Now that we Orthodox Christians have finally entered the season of Great and Holy Lent alongside of our Western brothers and sisters, it is appropriate for us all to go deeper within, repent of our sins, and seek the Lord more fervently that we may be ready to celebrate his all glorious resurrection at Great and Holy Pascha (Easter). The West celebrates Easter in only a few weeks on March 31, while we Orthodox will not break our fast until May 5, six full weeks later!
And while we are on the subject of fasting… A few weeks ago, as I was planning what to say at the start of Lent in this blog, I was thinking especially of a choice, juicy opinion that I have been nursing for some time but has never seen the light of publication or even been hinted at in my other writings. Please forgive me. Though I have just greatly tantalized your interest, I must confess that the service tonight on the Eve of Forgiveness Sunday derailed my original intent, and I must speak of something more mundane but much more fundamental.
The last thing we need at the beginning of this season of repentance is more opinions, however well-informed yours or mine may be. I was humbled especially by this opening verse interspersed in the Lord I Have Cried (Psalm 141) segment explaining the core reason for humankind’s fall:
The Lord my Creator took me as dust from the earth and formed me into a living creature, breathing into me the breath of life and giving me a soul; He honoured me, setting me as ruler upon earth over all things visible, and making me companion of the angels. But Satan, the deceiver, using the serpent as his instrument, enticed me by food; he parted me from the glory of God and gave me over to the earth to the lowest depths of death. But Master in compassion, call me back again.
Much ink has been spilled over the centuries attempting to explain the fall of our first parents in the garden, but far too many of the explanations miss the obvious fact, so bluntly stated in this hymn, that we lost paradise over a lousy piece of fruit!
Yes, we can easily pontificate on pitfalls of disobedience, self-love, and pride and wish that all of our fatal mishaps in life had some kind of grand, even epic story behind them, but when it comes down to it, the basic pattern of human sinfulness has not changed much since the fall of the the first-created man. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15) And what desire draws us away more than any other? You guessed it— It all depends on what’s for dinner.
Like it or not, all of our more nobler aspirations for holiness and godliness start with fidelity in the day-to-day matters like eating habits. And if we cannot master such a basic thing as fasting from a few cherished palate pleasers, how can we ever hope to attain the Kingdom of Heaven?
So while food in and of itself cannot bring us any nearer to God, it can still indicate to a great degree whether we are growing closer to Him in his likeness or farther away from Him in sin and self-indulgence. And while it is easy to justify a slip or two of the Church’s fasting rules, it is important to remember that the journey to the Kingdom of Heaven begins with the small steps of self-denial and living for Christ that we begin down here on earth.
Please forgive and pray for me a sinner, and may our good God have mercy on us and forgive us all. Veliki Post! Kali Tessarakosti! Blessed Lenten journey to you all!