Dear Parish Faithful,
Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions.
- Forgiveness Sunday Vespers
As we draw near to the Fast, I would like to share a few passages from two of our recent or contemporary Orthodox thinkers/writers on Great Lent: Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Archbishop Kallistos Ware. They both understood the importance of Great Lent within the Tradition of the Church as it leads us toward the paschal mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and the joyful cry that "Christ is Risen!"
To take Lent seriously
means then that we will consider it first of all on the deepest possible level - as a spiritual challenge which requires a response, a decision, a plan, a continuous effort.
We can say without any exaggeration that although Lent is still "observed," it has lost much of its impact on our lives, has ceased to be that bath of repentance and renewal which it is meant to e in the liturgical and spiritual teaching of the Church. But then, can we rediscover it; make it again a spiritual power in the daily reality of our existence? The answer to this question depends primarily, and I would say almost exclusively, on whether or not we are willing to take Lent seriously.
And indeed, it is the truth and the glory of Orthodoxy that it does not "adjust" itself to and compromise with the lower standards, that it does not make Christianity "easy." It is the glory of Orthodoxy but certainly not the glory of us Orthodox people.
So much in our churches is explained symbolically as interesting, colorful, and amusing customs and traditions, as something which connects us not so much with God and a new life in Him but with the past and the customs of our forefathers, that it becomes increasingly difficult to discern behind this religious folklore the utter seriousness of religion ... what survived was that which on the one hand is most colorful and on the other hand the least difficult. The spiritual danger here is that little by little one begins to understand religion itself as a system of symbols and customs rather than to understand the latter as a challenge to spiritual renewal and effort."
From Great Lent - Journey to Pascha
by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
The human person is a unity of body and soul,
'a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible,' in the words of the Triodion, and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored as a betrayal of true Orthodoxy. In both cases the proper balance between the outward and the inward has been impaired.
Even if the fast proves debilitating at first, afterwards we find that it enables us to sleep less, to think more clearly, and to work more decisively. As many doctors acknowledge, periodic fasts contribute to body hygiene. While involving genuine self-denial, fasting does not seek to do violence to our body but rather to restore equilibrium. Most of us in the Western world habitually eat more than we need. Fasting liberates our body from the burden of excessive weight and makes it a willing partner in the task of prayer, alert and responsive to the voice of the Spirit.
If it is important not to overlook the physical requirements of fasting, it is even more important not to overlook its inward significance. Fasting is to be converted in heart and will; it is to return to God, to come home like the Prodigal to our Father's house. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, it means 'abstinence not only from food but from sin.' 'The fast,' he insists, 'should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: 'the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice. It is useless to fast from food, protests St. Basil, and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: 'You do not eat meat but you devour your brother'."
From "The Meaning of the Great Fast"
by Archbishop Kallistos Ware