The time is now at hand for us to start upon the spiritual contest and to gain the victory over the demonic powers. Let us put on the armor of abstinence and clothe ourselves in the glory of the angels. With boldness Moses spoke to the Creator, and he heard the voice of the invisible God. In Thy love for man, O Lord, grant us with the same boldness to venerate Thy Passion and Thy Holy Resurrection. (Canticle 9 Tone 6 of Matins, Sunday of Forgiveness)
WHY FASTING ISN’T THE POINT
Great Lent officially begins tomorrow, which is the greatest fast of the year that culminates in the explosive joy of Pascha (Easter).
Most frequently, food is the focus of Lent. Traditionally, the Orthodox abstain from meat, dairy, and eggs; so the diet is essentially vegan during this time.
More than anything though, I believe that Great Lent is meant to call us to repentance, which thereby draws us closer to God in a very real way. Fasting is a tool that aids in our repentance. Any sort of fixation upon food is unhealthy, whether it is in the forms of anorexia, bulimia, gluttony (eating more than necessary), or a food-focused fast.
When we make Great Lent about food and abstaining from food, and we focus all of our energy on the fast, then we have truly missed the purpose and even the joy of Lent.
WHY WE FAST
There is a freedom that comes through repentance; and it is this freedom to which we are called in this season. Fasting helps us because it prevents us from pampering the body like we normally do (especially us Americans). In this manner, we tell the body, “No, you will not have whatever you want whenever you want it.”
Putting our bodily desires in their place helps us to progress spiritually if it is done with prayer and repentance (otherwise it can lead to spiritual pride, which won’t do me or anyone else around me any good).
If prayer and repentance do not accompany fasting, we will most likely find ourselves grumpy and irritable. In that case, Great Lent is nothing more than “sinning while hungry.”
The scriptures we read in Church services while approaching Great Lent were very intentionally chosen. They include passages from the Apostle Paul’s epistles in which he essentially reprimands those who focus on food. He neither condones eating meat nor condemns it, but says each of us should do as our conscience allows. This is important because it takes the focus off of food and puts it on our own hearts and on our neighbors.
These passages invite us to ask: why do I eat what I eat? Should I be eating this? How are my choices affecting my beloved Christians? Am I abusing the freedom I have in Christ?
MY LENTEN GOALS
So, this Lent, in addition to fasting I would like to invite you to join me in attempting to focus on staying in a state of prayer more regularly throughout the day, waking up a few minutes earlier to make time to pray every morning, repenting more frequently by analyzing my inner thoughts and motives daily, and loving every person that God puts into my path.
In doing these things, we call upon the indwelling Trinity to fill us with love, to commune with us, and to lead us and those around us closer to Love Himself.
2 thoughts on “Great Lent is Not About Food”
Somewhere recently I read about the servants in a great house that were ornery and irritable during the Great Fast. They were required to do without foods in accordance with the Orthodox church, but due to their duties, were also not allowed to go to special prayer services during the Lenten period. The reason for their dyspeptic temperament was not lack of food, nor lack of types of foods, for every Wednesday and Friday they had the same menu as during Lent. What they were missing was church, which made the priest let the owner of the Great House in question know was his failure during Lent, not the failing of the servants. One cannot fast without extra prayer, extra time in church, and extra time given to God and His creatures. Or so that story went. It was a reminder to me that even in situations of splendor found in great houses owned by great and wealthy people, there can be starvation for something as simple as a little extra time for praying throughout the day.
The story could be true. Or not. I don’t know. Yet I do know one thing for a certainty. Lent is better with more God and less food. Same is true for most Wednesdays and Fridays, but in today’s world, time with God is more often is in my own corner of my own room, or might just involve lighting a single candle as I silently pray while walking out the door. I run late a lot. With prayer. Lent runs better with St. Anthony. A few years ago, I found Ms. Matthews-Green’s, First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew, available in many bookstores, which is a treasure. One year it took me a full six months to get through it. Seriously.
From experience, I can say that lentil soup is never to good as this week, and never so boring as nearing the end of the fast. However, I also know that for me, food and involved preparations are not important when I’ve got lots to do, and Lent is one of those times. Getting to church is tough, what with snow covered roads, below zero wind chills, buses that aren’t all that frequent, and inconvenient times for what services there are. Yet, I also find that popping a can of soup open, or making a meal of a simple dish of beans can be very filling and satisfying when I remember to do the non-eating stuff. It is easier to remember it this week, and gets harder as Lent progresses. It requires mindfulness, which can be just as filling as anything that could be found on a feast in a great house, and likely attending more services and praying more often will keep me from my own dyspeptic ill-humored self showing up after lunch.. Who knows, adding food in a different form just might make this fasting thing easier this year.
Good points, Joyce. Our true food, our true sustenance is Christ Himself. I think most of “know” that, meaning we’re familiar with that concept. But to truly experience the supernatural sustenance of Christ is something quite different. If during Lent we experience that, even for just a few hours, it will make a lasting impact on us.