GREAT FAST IS ALMOST HALF OVER!
We in holy Orthodoxy are almost in the middle of the Great Fast which occurs on Sunday of the Holy Cross, which this year is March 15th. With the approaching important elebration one man would say to another, the fast is almost over, and the other responded, seems like it has just begun. This show that our perspectives differ greatly and this depends on our spiritual progress or lack of it. The first is anxious for the fast to end, the latter sees the opportunities and a goal. If we cannot progress toward a real goal during the Great Fast, it will derive little benefit and this will have an effect on our future spiritual outlook concerning everything in our lives following the fast. For the fruit of the fast is drawing nearer to Christ in love and devotion. If anyone has not kept the fast up until now, and begins, there will be no loss for the Lord’s generosity is boundless.
Although the Great Fast is the forty days before Holy Week, each day anticipates the extremely joyful Feast of the feasts, Pascha, wherein all of our joy overflows in huge celebration. However, fasting is meant to be a very personal endeavor in which every pious Orthodox Christian seeks to acquire benefits from the fast. For although we are already in the Kingdom of God, as its citizens our objective in this life is to become worthy to rejoice in the next life on the right hand of the Judge. Thus the fast must be focused on ourselves not being a passive but an active period of time. The fast is much more than the eating certain foods with the absence of others. Fasting is not about self control and self regard, on the contrary it is about changing from self love to love of Jesus Christ.
Because the transition we should be seeking during the fast is to completely transform our self love of body and soul into love for our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we need to focus all our love on the Son of God, the only Lover of mankind, on the Cross and in His glorious Resurrection. He alone is worthy of our total love, for being God and Creator, when most of the human race was in opposition and at inimical towards Him, He descended to earth, and became incarnate in the Virgin’s womb. He grew and became man and at the age of about thirty, after three years of speaking only good words and doing good works, he endured unjust persecution and prosecution, the death penalty and death on the Cross, which wickedness sealed with the malicious offer of vinegar to quench His dying thirst. He said: “It is finished and gave up His spirit.” Three days later, he arose from the dead after having become the victor over death and despoiling the empire and authority of the evil one. He overthrew the authority which had tyrannized man and rendered him wretched. But Christ, out of extreme love for man came to suffer and die for our salvation and granted us eternal life.
What Christ suffered and endured is beyond any possible description, for he took on himself all the sufferings that the entire race of man deserved. What motivated Christ to endure such agony, spitting, pain, sorrow and infamy? “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son that whoever believed in Him should not perish but has everlasting life.” It is Christ who loves us and who alone is worthy of our love, for He gave himself as sacrifice for us. Not “gave” but gives himself, for in the Church which He founded, is celebrated the continuous sacrifice of the Cross which holy Orthodoxy preserves. He gives himself to us His Body and Blood as food and drink in the Eucharist. On the night in which He was betrayed, Christ established this great and mysterious continuity telling us to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Fasting helps us to stop loving ourselves and learning to concentrate our love on Christ with all our souls, our hearts and our power. When we see fasting as abandoning the selfish love of ourselves replaced by love for Christ, we also will witness as He transforms our sadness into joy, our emptiness into fulness, and our despair into the greatest possible hope of man – eternal life! The whole world does not equal the value of single soul who is saved and brought into the kingdom. Fasting helps us to change from self love to love of Christ, and to please God. It also helps us to acquire virtues greatly approved by the Lord, for by communion with Christ we become humble, simple and good.
Every annual Pascha is a step toward the goal of the unending and eternal Pascha in the next life. It is not true that we die and receive heaven as a reward, for both the kingdom of heaven and Pascha begin here and progress during this present life. We must be keenly aware of the Lord and keep Him before our face every day of our lives. But it is not possible to attain our goal without taking part in the fasts, which enable us to deny love and care of ourselves and to love Christ. Christ tells us that "if we love Him we must keep His commandments," which in turn instruct us to spread the good news of the Gospel and the boon of eternal life to all, therefore we desire the salvation of all men as does the Lord. How else will we fulfill our love for others if we fail even to attempt to bring others to Christ together with us? And how will we bring them to Christ if we have not brought ourselves first?
The joy of Christian life is rooted in the main objective of the fast, our change from self love to love of Jesus Christ. St. Porphyrios says: “No one ever became holy by fighting against evil; instead, fall in love with the beautiful Christ.” When we conquer the self love within us, we still must return within ourselves for there is where Christ dwells awaiting our love to be re-directed toward Him. In loving Christ we also begin to really love ourselves with genuine love, doing what is healthy and best for us. Perfect love requires us to love every man, including those who hate us, and those who would kill us, and this causes us to do as God does for us in His great love for man.
The Adorable and Lifegiving Cross celebrated in the middle of the Fast, reminds us that the Cross is glorious and that it is through the Cross that joy has come into the world. Christ came to save the race of man, and guide believers to eternal life. The enemy of God and man has been vanquished, having lost his authority and power which was acquired through deception of the first-created. Christ endowed us with the ability to defeat the evil one strengthening us through the divine food of the Eucharist and the invincible power of the Comforter and Spirit of truth.