Our Orthodox Christian calendar revolves around Pascha, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, it isn’t just our calendar, but our entire theology revolves around the Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Christ conquering mortality is the public proclamation of our Christian Faith.
So, how do we celebrate the Resurrection? Well, first we prepare to celebrate this Cosmos Changing event! We Fast! Not just from food. That’s just the elementary part of the preparation. No, we Orthodox fast from sin. We confront the reality that the ONLY way to truly celebrate is to first prepare through Prayer, Fasting, and Generosity to tame the passions that intoxicate us into living life selfishly and asleep to God! We fast to overcome the enemy of forgetfulness and inattentiveness!
Look at our Lesson today. It’s another reading from the Old Testament and it’s from the Prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 8:19-23:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”
The prophet declares that God wants His people to see their fasting as “joy and gladness.” Yep, “joy and gladness.” And the ONLY way to be able to do that is to peer beyond the moment of difficult discipline to the end result of this good work; this faithful preparation. If I see the Great Fast as making me able to truly embrace the joy and gladness of the Resurrection of Jesus on my behalf, I will have sufficient and proper motivation to keep the fast well! In fact, without the vision of the real reason, the WHY of fasting, we are always subject to the many temptations to fall into error. One such error is “legalism.” Without keeping the joy of the fast and the feast and the reason why we fast and feast in mind we can fall into the trap of reducing the fast to merely “keeping the rules” or, worse yet, keeping the fast so that God will be happy with us as if He wasn’t already! We can also fall off the narrow road on the other side by dismissing the importance of the fast because we really don’t embrace the deep power of the feast. So, “it doesn’t really matter” if we fast. And that attitude is just as wrong and just as spiritually deadly as the legalism we so often complain about.
Today, do you really grasp what happened at the Lord’s Resurrection? Are you really convinced that Pascha truly is the destruction of death and the new life for the whole cosmos? If not, no wonder you don’t fast during Lent. The work is too hard for too small a motivation. Have you missed the point of the fast by confusing it with mere rule-keeping? So, you go down the grocery aisle reading all the labels to “make sure” you’re not “breaking the rules.” Perhaps it’s time to embrace the normal Orthodox understanding of fasting as enabling me to truly feast at Pascha. Perhaps it’s time for this Great Lent to be the time I’m Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Master, Prudence, Guide of Wisdom, Instruction to the foolish and Defender of the poor, strengthen my heart and grant it discernment. Give me words, Word of the Father, for behold, I shall not keep my lips from crying out to You, “O Merciful One, have mercy on me who has fallen.”