There is no shortage of good advice for making Lent fruitful. Every year, when Lent begins, there are articles, videos, blog posts, and so forth explaining how to prosper during Lent. It is wonderful that we have these. In our times, when secularism runs rampant, they are necessary. I want to give you a few bits of advice that come from some of the greatest experts we have.
Who are these great experts?
The Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church who write and compile our service books and the FULL liturgical schedule. Midnight Prayer, Matins, Vespers, Compline, the Hours and so forth. Also, we have the great saints of the Church.
The Wednesday before Lent, the Great Fast, begins we are given some serious advice at Matins. In one of the hymns (this one from the Stichera at the Aposticha) we pray
“If you fast from food, my soul, but do not cleanse yourself from passions, you will rejoice in vain over your abstinence. If your intention is not turned to amendment of life, you will be as hateful as a liar in the sight of God, and you will resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not make the Fast worthless by sinning, but firmly resist all evil impulses. Imagine that you are standing by the crucified Savior, or rather, that you are crucified with Him who was crucified for you. Cry out to Him: “Remember me, O Lord, when you come into Your Kingdom!”
I need to hear that every year!
It’s wonderful advice when going into the fast. For Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox the fast consists of abstaining from meat, eggs, dairy products, fish for the entirety, except fish for a few days (the Annunciation and Palm Sunday). Olive Oil and wine make their appearances on the weekends only. There are days in ‘clean week’ (the first week of the fast) where no food or very minimum food is consumed. There is more, but that’s a whole post in itself. The fast is serious business, but it could all be for naught.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there is abstaining from meat on Fridays in addition to a few strict fasting days, as well as the practice of people giving up something for Lent.
All of this fasting is indeed of great potential. If, however, it is done for its own sake, then it is no good at all. At that point, it would be no better than simply going on a diet. We must also turn our attention to amending our life. We must work to cleanse ourselves of the passions of gossip, backbiting, anger, lust, pride, or whatever particular vices find homes in us.
Do you want to resemble the demons?
If we fast but do not change our lives for the positive and do not focus on God, we run the risk of resembling the demons. The hymn from Matins reminds us that the devils never eat.
Remember Christ crucified.
The hymn also calls on us to remember Christ crucified and that we are share in his crucifixion and suffering in different ways.
We are also given the words of the Wise Theif who stole the Kingdom of Heaven by confessing Christ as God and saying, “Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your Kingdom!” This quote reminds us that our repentance is important. We must turn away from sin and towards virtue.
St. John Chrysostom (another expert)
St. John Chrysostom echoes, or rather, the hymn echoes St. John Chrysostom, who said
“Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor.”
This Lent, let us not fast from food only to be filled up with the flesh of our brothers and sisters, who we harm and eat through gossip and backbiting. As I’ve heard it said from a contemporary Priest “I’d rather find you rolling around on the ground eating a bacon cheeseburger than find you devouring your fellow man.”
Pray for me, that I may have a fruitful fast. Pray that I may, most importantly, maintain (read develop) a spirit of repentance and humility and not only fast and abstain from foods but also from my sins.
Pray for me.
I will be praying for you.
How can I pray for you during Lent?