Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent Week 1, Fasting
Volume 8 No. 462 February 9, 2018
 
II. Featured: Lent And Fasting

Fasting Guidelines During Great Lent

by Fr. Alexis Duncan

We Orthodox Christians, in obedience to the words of our Divine Savior, and in imitation of the saints, set aside a period of intense fasting and prayer in order to purify our spiritual senses so we may see the Holy Resurrection. Following the traditions handed to us by the saints, we abstain from all meat products, all dairy products, eggs, fish and olive oil the entire period of lent. Those who believe that we fast strictly only for the first and last week err and are not in accord with the teaching of the saints. We may have olive oil on Saturdays and Sundays and any day there is a Polyeleos. We may partake of fish only on the feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday.

Only those who are ill or for medical reasons are unable to fast are excused form this God-pleasing struggle. And those people may discuss the matter in confession. Children also fast to their ability, again, discussed privately with the spiritual father. Married couples may not have physical relations the entire of Great Lent. Televisions should be either unplugged or severely limited with no worldly music allowed. Families should gather in prayer more frequently and attend as many church services during the week as they possibly can. Holy Communion and Confession should be observed weekly.

To break the fast is a matter for repentance and confession. To do so by accident is understandable. To knowingly break the fast with no regard or as though fasting were unimportant is definitely a sin which must be confessed.

We can always develop elaborate defenses against fasting, but in the end, if fasting were not vital for our spiritual development, the Lord and His saints would not have commanded it. Some will say that fasting is a matter for monastics. They do not speak the truth. History shows a long practice of strict fasting for all Christians. We may say that fasting is a tool, and not the goal of the spiritual life. But, what physician would perform surgery without the beneficial use of an antiseptic or without washing his hands? What carpenter would build a house with no hammer? What gardener would tend his crops without implements? What Christian would advance to the heavenly kingdom without prayer and fasting?<p/>

Editor's Note: These are guidelines given by Eastern Orthodox Church. It is much stricter than what is required for Syriac Orthodox Church.

The Truer Purpose of Fasting

by Msgr. Charles Pope

There is an interesting passage in Isaiah, in which God turns the tables on us and reminds us of the truer purpose of fasting. The key verses come in Isaiah 58, but in order to see them in context, let's first consider the whole passage.

Thus says the Lord GOD: Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God. Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?

]\Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
(Is 58:1-9)

At the heart of this passage is the essential complaint of God's people: Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it? In other words, why aren't you listening to us? We're praying, fasting, and abstaining, but we're not getting what we ask!

God is not deaf; neither is He blind. He is not unaware of what is being asked and sought. The purpose of fasting and other such mortifications is not to get God's attention; He hears us just fine. Rather, the purpose is to get us to hear and better understand what God seeks of us. Fasting is meant to help us to pay better attention to God. Its goal is to make room for God in our busy lives.

God continues on to teach the ancient Jews and us that there is absolutely no problem with his hearing, but rather with ours. He says to them, in effect (paraphrasing His remarks from above),

Listen, you come to me as if you are just and have carefully followed my ways but it doesn't seem as if you've heard a word I've said. There is wickedness, quarrelling, fighting, and selfish ambition among you. There is injustice and neglect of the poor and needy. You claim to be seeking my ways, but I have already told them to you repeatedly. Are you deaf? You know what I have told you. But you do not do it.

True fasting will open the ears of your memory and draw forth obedience from your hearts. I am not deaf, such that fasting will suddenly make me hear you. No, fasting does not make me hear; it helps you to hear.

So listen to what I have been teaching you. May your fasting help you to hear. May it soften your hearts to say 'yes,' limber your stiffened necks to obey. Fasting is for you, not for me.

The truest answer to your many prayers is already contained in what I have taught you to do. If you listen and obey it, light shall break forth for you. Your many wounds will be healed and you will experience victories over enemies and over every temptation.

If you would just listen, you would see that the answer to your prayers is already among you. Allow fasting to help you to see and hear and know that I have already answered you. Fasting will unstop your hearts and obedience will release your blessings.

And so it is that God teaches us the truer purpose of fasting. It is not to get God to hear, but to get us to hear, listen, and obey.

Do not fast and abstain in order to be heard and to get God to do your will; do so in order to hear and better do God's will.

Here is a performance of In Jejunio et fletu (In fasting and tears), written by English composer Thomas Tallis:

Video: https://youtu.be/BPr0XpGhf0w

Source: Archdiocese of Washington

What's The Point of Fasting?

by CNA

God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, Church Fathers have preached the importance of it - fasting is a powerful and fundamental part of the Christian life.

What, in essence, is fasting?

It's "the deprivation of the good, in order to make a decision for a greater good," explained Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, founding executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture and a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Mclean, Va. It is most commonly associated with abstention from food or water, although it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts and entertainment.

"The whole purpose of fasting is to put the created order and our spiritual life in a proper balance," Deacon Carnazzo said.

As "bodily creatures in a post-fallen state," it's easy to let our "lower passions" for physical goods supersede our higher intellect, he explained. We take good things for granted and reach for them whenever we feel like it, "without thinking, without reference to the One Who gives us the food, and without reference to the question of whether it's good for us or not," he added.

Thus, fasting helps "make more room for God in our life," Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. said.

"And the Lord said at the well, with the (Samaritan) woman, He said that 'everyone that drinks from this well is going to be thirsty again. Why don't you let me go to work in your life and I'll give you a fountain welling up to Eternal Life.'"

While fasting can take many forms, is abstaining from food especially important?

"The reason why 2000 years of Christianity has said food (for fasting), because food's like air. It's like water, it's the most fundamental," Deacon Carnazzo said. "And that's where the Church says 'stop right here, this fundamental level, and gain control there.' It's like the first step in the spiritual life."

What the Bible says about it

Yet why is fasting so important in the life of the Church? And what are the roots of the practice in Scripture?

The very first fast was ordered by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Deacon Carnazzo noted, when God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

This divine prohibition was not because the tree was bad, the deacon clarified. It was "made good" like all creation, but its fruit was meant to be eaten "in the right time and the right way." In the same way, we abstain from created goods so we may enjoy them "in the right time and the right way."

The fast is the weapon of protection against demons - St. Basil the Great.

Fasting is also good because it is submission to God, he said. By fasting from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve would have become partakers in the Divine Nature through their obedience to God. Instead, they tried to take this knowledge of good and evil for themselves and ate the fruit, disobeying God and bringing Original Sin, death, and illness upon mankind.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert and thus "reversed what happened in the Garden of Eden," Deacon Carnazzo explained. Like Adam and Eve, He was tempted by the devil but instead remained obedient to God the Father, reversing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and restoring our humanity.

Following the example of Jesus, Catholics are called to fast, said Fr. Lew. And the Church Fathers preached the importance of fasting.

Why fasting is so powerful

"The fast is the weapon of protection against demons," taught St. Basil the Great. "Our Guardian Angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting."

Why is fasting so powerful? "By setting aside this (created) realm where the devil works, we put ourselves into communion with another realm where the devil does not work, he cannot touch us," Deacon Carnazzo explained.

It better disposes us for prayer, noted Monsignor Pope. Because we feel greater hunger or thirst when we fast from food and water, "it reminds us of our frailty and helps us be more humble," he said. "Without humility, prayer and then our experience of God really can't be unlocked."

Thus, the practice is "clearly linked by St. Thomas Aquinas, writing within the Tradition, to chastity, to purity, and to clarity of mind," noted Fr. Lew.

"You can kind of postulate from that that our modern-day struggles with the virtue of chastity, and perhaps a lack of clarity in theological knowledge, might be linked to an abandonment of fasting as well."

Be wary of your motivation

"Fasting," Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., noted, "must be stirred up by charity." We should not fast out of dieting or pride, but out of love of God.

"It's always dangerous in the spiritual life to compare yourself to other people," he said, citing the Gospel of John where Jesus instructed St. Peter not to be concerned about the mission of St. John the Apostle but rather to "follow Me." (John 21: 20-23).

In like manner, we should be focused on God during Lent and not on the sacrifices of others, he said.

Lent (is referred to) as a joyful season...It's the joy of loving Him more.

"We will often fail, I think. And that's not a bad thing. Because if we do fail, this is the opportunity to realize our utter dependence on God and His grace, to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and to seek His strength so that we can grow in virtue and do better," he added.

And by realizing our weakness and dependence on God, we can "discover anew the depths of God's mercy for us" and can be more merciful to others, he added, which is "really the essence of this Year of Mercy."

Giving up good things may seem onerous and burdensome, but can - and should - a Catholic fast with joy?

"It's referred to in the preface of Lent as a joyful season," Fr. Lew said. "And it's the joy of deepening our relationship with Christ, and therefore coming closer to Him. It's the joy of loving Him more, and the more we love God the closer we draw to Him."

"Lent is all about the Cross, and eventually the resurrection," said Deacon Carnazzo. If we "make an authentic, real sacrifice for Christ" during Lent, "we can come to that day of the crucifixion and say 'Yes Lord, I willingly with you accept the cross. And when we do that, then we will behold the third day of resurrection.'"

Adapted from CNA/EWTN News

What, Then, is The Reason for Fasting?

by Carl Olson

To answer this let us first clarify what fasting entails. It involves more than the occasional fast, such as on Good Friday. To be effective, fasting requires disciplined eating habits all the time. There are certainly days when a person should make a greater effort at abstaining from food and drink. These are what we usually consider days of fasting and they must be practiced regularly. But, still, there are never days when a person is allowed to abandon all restraint. A person must always practice some restraint over his appetites or those periodic days of fasting arc valueless. Always keeping a check on his desires, a person develops good habits, which foster constancy in his interior life. So, in addition to practicing days of fasting on a regular basis, a person should continuously restrain his desires, such as those that incline him to eat too much, to be too concerned with what he eats, or to eat too often.

We might, then speak of the discipline of fasting in order to avoid the impression that fasting is sporadic. The operative principle behind the discipline of fasting is simple: to limit yourself to only what is necessary for your physical and psychological health–no more, no less. St. Augustine puts it concisely when he teaches: "As far as your health allows, keep your bodily appetites in check by fasting and abstinence from food and drink." So, fasting is meant only to keep a person's unnecessary wants in check. A person is not– nor is he permitted–to deny himself what is necessary for his health. The discipline of fasting instead asks a person to check his desires for what is superfluous and not necessary. ...

This might lead some to ask: If the enjoyment of eating does me no harm, and can in fact manifest God's goodness, why sacrifice this joy by fasting? That is, why check my unnecessary desires for what is enjoyable? After all, there is nothing wrong with enjoying food. Why, then, if I enjoy having a snack, or eating fine foods, sacrifice these things? Again, they are not bad or sinful.

The answer is: Because it is better. Having a tasty meal prepared just to my liking is good, but it is better to sacrifice such things. Showing why it is better to fast than to neglect fasting will provide the reason why a Christian is expected to fast.

A Christian must be seeking what is better, and not merely trying to avoid what is bad. This is the only way to live a life of continual conversion, to which we are committed by baptism. The Christian must face decisions with the question: "What is the better thing for me to do?" He must not, when he has a decision to make, approach what he is inclined to do with the justification: "Well, there is nothing wrong with doing it." If that is his approach, then he is not genuinely seeking improvement in his life. Spiritual progress becomes impossible.

Ongoing conversion, to which, again, the Christian must be dedicated, involves going from good to better. This conversion is unreachable for him who in his life refuses to give up the lesser goods in order to attain greater goods. Due to fallen human nature, every person is prone to be complacent. Each of us is reluctant to change his ways. But clearly, if a person has not yet reached perfection, there are certainly greater goods for him to realize. Fasting, in many ways, is simply the choice to give up lesser goods for greater ones, to abstain from the joys of food and drink in order to attain greater joys from God. It seeks for more. If a person ever stops seeking for more, then he has stopped seeking God.

Source: Insight Scoop

Lent Reflection: An Opportunity to Put Our Authenticity to The Test

by Laurence Freeman OSB

'When you fast do not put on a gloomy look like the hypocrites..'
(Matthew 6:16)

Lent is an opportunity to put our authenticity to the test. It is so easy to slide gradually away from the truth, to imagine a lot but let practice descend into a role-play that we perform as much for ourselves as to make ourselves look better in others' eyes. What a relief it is to get back to our real selves and accept ourselves even when we find we are flawed, unfaithful and generally imperfect. We don't have to make excuses, just to be honest.

To raise the reality check we are helped by an instrument - which is provided by a special practice we take on during Lent. Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are the traditional categories of spiritual practice.

So to cover all bases, we could begin with prayer. Reinforcing our discipline of meditating twice a day. Refreshing our commitment, straightening our posture. Adding a reading of the day's gospel. Then giving to those in need? if not materially then in the currency of time or attention or simple acts of kindness. Then fasting? letting go or reducing what we deep-down know is excessive or illusory or unbalanced.

If we do this practice for the right reason, in the right way, why be gloomy? There's everything in the right practice to make Lent a time for smiling.

Source: Lent Daily Reflections, wccm.org

Faith and Charity Are Two Sides of The Same Coin

by Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council 'Cor Unum'

This year's lenten message is entitled, 'Believing in Charity Calls Forth Charity - "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us," (1Jn 4:16).

This year's theme focuses on the compelling relationship between faith and charity … between believing in God, the God revealed by Jesus Christ, and the charity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and that leads us to the horizon of a deeper openness to God and neighbor. … If we talk about the connection between faith and charity we are referring to, at least, two dimensions. Firstly, there can be no true faith without action: whoever believes must learn to give of themselves to others. Secondly, charity calls forth faith, which therefore makes it witness.

This Lenten Message is a valuable opportunity to keep this bond between all the faithful alive. In this sense, it is a propitious moment, since we are preparing for Easter, that is, to celebrate the event that Christians recognize as the source of charity: Christ who dies and is resurrected out of love. … Lent is always an opportune time for opening … our hearts to our brothers and sisters who are most in need, sharing what we have with them. In this particular historical moment, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of an informed and documented charity that is attentive to the many areas of poverty, misery, and suffering: from the increase in number and scale of natural disasters, which are not without human responsibility, ... to the escalation of violent conflicts, often forgotten by the media; the worsening of living conditions for many families, also a consequence of the economic and financial crisis that affects so many countries in Europe and around the world; the increase in unemployment, particularly among young adults; and the situations where jobs exist, but the workers are exploited, underpaid and without the minimum security that guarantees the dignity of work itself and consequently, therefore, of the dignity of the human person.

The centre of this Lenten Message is certainly the indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity. … 'We can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity.' However, this separation or opposition can take different forms. … It is a misunderstanding to emphasize the faith, and the liturgy as its privileged channel, so strongly as to forget that they are intended for actual persons who have their own needs - human as they may be - their own history, their own relationships. This becomes so convenient for so many of us - inside and outside of church, which is fragrant with candles, busy putting the sacristy in order, concentrating on abstract theological discussions and clerical disputes - to overlook persons in their totality, the whole person to whom Christ calls.

Another misconception is thinking that the Church is some kind of great act of philanthropy or solidarity that is purely human, in which social commitment is a priority, or that what is important is the promotion of a humanity that has culture and enough to eat." Such a misunderstanding extends to thinking that "the Church's main task is to build a just and equitable society, forgetting our need for God that lies at the heart of our very being.

A further misconception is to divide the Church into a 'good Church' - the one of charitable action - and a 'bad Church' - the one that insists on the truth, that defends and protects human live and the universal moral values. Such a misunderstanding proposes that the Church is fine when taking care of the sick, but it does less well when exercising the duty of raising awareness.

Faith and charity go together, which is why the Gospel and action go together. What holds as true in personal experience also applies to the Church as a community. … On the one hand, a life based solely on faith runs the risk of sinking into a banal sentimentality that reduces our relationship with God to mere consolation. On the other hand, a charity that kneels in adoration of God without taking into account the source from which it springs and to which every good deed must be directed, is likely to be reduced to mere philanthropy, to mere 'moral activism'. In our lives, therefore, we are called to keep the 'knowing' of truth and the 'walking' in truth united.

This is why I believe this Message is so timely. The faith and charity are the two faces of the same coin, that is, our belonging to Christ. It is timely because in this phase of history, when humanity struggles to recognize itself and to find a path to the future, this message present a unified proposal, a way of life in which accepting God engenders acceptance of others in all their dimensions, expressions, and needs. The Church can thus be the beacon of a renewed humanity and contribute to the coming of the 'Civilization of Love'.

Source: adapted from VIS - Vatican Information Service

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