Elder Patapios Kavsokalyvitis, Superintendent of the Skete of the Holy Trinity, Mount Athos
By fasting, we learn to say ‘No’ to our desire for food and also learn to say ‘No’ to our often self-destructive will. We also learn to say ‘Yes’ to God, which is always redemptive.
We’ve begun the Triodio, this blessed period of the liturgical year, with repentance, because we’ve felt deeply, existentially, within us the need to return from our expatriation. Like the Prodigal Son in the parable, we’ve felt the need to return to God, the source of life (Sunday of the Prodigal).
We’ve continued our journey towards the risen Christ through our encounter with other people, with the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters (Cheese-fare Sunday).
Thereafter we’re called upon, in essence, to deny our self, through the forty-day fast from food and the passions. By learning to say ‘No’ to our desire for food, we learn to say ‘No’ to our own will, which is often self-destructive, and to say ‘Yes’ to the will of God, which always saves us.
Over the course of the centuries, the Church has shown itself to be a real treasury of God’s wisdom and the experience of generation after generation of the God-bearing Fathers. When it accentuates the fast, it doesn’t do so out of contempt for the body, as is sometimes glibly claimed, but because it regards the body as a gift and possession of God; a ‘member of Christ’, and ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’, as Saint Paul puts it. Christians don’t hate their flesh, they don’t abstain from food out of disdain, but they don’t allow anything to have power over them. The balanced use of food or the abstinence from it for a time keeps the psychosomatic equilibrium of the body and is a way of glorifying God in our ‘body and spirit’, as Saint Paul says.
From this perspective, Lent is an empirical journey into the depths of our being. It’s a journey in search of meaning, of our discovery of God’s meaning in our life, of its hidden depths. And, to use an example, by abstaining from food, that is by fasting, we rediscover the sweetness of life and relearn the lesson that we should receive it from God with joy and gratitude. By restricting relaxations, entertainments, music, endless conversations and trivial social interactions, we finally discover the value of genuine inter-personal relationships. And we rediscover all this precisely because we rediscover God himself, because we return to him and, through him, to everything he’s given us out of his perfect love and mercy.
May you have a good Great Lent!