The First Fruits of Great Lent

porphyriosLooking at a few hymns from the Monday, the first day of Great Lent, we can learn some of the goals of the Great Fast.  First is compunction.

Saint Porphyrios points out that compunction is related to the word puncture – to be stabbed or wounded.   He writes, “‘to feel compunction’ means that I am wounded over and over again by the love of God.”  (WOUNDED BY LOVE, p 120).  The first-fruits of the first day of Lent is to be wounded by God’s love!  God’s love pierces our heart changing it from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)

Let us acquire compunction of soul

As God-given first-fruits of the fast.

Let us cry: Accept our prayer as pure incense, O Christ our Master.

Deliver us, we entreat You, from the stench of corruption and from fearful torment.

For You alone are ready to forgive! 

Yesterday, at Forgiveness Vespers, we learned that the fastest way to obtain the forgiveness of our sins is not through repentance but through forgiving others.    Today we learn that the very first fruit of Great Lent is compunction – we are ‘punctured’, wounded by God’s love.  When we forgive others, we become God like, filled – pierced! – by God’s own love.  No wonder the hymns speak of the joy of the Lenten fasting season!

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 purity of holiness!

So, clothed in the garment of light,

Let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day,

That shines on the world with the glory of eternal life!  

While the fast involves a change of diet, the real goal is not to set aside food, but to set aside sin!  A number of ancient church fathers commented that they thought the real Sabbath was to take rest not from work but from sin, whose wages are death.    So too the main purpose of the fast is not to give up food, but to set aside sin so that we can love our Lord.  They hymns of Lent constantly remind us that unless we struggle against sin, against our passions, against our self-will, against alluring temptations, fasting will be of no value.   Those who obsess over dietary violations in Lent often miss the big picture, that fasting is done in the context of loving God and loving neighbor.

This is the first day of the Fast.

For you, soul, let it be the setting aside of sin,

The return to God; to life with Him.

Flee from the abyss of evil.

Love only those ways which lead to peace,

resting before and within God.  

We are to use the time of the Fast to do those things that lead to peace – peace in our hearts but also peace with family, friends, neighbors, and ultimately even enemies.

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.

There is a good fast, a true fast which we can read about in Isaiah 58.  This implies that there is also a fast that is neither true nor good.   A true fast involves forgiving others and also asking them to forgive us.  A good fast involves being wounded by God’s love so that it is God’s love which pierces our hearts and come to guide our behavior.   When our heart is pierced by God’s love, we have no place in the heart for the work of the Evil One.  This is the first fruit of the Lenten season.   It comes right at the beginning of Great Lent!