When I was just learning about the Orthodox Faith, I was struck by the wisdom of fasting from certain foods. You see, I had been raised to think that a fast was no food at all, just water. And I would hear stories of Pentecostal pastors “fasting” for a month or even 40 days and “great miracles” occurring because of their fasting. So, of course, I tried that and failed every time I tried something like that.
Then I discovered the history of fasting, the reason for fasting (here’s a big hint: It isn’t to get God to do something for you!), and the power of fasting, not merely as an individual, but as a community.
It revolutionized my understanding of the purpose and the power of the normal Orthodox Christian practice of fasting. AND it changed my motivation for fasting. Turns out, that’s the most important lesson!
Look at our passage today in Mark 2:18-22:
At that time, John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”
Jesus is once again confronted by the religious leaders and the religious lawyers of His day as to why He and His disciples “didn’t follow the rules.”
Jesus answer didn’t rebuke them for fasting, but He did confront them with their warped motivation. It isn’t about following the religious rules; it’s about exclusively focusing on Jesus Christ. The Lord teaches them and us that my fasting has to be motivated by my love, my longing, and my living for Jesus Christ!
The time to fast and the reason to fast is when “the Bridegroom is taken away.” You see, I love Jesus Christ. And I want my life to stay focused on Jesus Christ! And my appetites, uncontrolled and undisciplined, will always distract me from a life lived and loved for Jesus Christ. My life, our lives, become distracted, and intoxicated by a lack of focus on the Lord and then we start living self-centered lives, and even if or when we fast from meat and dairy, it will be motivated by “just following the rules” instead of teaching even my physical body that what it wants is never as important as what my soul needs.
My motivation for obedience must be driven by love! Love for God and love for my brothers and sisters. When my motivation is too small, it produces self-righteousness instead of humble devotion, and that always leads me to judge my brother. Of course, when that happens it’s as if I haven’t fasted at all!
So, Today, what motivates your religious practices? Why do you fast, or go to confession, or even go to liturgy? Why do you follow the Faith? Turns out what motivates you reveals to you and to the universe WHO you really are! But the wisdom of the spiritual disciplines in the Timeless Faith draw us to a deeper place. A place where I finally WAKE UP to my need for Christ, and His everlasting and unchanging LOVE for me. AND I don’t practice these disciplines by myself. No, the Church stands with me in my struggle against the self-destructive spiritual blindness of self-centeredness and says “We will do this all together.” We will ALL be Orthodox on Purpose!