2012 Week 1 of Great Fast - Devotional & Scripture Readings
Written by Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew
With the Sunday of the Miracle at Cana, the Church leaves the liturgical period of the Lord's Epiphany, in which she celebrates the manifestation of her Bridegroom to the universe at his Baptism, and enters with him into the desert of Great Lent for the holy forty days of spiritual struggle. For many of us, the coming of Great Lent is dreadful. We understand it in terms of restrictions, in terms of "thou shalt nots". Gone are the meats, fish, and dairy products which make our meals enjoyable to us. Gone, also, is breakfast, and maybe lunch too. We limit our entertainment during these days as well, and so parties and social activities, movies, TV, and music, all are banished for a time and to a degree. In their place, of course, are vegetables, spiritual activities, reading, prayer, silence, almsgiving, hearing and doing of the word of God, partaking of the holy mysteries armed with the grace of repentance and a good confession, and so on. But most of us feel an aversion to these things, at least to some degree. We'd prefer that Easter Sunday come quickly so that we can return to our normal routines; hearing about a big wedding feast (John 2.1-11) seems to be a cruel way of starting a time of deprivation.
The inner aversion we feel towards the spiritual and physical struggle of Great Lent, and of fasting in general, is an indication of our fallen nature. For, as the holy fathers unanimously teach us, the Lenten struggle is really our effort at living the life of Paradise in this world. There was no killing and eating of animals in Eden, there was no stuffing oneself with food, there weren't any diversions or distractions. Man simply lived in uninterrupted communion with God, and in communion with creation. The first distraction from this uninterrupted communion was, in fact, the sin of Adam, and even today we feel its effects in our fallen nature which rebels against everything that is good and holy. .
That is why we consider the days and times of fasting only as times of negation, as times of deprivation, but this is far from the truth. It is that, of course, but it is much more. By letting go of certain things and putting them aside, we free ourselves from their influence so that we can love and serve God and one another without hindrance. We say "no" in order to say "yes". Today's readings point this out to us in dramatic fashion. They proceed from the revelation and declaration of God's law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20.1-21) to the prophet's call to repentance, fasting, and mourning for our inability to live according to them (Joel 2.12-20), and to God's response to Isaiah about the meaning and content of true fasting (Isaiah 58.5-14). St Paul exhorts us to good and moral living in this world, to rejecting the things of this world and seeking the things which are above, since we have been raised up with Christ, who sits at God's right hand (Colossians 3.1-17). And with our spiritual eyes raised on high, we meditate on the wedding feast of Cana as the icon, the image, of our ultimate goal: the heavenly marriage feast of the Bridegroom, Christ, and his bride, the Church, that wedding feast which we participate in every time we celebrate the Holy Qurbana.
Our Lenten discipline liberates us from those things which tie us down and imprison us with their false assurances that they will make us happy and free. In their place, we practice self-denial and the positive, virtuous practices outlined above. Our fallen selves rebel against these medicines, but they are the true means by which we become free, full of joy and peace, ready to become partakers in the heavenly marriage feast, where those who are invited taste of the best wine, kept for those who have waited and kept watch faithfully, rejoicing with Christ, in the presence of the Mother of God and all the saints. Having heard the words of God and received our "marching orders", let us go forth into the desert of Lent resolving to struggle and fight the good fight of faith, having before our eyes our goal and destination, and constantly having our minds, intellects, and hearts on high, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.
"Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting." - St. Basil the Great
"O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen." – Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
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