“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)
Both the Fathers of the Church in their writings and the lenten Hymns of the Orthodox Church speak of “other” themes and images of Great Lent than only that of abstaining from food. Lent is not only about or even mainly about food and changing our diets. We are endeavoring to change our hearts, to bring ourselves to true repentance. Instead of focusing on what we must give up for Lent, one hymn from the 2nd week of the Great Fast places an entirely different image before us:
SETTING BEFORE US A MYSTICAL TABLE, THE FAST INVITES US ALL TO TAKE OUR FILL! OUR FOOD SHALL BE THE ETERNAL GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT; OUR DRINK, DIVINELY FLOWING STREAMS OF TEARS. LET US REJOICE AND EVER GIVE PRAISE TO GOD!
The image is one of rejoicing and feasting! We are invited to a Mystical Table whose delights are a banquet of eternal spiritual gifts and flowing streams of tears. We are invited during Lent to eat the same kinds of foods which Adam was gifted by God in Paradise. We are not to deny ourselves of this feast but to “take our fill”! It is a very different image of the Fast and reminds us we are supposed to be looking for something in Great Lent and getting something out of Great Lent!
It is a joyous banquet in which we can indulge ourselves, but it is a sumptuous feast of the Spirit. Instead of focusing on physical food – whether Lenten or festal – we are to lift up our hearts and minds to the Mystical table of the Kingdom of God. As our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us:
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (John 6:27)
Lent is a time to labor for the food which endures to eternal life. We are to perform a fast that feeds our souls, hearts and minds.
LET US PERFORM A SPIRITUAL FAST! LET US LOOSE EVERY TIE! LET US FLEE FROM THE PITFALLS OF SIN! LET US FORGIVE OUR BROTHER’S DEBTS THAT OUR TRANSGRESSIONS MAY ALSO BE FORGIVEN! THEN WE WILL BE ABLE TO SING: LET MY PRAYER ARISE IN YOUR SIGHT AS INCENSE, LORD!
The spiritual fast is one that is not limited to food fasting, which would be just a physical fast. We know that Satan fasts constantly as He never eats physical food. We humans who have a physical nature can fast physically. But the Christian fast is spiritual as well, and so must go beyond the abstinence from certain foods. The above hymn like Isaiah 58 tells us the spiritual fast includes changing our relationships with others. We are to forgive sins and loose those bonds which enslave people – and we do enslave others when we refuse to treat them as full human beings and rather treat them as if they owed us everything. We often enslave ourselves and others when we refuse to forgive. The loosing of ties and bondage comes when we forgive others their offenses and when we quit oppressing others by treating them like our servants, slaves or even worse like dirt.
THE TIME OF LENT IS A TIME OF GLADNESS! WITH RADIANT PURITY AND PURE CHARITY FILLED WITH RESPLENDENT PRAYER AND ALL GOOD DEEDS, LET US SING WITH JOY: MOST HOLY CROSS OF CHRIST THAT BLOSSOMED THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE, ENABLE US ALL TO BOW DOWN BEFORE YOU WITH PURE HEARTS, GRANTING US PURIFICATION AND GREAT MERCY!
Lent is meant to be a joyous time wherein we free ourselves and others from bondage – from the traps we set for one another, from the prisons and hells we create for ourselves and others, from slavery to hopelessness, despondency and despair, from abuse, and from selfishness and self-centered thinking. And we are reminded in the Fast of the words of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ who
“called the people to him and said to them,
‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. . . . Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man…” (Matthew 15:10-20)
The true aim of the fast is not what goes into the mouth but rather it is focused on the evil which comes from our hearts. When we fast from sin, we perform a true spiritual fast and prepare ourselves for the banquet in God’s kingdom. When our fast includes lifting others out of their poverty, suffering and emotional prisons then it is a fast blessed by God.