Man, what a Lent is has been.
Personally, I have only been moderately successful in my personal fasting, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I find that at this point in my life, my wedding approaching, and a number of other things on my plate, I have found it hard to stay focused on the spiritual from day to day. However, I must say that ironically, my involvement in church activities has doubled while my personal prayer life has decreased.
Having said that, and admitting to not being the spiritual guru I usually pretend to be, I would like to talk a little about this little thing called fasting. Now, I know that in today's day and age, fasting little resembles what our early Christian ancestors would consider self deprivation. I see that we all fall into three kinds of fasting groups. Those who fast for others, those who fast for themselves, and those who fast for God.
Those who fast for others, are usually like the Publican who keep the letter of the law in reference to the food they eat, and yet somehow forget that about all the other parts of fasting; control of mind, speech, heart, ect. They seem to forget that Christ taught that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles him. These are the people who, although keep the physical fast, excel in judging others, slander, personal and public shamefulness, etc etc etc.
The second type is the one who fasts for themselves. These are the self-driven fasters who feel that if they keep the letter of the law, they will somehow be justified by the end, and thus be holier than others. Or, they have such a deep-seeded guilt for certain actions which they have done (which we all do) and feel that this is a way to somehow make up for them. These people do try hard, but their efforts, as well as those who fast for others, are misplaced because they are both driven by selfish reasons. These people can fast day and night and yet never come to church except on Holy Saturday.
The third type is the one who conforms to the fasting prescribed in the bible by Christ. He/she is the one who fasts in secret and does not make a big deal about it to others. They admit when they fall, thus showing their humility. They draw closer to the church in their time of temptation, they pray, and they help the poor. They spend more time thinking about others, than they do thinking about their own hunger and complaining about it. They basically try even harder to be the same people they have been the rest of the year, only without sin.
Now I know that I have fallen into the first two categories most of my life. However, I do believe that the best thing we can all do during the fasts, and especially during Lent, is to cling even closer to the church. That is, to do things which are COMMUNAL. Why do things that are communal? The answer should be clear: Our faith is all about love through communion with others. Our whole lives should be about getting closer to Christ by getting closer to our fellow man. This is why the early Christians fasted mainly for social reasons, that is to save money to feed the poor. Feeding the poor is a social responsibility of us all and shows the ultimate form of love for one's neighbor.
If we are not doing things that increase our love for our neighbor during Lent, than what is the point of fasting? I have great difficulty with many of my friends who come up to me and tell me how much they fast, and yet they refuse to attend church services, commune, or confess, because they cannot stand the people who attend their church. This, to me, is missing the whole point of the fast. I would rather that these individuals eat whatever they wanted but attended church every service, read the scripture, and helped those in need.
Now many have disagreed with me on this. Many priests have told me that fasting from food is something basic that everyone can do. It is a start to a spiritual journey. If someone cannot do anything else, at least they can fast from foods they love. I have difficulty with this view. I do not believe that fasting is the beginning. Like soo many rituals we have in the church, fasting is an expression of what we believe. It shows our devotion, not only to God, but to our fellow man who is made in the image and likeness of the creator. IF we hate those who attend our church and refuse to confess because we harbor judgment against our local priest, than we have already separated ourselves from the community of the faithful, from the family which we are supposed to be fasting for.
Everything we do in the Orthodox Church has a communal dimension and this is something that most of us do not understand. We have made fasting into some pseudo-self- fulfilling and self-loving exercise which will benefit us for our own selfish reasons, instead of viewing it as simply another part of the Orthodox Communal lifestyle; A communion that we cannot escape as Orthodox, unless we want to create a church that was not founded by Christ and the apostles but by man. The criteria for all our actions must be Christ and His example. It can never be the rules in themselves that bring about salvation. They are only their to help us achieve communion with one another and God. If we cannot see Christ in our fellow man; if we do not even know the scriptures, or even the creed and what it means (that is, the basics of our faith), than we have much bigger problems to worry about than whether we ate meat on Friday or not. That's just my two cents.