himself but also the abstinence, and continues fasting not only on the lips, but also in feelings and words”. A Christian, who strives all the time, does not change something significantly, they only change the pace, increase the speed: they prayed before and they pray now; the first day after the fast they ate with abstinence, controlled themselves: it is a trend that continues today.
The forty day fast has come… Rejoice! I am telling you again: rejoice! Be happy that this emotional period in the life of the Church has come, so that we could experience it not only in tenderness, sorrow, and grief, but also in joy. We grieve because we realize our infirmity, we realize what kind of sinners we have become. We reflect on Christ’s sufferings, on His Cross, we want to find somebody to blame, we think about ourselves and come to the conclusion that we also repeat His crucifixion with our evil deeds and infirmities. All this discourages us. Yet at the same time we are in the state of joyful anticipation, because in the end we are in for the Holy Resurrection of Christ, the veneration of the Life-Giving Tomb, which will be empty and at the same time full of Christ, His grace. It is this emptiness that fills us with inexpressible and endless joy. We strive while knowing where we are going. We follow the footsteps, which the saints, the whole Church, and all our brethren followed as well. We follow the path, at the end of which the Resurrection awaits us.
I create such atmosphere around myself, which will help me personally. What will it help? It will help me to be filled with memories of the passed period, so that the seal of Christ’s presence, the seal of love, warmth, tenderness, and cheerfulness would remain in my heart.
If everything we do during Lent is not out of love for Christ, then our fast really becomes miserable and unbearably sorrowful, causes our heart to feel irritation and anger. If the sacrifice, which you make to Christ in the form of prayer, fasting, alms, or repentance, is forced, then you will not achieve the goal. All these things are not obligatory, because it is so commanded in the canons of the Church: it is the expression of a heart that loves Christ. While realizing our infirmity, understanding what the saints have felt, doing all this, we try to imitate them, so that we could join their spirit.
When you love, you do not get tired of doing this. When you love, you sacrifice yourself. A mother, who loves her children, her husband, her home, gets tired of shopping, cooking, various worries, but look at her face and you will see only joy and happiness. If there is no love, then when you ask her even for a glass of water, she gets lazy, does not want to do it, and feels tired.
This is the mystery of Great Lent!
If you love Christ, feel His love for you, then everything comes naturally to you, you do not get tired, you live as our God says, “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”. Do you fast? Do you fast reluctantly? Do not do that then. If you fast with anguish and grumbling, if you force yourself not of your own free will, then you will really get sick physically, for fasting is deprivation, it is a feat. Yet when you fast out of love, God will give you many spiritual vitamins. St. Paisios the Athonite says, “During Lent you feel like a simple creature and have a clear mind, calm spirit to stand for prayer; this wish arises from the ardent love of people for the Creator. Fasting is a great tool for this feat”.
There are some things in our lives that one can only assume about without having experienced them. Those, who have fasted, know what a great thing it is. Currently, the Orthodox Church is fasting. What about you? Do you not belong to her? Do you not want to belong to a community of Christians who do it out of their love for Christ? Fast as much as you can. Go to your doctor, check if you have any health problems. Do not neglect fasting out of fear of harming your body. Do not underestimate your soul or overestimate your body! Do not underestimate your strengths, for you can do a lot for Christ, with His help, of course. I lose some things, but so do others. I find it hard to choose my food, but I am not the only one. We starve to become saturated. We yearn for some pleasures of this world, but Christ offers us other pleasures. Some people, who fast for the first time, feel great joy from this, because everyone, together, each of us to the best of our abilities, of course, shows their love for Christ in this way.
Fasting reminds people that they are Christians, reminds them of the prohibition given by God in Paradise not to eat “fruit”. The fruit itself was not an ontologically bad thing, for God did not create anything sinful. It is not a sin to eat meat, because if it were so, we would not eat it in other periods. Eating cheese, eggs, or fish will not be sinful, for God Himself ate and blessed them. God so desired that we would show our trust and love for Him exactly through abstinence. God wants to make us stronger. To do this, we are offered such an exercise, because even before the fall the people were given a commandment about fasting so that they could show their love in deed. God showed us His love on the Cross. He does not demand anything from us, for when you love, you sacrifice yourself without demanding anything in return.
I know such people, who do not eat anything from the Vespers of the Cheesefare Week till Wednesday, the day, when the first Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is conducted. As they approach the Bowl hungry and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, they do not feel the need to eat for some time. That is where the real Food, which a person takes in, is. God Himself gives us this food. Such person comes home, eats bread, drinks water, feels their real taste, and thanks God for this, for all His gifts.
Let‘s allow Christ to go into our hearts to change our lives. We will constantly call His name, the name of the Mother of God, the names of the saints: then the fast will pass very quickly. Before we know it, Passion Week and Pascha will come. It would be great if we say afterwards, “How fast time flies! I’ve learned to love, humble myself, forgive, and repent. I’ve become a man of Christ. Thank God!”
Good luck! Rejoice!
Translated by Julia Frolova