Some reminders for the beginning of Great Lent from the hymns of the first week of Lent. Note the words: joy, radiance, love, prayer, courage, light, holiness, purity. If we think Lent is only about self-denial, suffering and sacrifice, we miss the spirit of the season. Lent is not only about fasting from food. We are trying to change our hearts and minds to be more Christ-like.
LET US BEGIN THE ALL‑HOLY SEASON OF FASTING WITH JOY; LET US SHINE WITH THE BRIGHT RADIANCE OF THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS OF CHRIST OUR GOD: WITH THE BRIGHTNESS OF LOVE AND THE SPLENDOR OF PRAYER, THE STRENGTH OF GOOD COURAGE AND THE PURITY OF HOLINESS! SO, CLOTHED IN GARMENTS OF LIGHT, LET US HASTEN TO THE HOLY RESURRECTION ON THE THIRD DAY, THAT SHINES ON THE WORLD WITH THE GLORY OF ETERNAL LIFE!
The commandments of Christ are eternal life and to love God and love neighbor. Here are the only three times Christ speaks about commandments in John’s Gospel (in the RSV):
“For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.” (John 12:49-50)
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:10-15)
In his letter to “the elect lady and her children”, St. John states the same teaching again:
“And now I beg you, lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.” (2 John 1:5-6)
The rules and regulations of Lent must be practiced in the spirit of love for them to be a Christian fast. If our focus on food fasting rules detracts from our love for God and others if becomes self centered or even causes us to engage in self-love which is the exact opposite intent of the fast. If our focus becomes food itself, than we are not doing the fast right even if we are following every Lenten regulation perfectly. Remember, in the pre-Lenten Gospel lesson of the Last Judgment from Matthew 25:31-46, no one is judged or condemned for having failed to fast, nor is anyone praised or rewarded for strict fasting!. True fasting leads to our becoming merciful toward others, especially toward the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. The Pharisee who could truthfully boast that he kept the fasts perfectly is not justified by God!
LET US PRESENT A GOOD FAST, WELL‑PLEASING TO THE LORD! A TRUE FAST IS ALIENATION FROM THE EVIL ONE; THE HOLDING OF ONE’S TONGUE, THE LAYING ASIDE OF ALL ANGER, THE REMOVAL OF ALL SENSUALITY, OF ACCUSATION, FALSEHOOD AND SINS OF SWEARING. THE WEAKENING OF THESE WILL MAKE THE FAST TRUE AND WELL‑PLEASING.
A fast from anger – there is a fast pleasing to the Lord! Abstinence from lying, fault-finding, cursing and swearing – these are the things we truly must abstain from! A fast which changes our hearts and our moral practices and stops us from sinning, this is the Lent which God wishes for us. Let us please God and not make the fast something cursed in His eyes – and the Holy Prophet Isaiah warns us about such a cursed fast.
Hear what the Lord God says to us through the Prophet Isaiah:
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
See also my blog The Perfect Image of Fasting