The hymns from the Lenten Triodion do give us some ideas about how the Church in tradition understands the reasons for fasting and its purpose in the spiritual life. So we find the hymn below, from the Praises in Matins of Cheesefare Sunday things for us to consider as we make our way through the Great Fast.
ADAM WAS DRIVEN OUT OF PARADISE FOR EATING FOOD IN DISOBEDIENCE BUT MOSES WHO CLEANSED THE EYES OF HIS SOUL BY FASTING WAS GRANTED THE VISION OF GOD.
It is commonly understood in Orthodoxy that Adam was given only one commandment in Paradise – abstain from eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It was a fasting rule, and the only commandment in the Garden of Eden. Eve and Adam disobeyed that fast which led to human mortality, a life of separation from God. Sometimes in Orthodox hymns it seems as if it was the particular act – eating the forbidden fruit – which is as significant as the fact that it was an act of disobedience. Fasting from food reminds us that eating got Adam and humanity into trouble with God. Fasting is our effort to show God that we really do want to undo that original act of disobedience and all of its consequences. Our fasting cannot save us, but it is our way of showing God we recognize how such sin cuts us off from the Holy Trinity.
Orthodox hymns note how frequently humans are willing to choose the wrong for the sake of food. The hymns also note how frequently fasting in the Scriptures are associated with individuals experiencing a revelation from God. So Moses saw God face to face, in Orthodox thinking it was fasting and the resulting purity of heart which made this possible for him.
IF WE THEN LONG TO DWELL IN PARADISE, LET US ABSTAIN FROM ALL UNNECESSARY FOOD; IF WE DESIRE TO SEE GOD, LET US, LIKE MOSES, FAST FOR FORTY DAYS.
The hymn gets to the heart of fasting – it is to eliminate unnecessary food. Fasting never forbids us to eat what is necessary for life. Strict practitioners of fasting can push the limits to discover what is really needed, but fasting is not meant to make us sick. Rather it acknowledges that eating is what made us humans sick to begin with! In some ways for us modern Americans, fasting is a call back to sanity in terms of eating – eat the quantity necessary to sustain life. Our huge portions of food are not necessary, and often are harmful to our health. We can show God we really do want to return to Paradise – and we can do it by abstaining from over eating in this world. We remind ourselves that it was such eating which got us expelled from Paradise.
The hymn takes the theme to the next step – Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments, so too we can fast like him (for forty days, not necessarily how he kept the fast). Perhaps God will bless us with a clear vision of the Holy Trinity.
LET US PERSEVERE WITH SINCERITY IN PRAYER AND INTERCESSION; LET US STILL THE PASSIONS OF THE SOUL;
LET US STILL THE REBELLIOUS INSTINCTS OF THE FLESH.
The important things to do during Lent – prayer for others, self control over our own passions and desires. It is not foods themselves which are so important. It is learning to control our desires and wants, so that we can serve God rather than ourselves.
LET US SET OUT WITH A LIGHT STEP ON THE PATH TO HEAVEN, WHERE THE CHOIRS OF ANGELS WITH NEVER SILENT VOICES SING THE PRAISES OF THE UNDIVIDED TRINITY! THERE WE SHALL BEHOLD THE GREAT BEAUTY OF THE MASTER!
The return to Paradise is the path forward to God’s Kingdom of Heaven. It is a joyous journey and so we should find Lent, the beginning of our sojourn to be joyous. The restored life of God’s redeemed people means we will reside with the angels and join them in worshiping the Holy Trinity. We will be given the beatific vision – seeing Christ our Lord and Savior.
SON OF GOD, AND GIVER OF LIFE: WE SET OUR HOPE IN YOU!
COUNT US WORTHY THERE OF A PLACE WITH THE ANGELIC HOSTS, AT THE INTERCESSIONS OF THE MOTHER WHO BORE YOU, O CHRIST, AND OF THE APOSTLES, MARTYRS AND ALL THE SAINTS!
It is Jesus Christ who will give a place in heaven to His redeemed people. We hope to be able to join His Mother, the angels and all the saints, whose prayers have guided us as well as interceded for us before the Lord.