Meatfare: Fasting is Communal

“Today is both Meatfare Sunday and the day on which we remember the Last Judgment. The readings we have just heard speak to both of these directly and in complementary ways.

With Meatfare Sunday our preparation for Great Lent begins to take on a concretely dietary aspect, as its name indicates. This is the last day before Great Lent for eating meat. Thus begins, as it were, a warm up for the hard exercises, the asceticism, ahead of us.

It is very easy to miss the point of such practices. The purpose of such efforts is not simply to do what is expected of us, but instead to allow ourselves to be weaned from our dependency on everything that might separate us from God—not because it is bad in itself, but because of how we relate to it or depend on it. I’m reminded of this every time I persuade myself that I can’t do anything in the morning until I’ve had a cup of coffee: there is nothing at all wrong with coffee; and it is not my body that craves it; it is rather my mental attitude towards coffee or caffeine that has made that cup into my ‘god.’

We hear Paul remind us that the food itself is not the issue: it makes no difference to God whether we eat meat or don’t. God is not concerned with our diet! We are free in all of this, and it is this freedom which makes what we do of any worth anyway. If we freely, willingly, eagerly even, undertake the disciplines which the Church sets before us, we might just come to be less dependent upon our creature comforts. Only then will we come to realize that we are in fact truly dependent only upon God, for in truth most of us, most of the time, do not realize this. Only then will we come to know God truly, and to know God acting in us.”

(Fr. John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, pp. 21-22)

Overeating Our Way Out of Paradise

Adam Eve TemptationFew of us would disagree that Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise, is a spiritual story.  Interestingly enough it is focused on eating, which is for us a most physical activity.  That eating explains the spiritual malaise of humankind will surprise some.  But today as the myriad ways in which food and health are related become central to mainstream medicine, as well as alternative medical practices and popular culture too, we realize just how food is related to our health, spiritual, mental and physical.  The Genesis 3 narrative connecting eating and spirituality becomes far more realistic.

There is little doubt that our culture has problems with over eating:  diet plans and places abound, obesity is said to be an epidemic, there are food addictions and food allergies, we have no sense of proper food portions, junk food is a normal part of our diets, endless and competing ideas are presented as to how to eat our way to better health.

So one of the hymns from Meatfare Sunday, though written hundreds of years ago, has some modern eating themes in it:

WE ARE GLUTTONS, WHO REVEL IN OUR FALLEN NAKEDNESS;
EXILES BANISHED FROM THE FACE OF GOD!
THE DELIGHTS OF FOOD HAVE BECOME EXCEEDINGLY BITTER FOR US!
LET US RETURN THROUGH REPENTANCE, AND ENLIST FOR THE BATTLE!
LET US COMPLETE THE DAYS OF FASTING, THAT OUR FLESH MAY BE CLEANSED.
STRENGTHENING OUR HEARTS WITH THE HOPE OF GRACE,
LET US NOT LABOR FOR THE FOOD WHICH PERISHES,

FOR THE LAMB OF GOD WILL FEED US
ON THE RADIANT NIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION.
HE IS THE VICTIM OFFERED FOR US.
HE COMES TO EAT WITH US
ON THE NIGHT WHEN HIS MYSTERIES SHALL BE ACCOMPLISHED:
THE CHAINS OF DARKNESS WILL BE DESTROYED,
AND WE SHALL ENTER INTO THE LIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION!

Overeating is habitual for many of us – fasting, if it brought us to the level of eating only the amount necessary for our survival, would accomplish for many of us a great thing. It would help restore our humanity to us as it would return food to serving its purpose to nurture us, rather than to control us.   The goal of fasting is not to reduce fat , alcohol and cholesterol, nor is it to reduce the risk of diabetes, but if it also did those things, that would be a good thing.   Fasting is to confront our habitual pattern of over-indulgence, starting with overeating.   The delight of food has become bitter for us – it is killing us with obesity, diabetes, heart and cancer problems, not to mention allergies, auto-immune problems and a host of other diseases as well as attempting to anesthetize our emotional discomforts.  Fasting is to learn to say “no” to the habits which control us and to the desires which are polluting our stomachs and arteries as well as our souls and minds.  Fasting can be a means of restoring sanity to our lives when it comes to food.    Fasting is to help prepare us to be fed by Christ, the Paschal Lamb of God.

And, we are to remember fasting is not only or even mostly about food – for there is the real fast which is pleasing to God.  As another hymn from Meatfare says:

DANIEL THE PROPHET, AND GREATLY BELOVED MAN, WHEN HE SAW THE POWER OF GOD, CRIED OUT: THE COURT SAT IN JUDGEMENT AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED! CONSIDER WELL, MY SOUL:

DO YOU FAST?

THEN DO NOT DESPISE YOUR NEIGHBOR!

DO YOU ABSTAIN FROM FOOD?

THEN DO NOT CONDEMN YOUR BROTHER,

LEST YOU BE SENT TO BURN AS WAX IN THE FIRE.
BUT MAY CHRIST LEAD YOU WITHOUT STUMBLING INTO HIS KINGDOM!

See also my blog  Fasting: The Rules and the Individual

Last Judgment: Keep Your Eyes on a Fast Acceptable to God

The Sunday Gospel lessons preparing us for Great Lent include the Last Judgment as described by Christ in Matthew 25:31-46.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Poet Scott Cairns writes:

“We are, in no uncertain terms, called to be like Christ, and if we will choose to allow it, we will grow into His holy likeness, increasingly and forever. The fact that His holiness is unending and inexhaustible means that each of us has an exhilarating and endless journey ahead. Even so – and more to the point of the difficult moment – we often neglect how, if this delicious mystery should apply to our own beloved persons, it necessarily must apply to other persons as well. Nearly always, when puzzling over that mystery – the church as Christ’s body – I find my thoughts returning to a particularly famous provocation in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ informs his followers, ‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.’ This passage, as it happens, is read during Orthodox liturgy on the morning of every ‘Meat Fare’ Sunday – the day just prior to the church’s preparations for the Lenten fast. The lectionary insists that this Gospel passage be read at this time, encouraging parishioners to keep their eyes on the purpose of the fast rather than on its legal terms. Fasting should assist our becoming a community of men and women who witness – by their lives in Christ – a mystical union with Him and with all others. This stunning observation regarding Christ’s being identified with His people – with every one of them – occurs in the final parable among a good many that Christ speaks to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, laboring to introduce those perplexed followers to what will become their new lives in Him; the radically revisionary passage, in its entirety, is worthy of our continued close attention, word by word:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

mercytoChrist

(Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering, pps. 35-36)

A brief history of the 3rd pre-Lenten Sunday known as “Meat fare” Sunday:   

“The third Sunday of the preparatory period is Meat-Fare Sunday, the last day on which the lay people may eat meat. This Sunday is also called ‘Sunday of the Last Judgment,’ in reference to the gospel periscope appointed that day by the ninth to tenth-century Typikon of the Great Church (Mt. 25:31-46). In earlier times, however, other readings were used. For example, the Georgian Lectionary had the reading of Mt. 6:34-7:21. We can therefore conclude that the hymnography for this Sunday found in the Tridion is of Constantinopolitan origin and cannot antedate the ninth to tenth centuries.”

(Archimandrite Job Getcha, The Typikon Decoded, pg. 150)

Meatfare: the Purpose of Food

The 2nd Sunday before Great Lent begins is known in the Orthodox tradition as Meatfare; it is the last day for eating meat until Pascha for those who are endeavoring to keep the Great Fast according to the ascetic rules.

“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’

Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. To be sure, man is not the only hungry being. All that exists lives by ‘eating.’ The whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to bless God for the food and the life he receives from him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing.” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, pgs. 14-15)

Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare 2003)

Sermon Notes for Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare) 2003

“The person who is weak in faith eats only vegetables, the strong in faith can eat anything.”  ( Romans 14:1-4)

Some of you might be sitting here on the edge of Great Lent thinking, “Good, I’m strong in faith, so I can eat anything this Lent, and not just vegetarian foods like those who are weak!”

But Paul’s message is:   Fasting is not about you!

Fasting is not a self-centered activity! Fasting makes us more aware of others and their needs. Fasting is not a self-love activity, but an activity to increase love for the other, for the neighbor, for the poor and needy, for those who are weak in faith.

So if you fast in order to say “Look at me I’m not eating meat or cheese or eggs for 40 days, I’m a superior Christian!” Then, you have failed in the basic meaning of the fast and are no different than the Pharisee in the parable of the Publican and Pharisee. “If you look around and say, I and my family are fasting, but the Smith family and their children hardly keep the fast at all.” Then again you have missed the point of the fast.

We are fasting to increase our love for others by paying less attention to our selves, to our wants to our needs. Use Great Lent as a time to put aside your self-centered self-love, and look to the needs of others. Find someone who is hungry for food and feed them, or someone who is spiritually hungry and nourish help them. To do that you have to be able to see and pay attention to the needs of another. And you can’t do that if you are constantly focused on yourself.

“I don’t know if I can live 40 days without meat. I can’t survive Lent without cheese. I’ll go nuts if I turn the television off for 40 days.” What’s wrong with that picture?

It’s all “I” focused. It’s all about “me”, “myself”, “I”.

A story:

The philosopher Diogenes was quite famous but very poor. One day he was sitting eating his usual meal of bread and cooked lentils, all that he could afford. Another philosopher walked by Diogeneses. This man was Aristippus who was not nearly as well known as Diogenes but he lived a prosperous and comfortable life by constantly flattering the king.

Aristippus said, “If you would learn to be subservient to the king, you would not have to live on lentils.”

Said Diogenes: “Learn to live on lentils and you won’t have to be subservient to the king.”

Think about that story. Who are you subservient to: God or your self? Which one is really your God?

Today is forgiveneness Sunday:   What remakes community when community has been lost?

Forgiveness and reconciliation.

What do the forgiven need to ask forgiveness about?

For the way we don’t live community.

We sin against the community of the redeemed when we don’t care about that community or the others in it.

We come to forgiveness Sunday and many will want to go home without forgiving or being forgiven.

Some here will say, I hardly know these people, no one here has sinned against me and I’ve not sinned against them.

It is my friends a sin that we haven’t cared enough to come to know one another, that we haven’t interacted enough to offend someone, that we feel no need to ask forgiveness of others for our failure to be community, to love and care.

Aren’t I free to do as I please?

Yes.

Too bad for the others then!

NO! The others are our concern. That’s what it means to love rather than be self centered!

In community, in the Church of Christ, we are to build one another up. If we aren’t building one another up, if we don’t really care about the others, then we are sinning against them.

If we have sinned against one another, we need to seek forgiveness from one another.

What do the forgiven always need to remember?

That we are forgiven gratuitously. We are forgiven by love, not because we deserve to be forgiven.

And for that we need to take the time to thank one another.

The Last Judgment (Meatfare 1995)

 Sermon notes for  The Last Judgment      February 26, 1995     Matthew 25:31-46  

  The Last Judgment is coming!

You all have heard today’s Gospel lesson from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His teaching was straightforward and simple.

We may try to dismiss it, or say the world has always been the way it is and it will continue this way forever. But our Lord told you and I what was going to happen. He told us how He is going to judge us when He returns to judge the earth at His second coming.

And I do not want to soften His teaching in any way by explaining His teaching in this sermon. The lesson today is sobering. My role is much like the Prophet Ezekiel who said:

Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: “When I say to the wicked or to the righteous, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning to save his life, that same wicked or righteous person shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked or the righteous, and he does not turn from his sin, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.    (Ezekiel 3:16-21, slightly paraphrased)

You and I my friends have been warned. The good news is that we can do something about the warning right now. We all are capable of doing the loving and kind acts which Christ our Lord spoke of.

We say that Christ is our Lord and teacher, let us now do his teaching. If Christ had demanded from us some hard labor, to carry some heavy burden, we might be able to object and say “this work is too hard, I can’t do it.” But, what Christ teaches us is easy, to care for the least of the brothers and sisters, to love, to be kind, to be merciful, to share our blessings and time with those in need. As St. Basil quipped about the blessings we have received, “If you hoard them, you won’t have them, if you scatter them you won’t lose them.”

Open your eyes Christian people and look for the little brothers and sisters of Christ who are in need of what you can share with them.

The Last Judgment: God Peering into My Heart

Sunday of the Last Judgment 2010         Matthew 25:31-46

 

John 13:34

“God is truth and light.  God’s judgment is nothing else than our coming into contact with truth and light.  In the day of the Great Judgment all men will appear naked before this penetrating light of truth.  The ‘books’ will be opened.  What are these ‘books’?  They are our hearts.  Our hearts will be opened by the penetrating light of God, and what is in these hearts will be revealed.  If in those hearts there is love for God, those hearts will rejoice in seeing God’s light.  If, on the contrary, there is hatred for God in those hearts, these men will suffer by receiving on their opened hearts this penetrating light of truth which they detested all their life.

 

So that which will differentiate between one man and another will not be a decision of God, a reward or a punishment from Him, but that which was in each one’s heart; what was there during all our life will be revealed in the Day of Judgment.  If there is a reward and a punishment in this revelation – and there really is – it does not come from God but from the love or hate which reigns in our heart.  Love has bliss in it, hatred has despair, bitterness, grief, affliction, wickedness, agitation, confusion, darkness, and all the other interior conditions which compose hell (1 Cor 4:6).   ….  In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ’s love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father. (St. Symeon the New Theologian).”  (Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros, “The River of Fire”)

Pascha as our Judgment Day

Meatfare Sunday 2009

The Gospel Lesson of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) offers us some thoughts about how to end up on God’s good side on the Day of Judgment.  

Take note in this parable of Jesus that the Kingdom of God was prepared “from the foundation of the world” for those who show mercy, kindness and charity.  In other words before any human had done anything, God had prepared a Kingdom for all humans.  To get to that Kingdom required only that you be merciful and charitable. 

Note also in the parable that the eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, not for humans.  God did not intend humans to end up in the eternal fire, but humans could through their own choices and behavior end up there.  The Last Judgment in Christ’s parable is God allowing humans to choose their final destination based on their own choices and actions.

The Great Lenten Journey we are about to embark on is the road to the Kingdom of God.   Great Lent is the road map to help us arrive at the good destination – Pascha and the Kingdom of God.   So how do we use Great Lent to get to the Kingdom?

Christ taught us to care for Him.  How do we do this?  By taking care of whom He called the least among the members of His family;  whenever we do these acts of charity to one of the least members of the Christian family we do it for Christ.

 We should take today’s Gospel Lesson and figure out how to live it each week of Great Lent.   Even if we did but one of the acts of mercy that Christ speaks about per week, there are plenty of weeks in Great Lent to accomplish them all.  So here is a check list for Great Lent:

mercytochrist____ Fed the hungry Christ     When & how accomplished?

____ Gave drink to the thirsty Christ    When & how accomplished?

____ Welcomed the stranger Christ     When & how accomplished?

____ Clothed the naked Christ     When & how accomplished?

____ Cared for the sick Christ     When & how accomplished?

____ Visited the prisoner Christ     When & how accomplished?

 

Pascha, the day without end, is also our Judgment Day – the day on which we enter into God’s Kingdom.  On that Day the Lord is not going to ask about what we ate during Lent, nor how many services we attended.   He is going to sort us out by whether we did the deeds of mercy to the least of His family members which he enumerated in today’s Gospel Lesson.  Fasting is a good discipline as it teaches us to stop paying attention to our wants, desires and passions and start paying attention to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.  The arrival at Pascha and the Kingdom will be a joyous celebration, not so much because we have avoided certain foods for 7 weeks, but because we indeed followed the discipline in order to figure out how to minister to Christ.