THE GREAT FAST
On the evening of Cheese-Fare Sunday, we begin the great journey of Lent that will take us to the celebration of the Resurrection. The Great Lent is a time for us to prepare so that Easter is not just permission to eat meat again, but a return to new life in Christ, a return to our baptism.
Lent today seems to focus on a bunch of rules and guidelines, but there is definitely more to it than that. It is a time to soften our hearts and open them to God. The Great fast is characterized by a “sad brightness”. “Sad Brightness: the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.” (Alexander Schmemann, The Great Lent)
How can we, in a post-modern society, observe Lent? Daily attendance at Lenten worship is not practical for most. Sundays during Lent reflect the Resurrection, not Lenten worship. Our culture isn’t “Lent-friendly”. Generally, Lent is seen in a negative way (a giving up of something) and as a time to fulfill obligations (yearly confession and communion). Lent may be observed through custom and tradition, but does it change our lives and bring us closer to our Creator? How do we live the Great Fast, not just observe its traditions?
We can live Great Lent by increasing our attendance at Church and intensifying our participation in the services we attend. Forgiveness Vespers expresses so well the meaning of Lent and is held on the evening of Cheese-Fare Sunday, the beginning of the Great Fast. The Great Canon of St. Andrew takes us into the “bright sadness” of Lent during the first week of the Fast. The Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts embodies the spirit of “bright sadness” on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout Lent.
We can live Great Lent by truly fasting. Fasting is not just giving up something or following the letter of the law on dietary regulations. “To fast means to be Hungry – to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover…that hunger is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its reality hunger for God” (Alexander Schmemann). Fasting is meaningless, even dangerous, without prayer. True fasting always leads to temptation, weakness, doubt, and irritation. We need to ask God for help in fasting and to make relationship with Him the centre of our fast.
We can live Great Lent by letting our lifestyle support our Lenten efforts. If we are watching television and movies and listen to music that promote sex, money, and personal gratification as primary goals, our lifestyle is not supporting our Lenten efforts. We have to live and work in a secular world. Perhaps Lent would be a good time to look at our jobs and relationships through the eyes of faith and make positive changes.
It is a challenge to live the Great Fast. We must make a decision to do so and follow-through. If we only do things that fit well into our lives, there will not be much meaning in our efforts. We will struggle and fail. We can give up or we can try again. If we do not give up, even if we fail many times, our efforts will bear fruit.