The Challenge of Fasting in the Modern World

The Challenge of Fasting in the Modern World

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We’re most of the way through our Lenten journey! Pascha is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. I love the reverence of Holy Week services. I love the buildup to the Resurrection. I love that it takes place in Spring (the best of all the seasons). The process of preparing, mourning, and then celebrating is so fulfilling and beautiful. For me, the cycle is the most meaningful time of the year. But this year, despite knowing that all of that is coming, Lent and fasting have been great challenges.

Normally, for me, Lent goes one of two ways: I either blink and miss it, flawlessly fasting like a seasoned pro. Or (like this year) each day passes tediously, I lose patience often and cheat—a lot. Years like this year, my preparation for Pascha mostly consists of reminding myself that it’s Lent. It’s a battle that I fight in my own mind. I lose my temper, remind myself I committed to a peaceful Lent, then lose my temper again. It’s a two step forward, one step back situation, where I’m constantly taking one step back, but fewer and fewer forward.

It’s frustrating to know that even as I’ve gotten older, and my understanding of the Faith has grown, I’m still going to have years like this. That frustration is only amplified by what I (selfishly) consider a lack of support. For most of the people in my life, Lent comes and goes without any thought or acknowledgement. Easter is just another time of the year, and unless I’m in the Church celebrating a service, it’s rare for me to be surrounded by other people who are on a Lenten path. Not having those other people around makes me less confident in my fast.

Finding Spiritual Strength in the Absence of Support

At this point in my life, most of my Orthodox friends are spread across the country. While they are all graciously there to support me when they can, I miss having the encouragement in my day to day life. It’s a feeling of isolation. In my mind, I’m the only person who is fasting, and I’m the only person having a hard time with it. I want to be able to lean on the people around me. But I also know I need to take responsibility for myself. Just because my coworkers and friends aren’t fasting doesn’t mean I’m doing this alone. It just means that I have to explain why my eating habits have changed, or I’m trying to gossip less, or I’m actively (always) working on my patience. It means that each time I’m in a position with people who aren’t on my path, I have to choose. It’s exhausting.

This year in particular I’ve struggled with being contentious and self-aware. But rather than thinking of that choice as a burden, I’m trying to consider it a reminder. When my friends point out a change in behavior, instead of being embarrassed or frustrated, I’m trying to use it as a reminder of what I’m preparing for. Rather than being annoyed that I don’t have more people around me for support, I’m reminding myself that I am the only person who can do this for me. I’m walking with other people, certainly, but this is my own journey.

Each time I remind myself that I’m fasting, I’m making the choice to continue preparing for the Resurrection. I struggle to remember that no matter what everyone else is doing, no matter how everyone else’s life is playing out, this is where I am. And God will always meet me where I am. I know that when we finally end up at Holy Week, everything will feel right. I know that lighting our candles from the dark to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection will fill me with the same Faith and peace it always does. And I know that I’ll feel the sense of community that I crave so badly. That is what I’m trying to remember. Even though the path feels lonely right now, everyone is moving individually toward the same moment. And we will all get there together.

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Charissa Giannopoulos

Charissa is an avid writer, lover of large birds, and the oldest of four girls. She studied Political Science at the University of Utah and is constantly looking for new ways to engage with her community and her Church.