The Orthodox year has a rhythm, much like the tide coming in and going out – only this rhythm is an undulation between seasons of fasting and seasons (or a few days) of feasting. Every week, with few exceptions, is marked by the Wednesday and Friday fast, and every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is prepared for by eating nothing after midnight until we have received the Holy Sacrament.
It is a rhythm. Our modern world has lost most of its natural rhythm. The sun rises and sets but causes little fanfare in a world powered and lit by other sources. In America, virtually everything is always in season, even though the chemicals used to preserve this wonderful cornucopia are probably slowly poisoning our bodies.
The Scriptures speaks of the rhythms of the world – “the sun to rule by day… the moon and stars to rule by night…”
The rhythm of the Church does not seek to make us slaves of the calendar nor does it treat certain foods as sinful. It simply calls us to a more human way of living. It’s not properly human to eat anything you want, anytime you want. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden initially knew what it was to abstain from the fruit of a certain tree.
Orthodox do not starve when they fast – we simply abstain from certain foods and generally eat less.
At the same time we are taught to pray more, attend services more frequently, and to increase our generosity to others (alms).
But it is a rhythm – fasts are followed by feasts. The fast of the Apostles begins on the second Monday after Pentecost and concludes on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29/July 12. Most of Christendom will know nothing of any of this – that Eastern Christians will have begun a Lenten period while the world begins to think of vacations.
The contemporary God is much the same as the contemporary diet – we want as much of Him as we want – anytime, anywhere. There is no rhythm to our desire, only the rise and fall of passions. There is no legalism in the Orthodox fast. I do not think God punishes those who fail to fast. I believe that they simply continue to become less and less human. We will not accept the limits and boundaries of our existence and thus find desires to be incessant and unruly. It makes us bestial.
For those who have begun the fast – may God give you grace! For those who know nothing of the fast – may God give you grace and preserve from a world that would devour you. May God give us all the mercies of His kindness and help us remember the work of His blessed apostles!