Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Fast Is Upon Us...

I am not a creature of habit.  Actually, quite the contrary.  I create more chaos in any attempt at a routine than anyone I know.  Therefore I am grateful (albeit more reluctantly at some time more than others) for those things that force me out of my entropic repose (because, lazy is my middle name) and into a semblance of a routine.  The kids' school does this.  Of course the first month is sheer panic and havoc for me, but we get there somehow.  My milk co-op does this.  I have to be back before a certain hour so I have to plan my Tuesday carefully and actually act on those plans.  Church does this.  Having a set place to be every Sunday and then some, gets me out amongst people, looking and acting civilized (in addition to all the attendant spiritual benefits).  But more than all of those, the Church Calendar does this.  All the fasts and the feasts have created a spiritual rhythm in my life that always calls me back from wherever I have wandered or gotten stuck.  I get stuck a lot.

The calendar that the Church Fathers set out for us in their holy wisdom, reminds us. Go to confession.  Come to vigil.  Remember the saints.  Prepare for the feast.  Bring your baskets (Pascha), bring your first fruits (Holy Transfiguration), remember your oil (Pascha), your salt, your candles (Presentation of Jesus at the Temple), your jars of water (Theophany), and bless your herbs and flowers (Dormition).  Bless your house (between Theophany and Cheesefare Sunday), bless your many wheeled things (Holy Prophet Elijah), bless your herds, and bless your neighbors and the poor (the feast of St. Phanourious).  Remember to fast.  Repent!  Prepare for the Feast!

I saw a comment on Facebook this week that seem to poo-poo the idea of fasting as a legalism, possibly as something archaic, a superstition.  I'm certain that this was stated in all piety.  I don't know the faith of the individual who drew this conclusion.  I thought about this comment and wished that I spent more time with the Scriptures, more time in my prayer corner, more time in front of the icons, more time in Church, more time repenting the junk yard of sins that I manage to rack up against my salvation.  Despite my wishing, there is no plan to make these things happen, there is just poor, pitiful me, scatterbrained and running like hell to thing to thing to thing.  And so for this reason I like the fast.

During the seasons of fasts, I do stop.  I do plan.  I search the calendar (both parish and Church) for ways to participate more fully.  I make a greater effort to find a way into confession, to vespers, and to Great Vigil.  I am more free and able to say no to parties, activities, and extra school functions.  During the fasts, I find peace in not only the simplified routine, but in simple obedience.  In that obedience we find our salvation.

Does this make sense?

God did not make me a crusader.  He did not make me a pillar among women.  He did not give me great authority or terrible wisdom.  He made me a a fitful, funny thing that grows best with extra support, like a great untrained tomato plant with heavy fruit.  The Lord knows what a mess I am so He does not leave me to my own devices.  Were He to abandon me any fruit I managed to bear would rot or drop off prematurely.  So He has staked out my boundaries and trained me how I should grow and for this I give thanks.

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger he prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away. Born of a virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve and they call out, "Your good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind."

-St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem


GretchenJoanna said...

You so neatly (against what you testify is your nature) describe the wonderful benefits of the fast and the church calendar. Thank God for His Church where we find our salvation, in the ways that your describe. Thank you for taking time to write this.

M.K. said...

What a beautiful post! I'm a Presbyterian, not Orthodox, so I can't necessarily relate to all you say, but I do appreciate your approach to fasting. It's a topic I've been puzzled by. This has helped.

Jeannette said...

Profoundly beautiful...and I like how you not only have exercised the discipline of careful writing, teaching both didactically and by example through your frank spirit of confession of your (our) insufficiency all while maintaining an appropriate veil of propriety. Praise God for your giftedness.