True Fasting – The Journey of Great Lent

From Pravoslavie - Russian celebration of "Mother of God, quick to hearken"“When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [1]

Today’s reading from Isaiah provides a much needed reminder as we embark on the journey of Great Lent. We cannot hope to impress God with our solemn assembly, our incense, the multitude of prayers said during this time, our feast days, or our fasting if we fail to keep His commandments.

While we may be tempted to argue, “My hands are not full of blood,” it is easy to forget that our Lord said that anyone who is even angry with his brother has committed murder in his heart. Great Lent is a time of searching our hearts to find the secret sins hidden within.

In this evening’s vespers service, we see the meaning of true fasting,

Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood, and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and acceptable to God. [2]


It should go without saying, but because we in America live in a Protestant culture, I will say it anyway. God does not despise incense, the assembling of the brethren, prayers, feast days, etc. The purpose of the passage is to show that God is displeased with these things only when they are completed with an impure heart. It is hypocritical to offer God outward worship when we are sinning against Him in our hearts.

Additionally, we should note that God states, Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; not “Sit back and bask in the grace that is on its way,” as I used to believe, and as many Protestants teach. Salvation is synergistic. God extends to us grace, but we must through faith-action reach up to receive His grace. He longs to heal us, He desires to see us made whole. But we must do our part.

Fasting is a vital part of cleansing ourselves and becoming a more natural human. If done properly, it helps us to force the body into submission to the spirit, which is merely restoring the proper and natural hierarchy with which God created us.

May the Lord be with us, strengthening us, encouraging us, humbling us, and cleansing us as we embark on this Great Fast while abiding in His commandments.

[1] Isaiah 1:12-20
[2] The Lenten Triodion, Vespers of Monday of the First Week, Aposticha Tone Three.
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