In this season of repentance, let us stretch out our hands in works of mercy; and then the ascetic struggles of the fast will bring us to eternal life. For nothing saves the soul so much as generosity to those in need, and alms giving combined with fasting will deliver a man from death. Let us do all of this with gladness, for there is no better way, and it will bring salvation to our souls.
Thursday Apostica of the second week of the Great Fast.
As we struggle with the weakness, busyness and distractions that always accompany Great Lent, it is easy to wonder if we are really accomplishing anything at all. The hymns of the Church remind us that when works of mercy accompany fasting, this is actually saving our souls, delivering us from death. Why is this? It is because when we show mercy, we are being and becoming more like God Himself who is merciful.
We fast to restrain ourselves. This is the negative aspect of the Fast. Fasting from foods (kinds of food and amount of food) is only an outward and easily controllable manifestation, sign or vanguard of the real work of self control inside us. This inner fasting is the really hard work, but it is the work that diminishes the power of sin in our lives. It is the work of saying no to ourselves, and thus saying no to lusts and passions, greed and manipulation of others, it is this work that retards the growth of sin and manifest to God our desire to be completely free from sin.
However, there is also a positive aspect to the Fast. It is alms giving, acts of mercy; here we actually become more like God. Here is transformation, here is the Light of Tabor manifest. Certainly some holy men and women see with their own eyes the Uncreated Light of Tabor, but acts of mercy also shine with this same Light–even if our eyes are too dull to see it. Even the blind can show mercy. Even the weak can participate in the Life and Light and Grace of God. How? Through alms giving: works of mercy.
In a dark night, a very small light shines brightly. Those of us in the dark night of the world should not despair that our Light seems so small. We are in a dark world: even a little light shines brightly. Do not despair, but hope in God. The Day is coming when all the sins we fast to deny will be taken from us. The Day is coming when our little bitty Light will be joined to the Search Light of God’s Love and Mercy and Grace. The Day is coming when all that is hidden will come into the Light.
In the mean time, we fast. We pray. We show mercy and have compassion. In the darkness we yearn toward Light and toward Love; and so we are transformed, bit by bit, into that very Light and Love we long for.