Presvytera Melanie DiStefano lives with her husband Rev Fr Joseph DiStefano and their son Michael Seraphim. Together they serve the parish of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Ohio. Melanie has a background in Chemical Engineering and graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology with a Masters of Divinity in 2003.
Today I am feeling weary – of an illness that has plagued me for half my life, of my bad eating habits, of my fears for my child and his future. Just weary. So instead of doing something productive like praying or attending to one of the items on my “To Do” list, I spent the better part of the morning eating foods that were bad for me. It started out with the “healthy” no-bake protein cookies I make to satisfy my sweet tooth without eating processed sugars, flours, etc. If I had stopped here I would have been full but okay. But the thought that Clean Monday is fast approaching and I won’t be able to eat goodies for an entire 40 days has been playing on my mind all week.
So, I added organic peanut butter and dark chocolate chips to the mix, then some leftover store-bought frosting, a gluten-free cookie, the crumbs of a regular chocolate chip cookie (everyone knows the crumbs don’t count), etc., etc., etc. It was a junk-food and not-so-junk food binge – all because I chose to put off prayer and eat without thinking…or rather eat because of faulty thinking.
So, I’m sure you don’t really care to know what I’ve ingested today, but maybe some can relate to this experience. It seems to me that I have defeated the purpose of Cheesefare Week. Everything the Church prescribes is intended for our health and salvation. Cleaning out our cupboards and refrigerators of animal-based food products does not mean purging on them or buying an overabundance this week. I am certain gluttony and wastefulness is not what our Church Fathers desired for us. Didn’t I just learn of the Prodigal Son last Sunday? “Waste not; want not” should be my motto especially as we approach Lent, a time of “kenosis” or “self-emptying.”
Maybe you are familiar with the book Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Or possibly the movie based on the memoirs? I am just now reading the story, as my godfather lent me his copy a few days ago. Frank recounts his earliest memories as a child living in the Depression Era, the son of an alcoholic father who drinks his wages away time after time after time. This despite the illnesses and deaths of his children who very likely suffered death as a result of starvation and malnourishment. It’s a complicated tale as all real life can be. The father really isn’t all bad. He lovingly shares lively and inspiring stories with his children, rarely loses temper with them, and is affectionate. It is his addiction to alcohol that makes him act nonsensically. In his heart he never wants to hurt his family, but his passion is so strong for the drink that he simply is enslaved by it and forsakes everything else for it.
This is exactly the behavior our Holy Church wants to help us control and heal altogether. She wants to feed us with “Bread from heaven” (John 6:41), “Food indeed”(John 6:55) – Jesus Christ. But if we “…have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to (our) trust the true riches?”(Luke 16:11)? We can “have life and have it…abundantly”(John 10:10) as the Lord so desires for us if we only trust that abstaining from some material things for some time will allow us to reap eternal heavenly fruits. Heaven and hell are not merely for the future: we live in a state of foretaste of each in this life. Today I ask myself why I continually choose to partake of temporary pleasure (which usually leads to guilt and pain) and forfeit a deeper communion with the Lord. Weary I am — with myself.
So, maybe I’ve gotten off to a faulty start in preparing myself to prepare for Pascha. Does that mean all is in vain and I may as well “throw in the towel” and continue to feed my passions? The Evil One surely wants me to believe this. And sometimes I do. But not today – not buying that lie anymore. My Father Confessor once told me, “we don’t have to wait for a new day to change. Every moment is an opportunity for repentance”. I can turn around and face the Lord and look to Him as my Comfort at any moment instead of food, drugs, alcohol, TV, Facebook, clothes, cars, furniture – you fill in the blank.
Why did Frank McCourt’s father choose what he chose when the effects of his choice were so apparent? Why do I? Why does anyone? Fact is, sin doesn’t make sense, so the amateur psychologist in me will never really figure it out. Knowing myself helps. If I know that certain patterns of thought like revisiting painful memories, focusing on regrets, or avoiding tasks that seem insurmountable lead me to turn to unhealthy behavior, then I can more intentionally choose to do something healthier or life-giving in place of the harmful behavior. But even when I know why, sometimes the pull is so powerful to just do whatever I feel like doing at that moment that all reasoning faculties are “shut down,” or so it seems. It is in these moments that I fall into temptation that the only solution is really to fall down literally on my knees and ask forgiveness of the Lord. “He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8), and “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). He is waiting and always desiring our return to Him and ready to give us His grace to change…the crux of the message of The Prodigal Son’s return to his loving father’s embrace.
So today I will put this morning’s sugar binge behind me and choose only to eat healthy foods in moderation when I am hungry. The entire day is not lost. I will try to focus on loving others and listen to the voice in my heart that repeats, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat” (Luke 12:22). By the grace of God I will embark upon my Lenten journey a little scraped up from a fall. But with wounds soothed by His meekness, I will get up, dust myself off, and start again.
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