by HG Yakob Mar Irenaios
Prophet Isaiah was emphatic in arguing that lent and fasting are not just pious "obligatory Observances" for the people of God, but a tremendous transforming force. (Isaiah 58). Being mortal and feeble, humans need periodic renewal of body, mind and soul. How is this possible?
The central theme of the preaching of Jesus Christ and earlier, of John the Baptist, was the call to repentance and renewal. Those were the 'signs' of the arrival and establishment of the Kingdom Of God. For us, a basic answer to the question raised above is provided by the season of lent and fasting.
Basically, the Great Lenten Season has some 'external' observations and abstinences, which certainly have their 'internal' and obvious implications. We are asked to abstain from certain food items and also to completely refrain from eating and drinking for a certain time. Though these seem overt, in reality, they effect a lasting influence on our thinking and spirit. It may be observed, felt and appreciated that an element of discipline and moderation slowly creeps into the one who keeps the lent. One special feature of the great lent is the "prostrations" which are made several times. Here is a telling message that all the three elements - body, mind and soul, do participate in this arduous process. The body and thinking may not have much involvement in an act in which they do not participate. In Prostration, the body feels a bit of hard labor leading to tiredness, but this one is one with a difference. Here the tiredness is welcome!
And the regulation of abstinence extends to other bodily activities and 'pleasures'. Not only that: we are enjoined to control our tongue as well. The note in Isaiah specifically exhorts that lent is to be accepted wholeheartedly as the time to repair and make anew. Broken relationships are to be restored; the injustice done has to be amended; the poor need to be taken care of, for the rich are partly responsible for their poverty. The entire devotion- prayer schedule of the Great Lent deals with the issue of repentance and restoration of the proper relationship with God and neighbor. This is common to all ancient churches.
Saint Paul talks about the "fruit" of the Spirit: the last in the catalogue is self-control.( Gal. 5:22) Fasting and repentance is the time tested means of self control!
It may be beneficial to recall that Jesus himself fasted for forty days and nights before he started his public ministry. And his disciples emulated him in this. St Gregorios of Parumala and his brother bishops assembled at Vettikkal Dayara and fasted and prayed for forty days before they set out to take charge of their assigned dioceses in the Church.
Now going back to our opening query. How to realize a renewal in our personal and family lives? Here we have a credible and trustworthy avenue - that of the Great Lent. The Orthodox Churches world-wide take the Lenten season seriously as an opportunity for personal and community renewal and transformation.
Let us join the band of all who faithfully observe the Great Lent, and 2011 become unforgettable for us as the year of total renewal and transformation, wherein signs and ways of sin and evil in us are totally removed from us. Jesus who observed the Lent and fasting walks ahead of us. Let us follow him faithfully!
Life in Christ
- Message of Great Lent from Holy Father (2011)
Apostolic Bull for Great Lent -2011
The holy gospel is a reliable record of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in words and deeds during His divine economy in the flesh. It does not impose on us orders. It does not give us commandments to blindly hold to. It does not list prohibitions. Rather, it presents to us Jesus Christ as a living paradigm to longue for and a model to pursue carrying His cross. We shall follow Him so that we obtain eternal life through Him.
The Spirituality of
There are two different ways of looking at this fast because there are two different versions of these forty days, or forty segments of time, in the Scriptures. One is the blessing of the revelation of what it is that we need to do in service to God and to humanity. And the other is of the purification that needs to happen for God to set things straight in us and around us.
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