Friday, February 28, 2014

Ascetic Love and our 'Domestic Strategy' for Great Lent
Dear Parish Faithful,

Hopefully, everyone has worked out a "domestic strategy" for "taking Lent seriously," to use Fr. Alexander Schmemman's phrase.  The point is that we somehow know that it is Lent in our homes - that we somehow "feel" a change of atmosphere reflected in our various practices that are meant to increase and intensify charity, prayer and fasting. 

Here is another approach that I read in church on Sunday, and would like to share with everyone who may have not been there.  In a chapter entitled "Ascetic Love" in his book Lenten Meditations, the Greek Orthodox writer Vasilios Papavasiliou offers this practical advice that can offer a concreteness and concern for the neighbor that will deepen our ascetical efforts.  This passage also looks back to the Last Judgment on last Sunday.  Is some form of this practice possible among us in our own homes and community?

We abstain from food not simply as an exercise in ascesis and self-control, but out of love for others. Let us suppose that I normally spend x amount of money a week on meat.  That amount I have not spent during the weeks of Lent I spend not on substitutes - not on gorging myself on delicacies which, while they may fall within the prescribed rules of fasting, betray its spirit and purpose.  Nor do I spend it on other pointless luxuries I could easily do without - be it a film I want to see or a pair of fancy shoes to add to my already vast collection. Rather, I give the money to those who do not have food or drink or clothing or shelter.  I give it to those who are in need.
Thus we see that our ascesis, if it is to be any kind of defense on the day of judgment, must be as ascesis of love.  We deprive ourselves in order to have more to give to others.  And if I as an individual am able through my own self-deprivation to help the life of another human being, imagine what a whole community, a whole nation, even the whole world could do if it observed such a fast!
Thus it is not a coincidence that Meatfare Sunday is the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We will be judged above all by our love - real, practical love - a love that is manifested in deeds and in sacrifice, not a timid, cowardly love that never dares to take a step beyond feelings and sentimentality.
From Lenten Meditations by Vasilios Papavasiliou, pp. 29-30

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