Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
On Saturday, August 1, we will begin the relatively short Dormition Fast that always covers the first two weeks of August (1-14), culminating in the Feast of the Dormition on Saturday, August 15.
As we struggle with the coronavirus, I think that it is all the more essential to respect the Tradition, and thus to approach the fast with seriousness and an openness to observing it as well as possible. This keeps us connected to the Church. And we support each other in doing so, even if we continue to stay apart as a parish community.
Here is one more good example of treating our homes as a "little church," to turn to St. John Chrysostom's famous phrase. I wrote this meditation some time ago, and some of the obvious references to the usual summer rhythms are not as obvious today, or they have been temporarily suspended. I have made a few adjustments below, but the meditation on the whole needs to be thought over in the light of today's "new normal" driven by the coronavirus.
We will celebrate the Feast with a Vesperal Liturgy on Friday evening, August 14. As has become our tradition, we will place the tomb in the center of the church, decorate it with flowers, venerate the icon of the blessed repose of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God – Miriam of Nazareth - and sing hymns of praise to her “translation” into the Kingdom of Heaven. We will make it possible for those who love this Feast to be present for the service. Details will soon follow.
Every fast presents us with a challenge and a choice. In this instance, I would say that our choice is between “convenience” and “commitment.” (And with our ongoing restricted or semi-restricted lives, I am afraid that convenience becomes an even more enticing option). We can choose convenience, because of the simple fact that to fast is decidedly inconvenient. It takes planning, vigilance, discipline, self-denial, and an over-all concerted effort. It is convenient to allow life to flow on at its usual (summertime) rhythm - or its abnormal coronavirus rhythm - which includes searching for that comfort level of least resistance. To break our established patterns of living is always difficult, and it may be something we would only contemplate with reluctance. So, one choice is to do nothing different during this current Dormition Fast, or perhaps only something minimal, as a kind of token recognition of our life in the Church. I am not quite sure, however, what such a choice would yield in terms of further growth in our life “in Christ.” It may rather mean a missed opportunity.
Yet the choice remains to embrace the Dormition Fast, a choice that is decidedly “counter-cultural” and one that manifests a conscious commitment to an Orthodox Christian “way of life.” It also allows us to make the Church "more real" in our lives since we cannot visit the place of our worship with anything resembling regularity. Such a commitment signifies that we are looking beyond what is convenient toward what is meaningful. It would be a choice in which we recognize our weaknesses, and our need precisely for the planning, vigilance, discipline, self-denial and over-all concerted effort that distinguishes the seeker of the “mind of Christ” which we have as a gift within the life of the Church.
That is a difficult choice to make, and one that is perhaps particularly difficult within the life of a family with children who are often resistant to any changes. I still believe, though, that such a difficult choice has its “rewards” and that such a commitment will bear fruit in our families and in our parishes. (If embraced legalistically and judgmentally, however, we will lose our access to the potential fruitfulness of the Fast and only succeed in creating a miserable atmosphere in our homes). It is a choice that is determined to seize a good opportunity as at least a potential tool that leads to spiritual growth.
My opinion and observation is that we combine the “convenient” with our “commitment” within our contemporary social and cultural life to some degree. We often don’t allow the Church to “get in the way” of our plans and goals. And those plans and goals may be hard to avoid in the circumstances and conditions of our present way of life. It is hard to prevail in the never-ending “battle of the calendars.” The surrounding social and cultural milieu no longer supports our commitment to Christ and the Church. In fact, it is usually quite indifferent and it may even be hostile toward such a commitment.
Though we may hesitate to admit it, we find it very challenging not to conform to the world around us. But it is never impossible to choose our commitment to our Orthodox Christian way of life over what is merely convenient – or simply desired. That may just be one of those “daily crosses” that the Lord spoke of – though it may be a stretch to call that a “cross.” This also entails choices, and we have to assess these choices with honesty as we look at all the factors that make up our lives. In short, it is very difficult – but profoundly rewarding - to practice our Orthodox Christian Faith today!
I remain confident, however, that the heart of a sincere Orthodox Christian desires to choose the hard path of commitment over the easy (and rather boring?) path of convenience. We now have the God-given opportunity to escape the summer doldrums that drain our spiritual energy. More to the point, we can transform our rather secluded lives at home into arenas of spiritual effort and struggle. With prayer, almsgiving and fasting, we can renew our tired bodies and souls. We can lift up our “drooping hands” in an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving.
The Dormition of the Theotokos has often been called “pascha in the summer.” It celebrates the victory of life over death; or of death as a translation into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Dormition Fast is our spiritually-vigilant preparation leading up to that glorious celebration.“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation!” (II COR. 6:2)