We’re deep in the Great Fast and there is PreSanctified Liturgy this evening in most places, so I wanted to address fasting. I mentioned last week that you shouldn’t choose your own fast, and today I want to expand upon that. It can be difficult to navigate the Great Fast, especially if you are new to Orthodoxy or newly invigorated to practice the faith you inherited from your parents.
We grow up learning about the saints of the Church. We learn about our patron saint, the saint of our local Church, and the saints that made history. Unfortunately, we also grow up thinking saints are something from the past, but today is the feast of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn. YES….Brooklyn, NEW YORK. Did you even know there were American saints?
Yesterday was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the day on which the Church commemorates the victory of Holy Icons over heresy and the truth of Orthodoxy. In every Orthodox Church throughout the globe, children, parents, grandparents, and friends proudly carry icons in processions around Churches. Some even go outside and publicly proclaim, “This is the faith of the Orthodox,” from the Ecumenical Council’s proclamation about Holy Icons. This great public victory doesn’t have to lead to arrogance.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is celebrated each year on the first Sunday of Great Lent throughout the world. Children, parents, grandparents, and friends process around churches proudly proclaiming the truth of God. God became a human being so that we could be united to Him. That truth, verified through the presence of Holy Icons, is the source of great joy, that we share with our friends and family.
Today is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the day on which Church recalls a great victory of faith. Many of us today take for granted the beautiful icons that are in our Churches, but it was not always taken for granted. For some people, even today, icons are a form of idol worship and must be destroyed. For more than one hundred years the Church was in conflict about the benefit and need for holy icons. Today is a celebration of the end of that conflict.
Today, the first Saturday of Great Lent, the Church commemorates the Miracle of the Kolyva by Saint Theodore the Recruit. It is a historical event which remembers when Christians were the target of hatred. Knowing that Christians were fasting for the first week of Great Lent, the pagans sprinkled blood over all the fresh food in the marketplace to contaminate the food with blood from idols. This was done boost the practice of paganism in the fourth century. Through the guidance of Saint Theodore the people didn’t eat the contaminated food.
One of the joys I have during Great Lent is experiencing the rhythm of the Church. This ancient life, which the overwhelming majority of Christians today consider only a historical footnote, includes morning and evenings prayers along with times of quiet solemnity and bright joy, all sprinkled throughout the week. If you haven’t noticed this rhythm, chances are you weren’t in Church this week.
When I speak with people about fasting in general, but especially about the Great Fast, I always discourage the concept of “giving something up for Lent” mainly because it has a self-orientation rather than heavenly. When you practice the give something up for Lent model, you are basically saying, “I will choose my own fast. I will choose my own rules. I will choose my own faith.” That lies in total contrast to Christ’s invitation to, “Deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34)
Today is half-way through the first week of Great Lent. If you are in any way making an effort to keep some sort of fast, attend some of the services, read some of the Scriptures (they are from the Old Testament during Great Lent), pray some of the special prayers, then by now you are also probably suffering from spiritual and physical stress. By now you may be wondering if “all this” might be worth it. Never fear, the Church is here!
As we look back on our life in the Church, especially during Great Lent, we eventually land upon some acceptance of the purpose of the Church why do we gather each Sunday? Why do we offer programs for our youth? Why do we both to take the Church up on her offer for such a spiritually intense Great Lenten Journey?