A True Fast

 

+ METHODIOS
Metropolitan of Boston
 

In the Divine Liturgy, prior to the Great Entrance, the choir chants the Cherbubic Hymn. It is a most solemn moment when the Holy Gifts are brought before the people and we hear the words, “Let us, who mystically represent the Cherubim and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside every worldly care. So that we may receive the King of all Who is invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts.” These are words which we hear at every liturgy. As we approach the Great Forty Days, we should all take these words to heart. For indeed, Lent is a time when we are called to “lay aside every worldly care” so that we may receive the Risen Lord into our hearts.

The “worldly cares” that surround us are easy to identify for they are the vanities of life which constantly occupy our thoughts. We are concerned with our relationships, our health, our finances, our jobs, our homes, and our possessions. We pursue personal pleasure, only to lament that once we have reached our heart’s desire we still feel unfulfilled. We burn with grudges and assorted resentments, then add fuel to their fire, lest the embers of our animosity are somehow extinguished. We faithfully text and post as though virtual relationships were preferable to personal contact.

Then, as winter seems at its most dreary and spring appears so far away, our Christian faith makes one of its most exacting demands. Great Lent is a time when we are all called to fulfill the command of the Cherubic Hymn and lay aside our worldly cares. Perhaps this is the best invitation to fasting. And why do we fast? We fast not to punish ourselves but rather to put ourselves in a right relationship with God. We fast not to deprive ourselves of pleasure, but rather to restore a sense of balance in our lives. We fast so that we may drown out the noise that prevents us from hearing the Word of God calling out to us.

Fasting is more than the simple, formulaic avoidance of specific types of foods. We fast to lighten our bodies so that our souls might ascend to God. Our dietary fast is not an end, in and of itself, but rather it is the first step in a greater fast—a fast from physical and spiritual appetites and avoidance of those things that are impediments to our salvation. With this type of fast we refrain from hateful speech, we resist covetousness, and we renounce our selfish desires. When we engage in this type of fast we will find ourselves able to focus on the weightier matters of life. While there are a myriad of vanities to vex us, the weightier matters of life are only two in number. They are our relationships with God and with each other.

In terms of our relationship with God, our fasting must always be associated with prayer. During the Great Forty Days the sacred services are multiplied and our prayer life intensified—for fasting without prayer is simply a diet. Here, the Church encourages us to pray both as individuals and as members of a supportive, devoted community. Prayer without the focus of true fasting from the cares of the world is ineffective.

Regarding our relationship with each other, our fasting is always associated with philanthropy. In Lent, and throughout the year, we are called to put flesh and blood on the bones of our fasting. Our fasting is a sacrifice which we are called to offer on the altar of those who have encountered the shipwreck of distress. It is only when we set aside the cares of life, however, that we can see those who need our assistance.

In short, fasting is a means to an end. That “end” is our relationship with God and each other. In the Church, we have a name for these two relationships and it is called communion. The Great Forty Day Fast, therefore, is a great spiritual exercise in which we come into communion with God and with each other. Therefore, when we fast we must always remember that the fast is more than dietary proscriptions. In a true fast, we engage in the work of the angels. In a true fast we abstain from the vanities of life. In a true fast, we lay aside every worldly care so that we may receive the Risen Lord into our hearts, not only at the Great Paschal Feast, but throughout every day of our lives.