The Lenten Discipline
Great Lent in the Orthodox Church calls us to focus on three primary spiritual disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Works of Charity. Here are some thoughts for practical applications of each.
Before meals, at the start of the day, for the health of others, in times of sorrow or for expressing thanks, prayer is our time with God. Either with the aid of printed prayers or in our own words, the first discipline of the Lenten Journey is prayer. Try to establish a daily Rule of Prayer. This means praying at the same time each day or each evening. It might be difficult at first, but stick with it, make it a priority, and you’ll find it becomes more fulfilling as time goes on.
The questions about prayer that many ask usually have to do with wondering whether or not God is really listening, and whether or not we will hear an answer. The answer the Church offers has always been that God hears and answers prayers; but if you don’t make the time for prayer, you might never know. Make your Lenten Journey a time to grow closer to God with regular, heart-felt, prayer.
“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt.6:16-18)
The Orthodox Church has continually taught the benefits of fasting especially during Great Lent. It is not meant as a weight-loss system, and shouldn’t be seen in a negative light as not being able to eat this or that type of food.
The Orthodox Church calls us to fast during Lent as a form of personal discipline, to move from a desire to please our bodies to nourishing our spirit. Comfort foods, consumed without any self-control, can quickly result in unhealthy weight gain and can lead to a variety of other health-related concerns.
Orthodox Christianity also teaches that fasting is not just about food, but behavior as well. From the writings of St. John Chrysostom: “…for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works!”
So, although fasting is limiting both the amount and types of food we eat during Great Lent, if we still keep anger, hatred and envy in our heart we have missed the point. Why? Because proper fasting teaches us to be more concerned with our spiritual growth, and becoming more like Christ. If our behavior - towards God and one another - does not change as a result of our fasting, all we’ve done is change our diet.
Fasting is not meant to make us sick, but it should teach us at least two things: 1) we don’t need as much food as we’re used to eating; and 2) we should pay more attention to our spirit, the type of people we are on the inside.
When the Church calls us to fast, it does so with the intent of changing our focus from the physical to the spiritual, from being self-centered to Christ-centered. The Orthodox Church calls us to embrace fasting as a positive, rather than negative, form of discipline; to see the benefits of filling our soul with Christ through increased reading from the bible, increased time spent in prayer, and increased time spent giving to the needs of others. These are the positive aspects of fasting.
Start your Lenten Fast with prayer, asking God to strengthen your discipline during Lent. Enjoy, in moderation, fast-free foods such as fruits, vegetables, shellfish, grains, legumes and nuts. Remember that your Fast is between you and God; there is no benefit either to comparing yourself with anyone else or judging the fasting of another.
Works of Charity
“Truly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25:40)
The third of the three primary disciplines of the Lenten Journey is Works of Charity, also referred to as Almsgiving. This is what puts our belief and faith into action.
The following are practical, real-life examples all of us can do to show love for our neighbors near and far. Feel free to participate in these or others of your own choosing.
(Click on the “2018 Great Lent” link on our parish website www.stharalambos.org for more information on Lent services and activities.)