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An Orthodox Reflection on Great Lent and Fasting

An Orthodox Reflection on Great Lent and Fasting

By Nicholas Damascus

For Orthodox Christians to experience the benefits and purpose of any Lenten season, fasting is as much a part of this journey as prayer is in the Christian faith. There are 180-200 fasting days in the yearly Orthodox calendar.

Great Lent is a special journey of 40 days where one refocuses on repentance and forgiveness, noetic prayer, and the condition and purification of the heart.

Why the heart? It is in the heart where the Holy Spirit of God dwells and imparts the knowledge of God directly to us. There are some 20 verses in that Christ references the “thoughts” and “reasoning” of the heart and its critical role in access to the Kingdom of God.

Fasting and Strengthening

Fasting is a process of strengthening the will by self-denial and discipline, resulting in taking back control of one’s life. For Orthodox Christians, it is not just the abstinence of meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil, but more so the abstinence from the passions of pride, greed, jealousy, gluttony, lust, etc., and the condition and attitude of the heart.

Giving up things like a candy bar during Lent is not the purpose of fasting, but rather the purpose of the fast is to gain control over the things we have allowed to control us. An example would be food which dominates our lives with a flotilla of diets, stomach stapling, weight loss pills, the “Food Channel,” etc.

There’s nothing wrong with the foods that we fast from; however, even the experts like Jenny Craig will tell you to lighten your load, dairy products and red meat should be among the first to go or at least to be eaten in moderation.

Pick Up Your Cross

In Luke 9:23, then he said to them all, “if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” No one ever got into Heaven comfortably.

Great Lent is an opportunity for us to intentionally participate in the process of becoming more in his likeness, by God’s grace and mercy, and responding with love, sacrifice, and compassion for the benefit of all.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you; they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18).

Lenten Season

Great Lent begins this year on what is referred to as Clean Monday, March 7.

  1. Sunday of Orthodoxy (John 1:43-51)
  2. Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas Sunday of the Holy Cross
  3. Sunday of the Holy Cross
  4. Sunday of St. John Climacus
  5. Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

The Great Lent ends when Palm Sunday begins, which starts Holy Week ending at Pascha (Easter).

About Nicholas Damascus

Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), often finding himself avoiding what God intended him to be.

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