Entries with tag 40 days journey to pascha .

Fasting and the Body

It's not a bad idea to occasionally spend a little time thinking about things you take for granted. Plain everyday things.
-Evan Davis

For many of us, perhaps most of us, food is an afterthought. It is available in massive, well-stocked supermarkets. It arrives in our hands sorted, packaged, and ready for consumption. We don't grow our own vegetables, we don't slaughter our own livestock. When we want it, it's there, wrapped in plastic for our convenience.

Because it can be easy to get, it can be easy to take it for granted.

Great Lent challenges us to think about our food. It demands that we take a few moments to think about what, when, and why we eat. This will change the way we see our food.

This will change the way we see ourselves, and the way we see our relationship to God.

Perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves. What is fasting?

"[F]asting and abstinence is the first virtue--the mother, root, source and foundation of all good."1

Fasting is not simply a reduction in the variety of food we eat. It is also a reduction in the amount of food we eat. To feast on shrimp and bean burritos is to miss the point.

Lent challenges us to voluntarily invite hunger into our lives. This is not because the Church seeks to torment us, but rather because the Church seeks to free us.

Think back to the last time you overate. Remember how satisfied you felt. Remember how groggy you felt. Remember how difficult it was to stay alert and awake, how easy it was to fall asleep.

A full stomach chains us to our passions. We may be comfortably chained, but we are chained nonetheless.

A full stomach sooths us into letting our guard down. It opens the door for passions to creep into our hearts, and makes us more susceptible to them. When we overeat, we tend to nap; not pray or contemplate the Scripture or serve others.

"Almost all passionate impulses decrease through fasting."2

When we overeat, we satisfy a passion. We feel an itch, and we scratch it. This can incline us to succumb to other passions as well. Dulled as the mind is by an abundance of food, weighed down as the stomach is by gluttonous excess, we grow sluggish. We are less likely to dodge the "the fiery darts of the evil one which are craftily directed against us."3

An empty stomach yields the opposite.

"Passion is banished from the soul by fasting and prayer."4

Physically, abstaining from food alters the body's metabolism. It slows it down.

The mind is more alert. The intellect, feeding off less fuel, is less active, less dispersed. It is easier to focus, to slow down, to devote ones attention entirely to the task at hand. Our minds are frequently like angry beehives, buzzing incoherently and zooming in all directions. With a bit of fasting, as our metabolism slows thanks to the reduction of food, our scattered and broken intellect begins to defragment.

Through it all there are two constant feelings: hunger and weakness. The hunger of fasting is not the desperate hunger of true starvation, of course. Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore. The low and steady grumble of the stomach begins to accompany the beating of an increasingly contrite and humbled heart.

With less food in our systems, we begin to feel weaker. Not so weak that we cannot get out of bed, but weak enough that every movement becomes deliberate. Motion takes effort, though we're frequently unconscious of it. As our bodies slow, we become more aware of them. And the more aware we are, the more appreciative we become. "Never had he been so fond of this body of his as now when his tenure of it was so precarious."5

As our strength turns to weakness, we begin to see the world in a different way. A full stomach brings with it a certain confidence. When the body lacks nothing, the heart can grow proud and haughty.

Yet this supposed satisfaction is nothing more than deferred lack. In truth, we cycle between hunger and fullness. A stomach, no matter how full, will soon be empty again.

When our table is fully laden, it can be easy to overlook this ironclad law of nature. We can be like the rich fool who was confident in his wealth and sought to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his treasure. He had no idea that his position was not as secure as it seemed, for his soul would be required of him that very night.6 At death's door, no amount of earthly treasure could save him.

When our table is sparse, we are not fooled into trusting the false gods of our own wealth and power. We know that we cannot trust in the power of our own hands, but must look to the Hands that fashioned all creation, to the Hands of the One who alone can guarantee that we will no longer be empty:

"And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'"7

As we fast, our stomachs empty. And as our stomachs empty, our eyes open to a reality that may have escaped us. As we empty ourselves of what we once thought was treasure, we find ourselves full of something far more precious.

"Through fasting let us be filled with God."8

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1 Saints Kallistos & Ignatios, "Directions to Hesychasts," sec. 31, Writings from the Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart at 204.
2 Ibid, sec. 33 at 206 (quoting St. Isaac the Syrian).
3 From the Small Compline.
4 "Directions to Hesychasts," sec. 89 at 256 (quoting St. Elias Ekdikos).
5 Jack London, White Fang, chapter 3 at 39.

For more on fasting and prayer, we've prepared a special playlist of Be the Bee episodes for you:

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Overcoming Emptiness - Holy Week and Pascha

Holy Week.

Everything over the last several weeks – the services, the commemorations, the prayers, the fasting – has been leading to the events of this week. All of it has been designed to open our hearts to fully experience these high holy days and the Resurrection in which they culminate. 

Though these events are distinct, they nonetheless work together in perfect unity with one another. In truth, we celebrate the events of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection together! 

We cannot isolate the Cross from the Resurrection any more than we can isolate the Resurrection from the Cross.  Doing so would make the Resurrection empty and the Cross meaningless.  

All of the events of Holy Week are undertaken as Christ’s one, seamless Passion, in which He works to free fallen humanity from sin, death, and the devil. As we will sing at midnight on Saturday: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs He is bestowing life.” 

Even on Pascha, the feast of His Most Holy and Glorious Resurrection, we are remembering His death – trampling down death by death. It is in the Cross, in His Death, that Christ’s victory occurs; but it is only in the light of the Resurrection that the darkness of the Cross is seen for what it is. Without the Resurrection, Christ stays in the grave and is just one more nameless victim of the Roman Empire. And so this whole week should be undertaken as one, wholly united and saving act of God. 

It’s important to remember that, before Christ, the Cross was a symbol of death and despair.  Untold thousands died painfully on crosses across the Roman Empire, often for no other reason than because the authorities sought to exert their power and deepen their control.

These were meaningless deaths.  

Yet Christ did not run from the Cross.  Though He was innocent of any and all wrongdoing, He accepted the most brutal and final of punishments.  He accepted a meaningless death.  

Yet, in doing so, He revealed the true meaning of the Cross, as He showed it to be the key to the Resurrection.  He bravely stared into the void, and filled it with hope and life.  
Without the Cross, there is no Resurrection.  And without the Resurrection, the Cross is the meaningless death of a poor carpenter’s poor son.

The Resurrection gives meaning to the Cross, illuminating it as the “Life-Giving Cross” of the Lord. As St. Athanasius puts it, the Resurrection reveals to us that the Cross is “the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”1  But it bears repeating (again and again) that it is only in Christ’s voluntary Passion and His Glorious Resurrection from the dead that we understand death to have been destroyed by His death.

After all, hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Indeed, isn’t this the case in our own lives?

Like everyone, I’ve felt stuck in situations that, at the time, seemed dark, hopeless, even meaningless.  To the extent possible, it is only by looking backwards through my life that I can understand the different steps and turns that I needed to take (to be taken on?) in order to arrive where I am today.

And isn’t that the case with all of us?

Haven’t there been times in each of our lives when we have thought, “There is absolutely no way this is going to work out. I may as well give up.” And haven’t we all been proved wrong at some point, even if it took an uncomfortably long time? And standing on the other side of it, don’t we all have that blessed moment of understanding: “OHHHHHHHHHHHH!” 

Each of us walks through life being pummeled by life’s many mini-deaths, crosses – job loss, divorce, a child’s death, mental illness, addiction ¬– and often, in the midst of it, it simply feels meaningless. 

And we’re not alone in that despair.  Even the Scripture records the despair of great figures like King David who, in the midst of his troubles, cried out to God with doubt, imploring, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps 13).

Even Christ cried out, as He hung from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mat 27:46).  Imagine it. God Himself, hanging from the Cross, experiences feelings of abandonment by God. In this way, God is present even in the experience of  being godforsaken. There are no words to do this justice!

By entering our suffering, God imbues it with meaning, not because He sends the suffering, but because He shares it.  Because He loves us. 

Sometimes we believe that we receive trials and troubles as punishment for…something (not praying enough? not fasting? not giving that homeless gentleman a dollar?). We turn God’s action in our lives into some kind of cosmic yet strangely personal tit-for-tat (at best) or infantile yet powerfully punitive judgment (at worst). As if good things happening in our life were evidence that we are on the right path while the so-called bad things are evidence that we are on the wrong path.

But if that were the case, how does this account for Christ, the Innocent One, who bravely and voluntarily went to His own death?  Was His suffering a punishment?

No. God is the source of life and joy, not death and despair.  Yet the world, which is still in the process of being saved, is still imperfect.  And our walk through life will, unfortunately, be interrupted by crosses.  

Each of us experiences these crosses as being too heavy, too overwhelming, and perhaps that is precisely the point. Even Christ fell carrying His Cross; crosses are HEAVY. And frequently, we may find ourselves falling under the weight of them, asking ourselves and God, “What’s the point?”

Honestly, there may not always be the point.  Life just sucks sometimes.  

But perhaps that is just the point. Maybe the choices we make, and the way we respond to apparently meaningless suffering, will allow us to make sense of that pain when it’s all done.

Maybe we’ll be able to make sense of pain when we’re delivered from it, when we look backward from the Kingdom of God.

Maybe our paths through life will only make sense when we stand resurrected by the Resurrected One and look back at all that our lives have been. Maybe only then, after we stand unbroken and transformed, will our crosses – job loss, divorce, etc. – become monuments to the defeat of death in our own lives. 

God understands that our crosses hurt us. He understands that we are prone to despair and confusion and feelings of utter meaningless. And He does not want us to endure it alone. Instead of allowing these things to simply be meaningless, Christ took up the Cross and transformed darkness into light. He took the meaningless, and gave it meaning inasmuch as pain, suffering – indeed, the Cross – has become the location of His very life-giving presence. 

It is in His death that He fully unites Himself with humanity, drinking to the dregs all that it is to be a human in this broken, fallen, and dying world.

And perhaps this is the message of Holy Week for us. Our paths may be dark. Our crosses may be heavy. But they only last for a little while, and in the end, the light of Christ’s Resurrection reveals to us that they are the very means by which we can share in Christ’s victory over death in our own lives. Indeed, we must not view our own crosses apart from Christ’s victory in the Cross, illumined by His Resurrection.

Christ’s Passion and Resurrection show us that, even when our own suffering seems arbitrary and meaningless, this emptiness can be overcome. That no darkness is too dark to be overcome by Christ’s light, as we join Him on the path to Golgotha. 

And what’s more, Christ’s Passion and Resurrection demonstrate to us that we do not walk this path alone. As Andrew Root writes, “God does not meet us in the natural order, in power, or in individual holiness, but in lowliness, weakness, and suffering; for God desires to be with us and for us. Out of great love, God chooses to be found in places of despair and suffering; God chooses to be found on the cross.”2 

But God also shows us in His Resurrection from the dead that these places of despair and suffering are about to be broken through, that an all-new reality is bursting forth from the grave, for even now, “upon those in the tombs He is bestowing life.” Presently. And always.

So let’s take up our crosses, walk the path of following Christ, who is Risen from the dead, trusting that as we walk with Him in the likeness of His death, so, too, will we live with Him forever in the likeness of His Resurrection.

-Christian Gonzalez

1 St. Athanasius, trans. A Religious of C.S.M.V., On the Incarnation (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood: 1993), p. 54.

2 Andrew Root, The Promise of Despair (Abingdon Press, Nashville: 2011), p.84.

Christian is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, and occasional CrossFitter. He works full-time as a child and adolescent therapist, and in his off-time likes to devote his mental energy to the Church and the Church's ministry in and to the world. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on our salvation in Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on the Resurrection, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

How to Make Outreach Part of Your Family's Lenten Journey

A major challenge for Orthodox Christians today is to leverage the strengths of technology while understanding that our faith places a high value on external and personal relationships.  Fulfilling Christ’s commandments to love God completely and to love and serve our neighbors typically takes personal interaction.  It would be hard to worship properly online (even though streaming the Liturgy is a sometimes useful innovation) and participating in any sacrament through an app will never be an option.  Similarly, it can be difficult to build rich and meaningful online experiences that serve those in need -- the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick and imprisoned.  At some point, if we are going to live up to Christ’s commandments and stand on His right side at Judgment, we must put the tech down, go out and meet people where they are. 

But who has the time to go out and help others?  Life is busy – plain and simple.  I’m the first to admit that my wife and I struggle to keep a balance among Church, work, school, Greek school, baseball, Greek dance, modern dance, Girl Scouts, family vacations, gymnastics, swim team, soccer, house chores, and homework.  With all of these activities, it’s fair to say that there is no balance in life.  Many of us suffer from the fleeting desire to give our children every material opportunity to prosper in life while we fail to give them the peace, calmness of home and dedicated time that is necessary to grow together as a family and to work together, family-as-church, towards our salvation.  

Keeping Christ and His Church at the center of our families’ Lenten journey starts with parents leading by example -- allowing our children to see us actively praying, fasting, attending church regularly and participating in acts of service to others.  As faithful parents a we must root our Faith deep into our homes and then take that faith back out into the world, building it into the routines and habits of our children through actions, not words. 

A key component of Lent that can often be overlooked is acts of mercy and outreach to those in need.  Whether it’s sponsoring a parish food or clothing drive, visiting the elderly or shut-ins, helping a neighbor take care of their home or working with homeless families and children we should all seek opportunities to engage in outreach activities and make service to others part of our weekly routine.

Working together as a family on outreach projects is not only a wonderful way to instill the teachings of Christ into our children, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others.  Serving others benefits a child's psychological, social and intellectual development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year. 

This Lent, make outreach a habit.  It will take time for your children to be comfortable at a nursing home or serving meals at a soup kitchen.  Don’t expect them to feel comfortable on their first volunteer experience.  But know that with each time they volunteer, they are building an inner strength that will help them throughout their lives and on your family’s journey to salvation. 

What can your family do to serve others?

  • Start at home: Read the daily readings, watch Be the Bee, and have a conversation with your kids about the topic covered. Teaching your children to focus on others and be aware of people’s needs is an important step in raising compassionate children. 
  • Sponsor a food drive at your parish or youth group and let your children be involved.  Let your younger children color a poster or flyer advertising the drive.  Bring your older children to the food bank or shelter when you drop off the collected items.   Local food banks are incredibly strained this year and there is always a need for non-perishable grocery items
  • Make greeting cards for children who are hospitalized with chronic illnesses
  • Visit the elderly and shut-ins, visit parishioners in their assisted living.  Bring them a small gift – a flower, plant, small icon, greeting card.
  • Invite FOCUS to your parish or youth group for a “family day” of service.  FOCUS will lead a day-long outreach into your community to help people in need while helping you learn and experience the root causes of poverty and understanding what you can do to help. email: info@focusna.org 
  • Listen to your kids – ask them for ideas of how you can help someone in need. 
  • Shovel the driveway or rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.  Lead by example.  It won’t do to tell your kids, “go rake Mrs. Pappas’ leaves!”  But if you get a few rakes, put them in the hands of your kids and lead them over to her house, you will find that it is wonderful to work together. 
  • Help FOCUS cook and serve meals to hungry children when they don’t have access to free/reduced meals at school.  Contact FOCUS for info on how your parish can help. www.focusnorthamerica.org or info@focusna.org 

 

 

 

 

Podcast Monday - Tribute to Metropolitan Philip

By now, you've probably heard about the repose of Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.  Last night, Ancient Faith Today offered a special tribute program exploring the career and contributions of a towering figuring in the history of American Orthodoxy.

You can listen to the podcast here:

As you listen, consider:

1. Why did the Antiochian Archdiocese experience such explosive growth in the last 50 years, growing from about 65 parishes when Met. Philip first took office to roughly 260 parishes and missions today?  What potential does the Church as a whole have for growth in the next 50 years?  

2. Though they didn't explore this detail in the program, some reports indicate that Met. Philip began the process of reconciling the two competing Antiochian jurisdictions by offering his counterpart, Archbishop Michael, primacy; Met. Philip offered to be the auxiliary bishop in a unified Antiochian Archdiocese.  What lessons can we learn from this offer?  Why was it so important that the Antiochian Archdiocese end its internal schism?  

3. What do you think of Met. Philip's decision to accept so many Evangelical Orthodox into the Antiochian Archdiocese?  What is the place of converts in the Church, generally?

4. Though Met. Philip personally had a love of the Arabic language, he did not insist on it liturgically.  Do you agree with this position?  What considerations should shape our decisions about which languages to use in our services?  

5. What is a "Kingdom ethnicity?"  How do we walk the fine line between appreciating the richness of ethnic and cultural heritage while also crafting a single identity as unified Christians who are not divided by ethnicity, race, language, etc?  

Podcast Monday - OCF Real Break

Check out these awesome podcasts detailing the incredible work happening around the world on Orthodox Christian Fellowship’s Real Break trips!
 
Real Break offers alternative spring break trips for college students.  They are generally service driven or a pilgrimage to a sacred place. Students from across North America are travelling to places like Guatemala, Constantinople, Alaska, New Orleans, and Romania. This year's Real Break season started last week with trips to Detroit and Honduras.
 
Part 1 of today’s featured podcast, Real Break: Detroit, explores what the OCF team is doing there.  The OCF blog also sheds some light on what the Real Breakers experienced. Students worked side by side with members of Orthodox Detroit Outreach, which serves the needs of the local community daily. 
 
Another group of students went to the St. Nektarios Orphanage in Honduras. Listen to the Young Adults explain what they experienced as they interacted with the children and visited hospitals.  
 
Time and time again, Real Break has been described as life changing.  Students often go expecting to make an impact but in turn are even more powerfully impacted.  
 
If you’re a college student or know one that might benefit from such a trip, encourage them to participate next year.  It’s time very well spent.
 
As you listen to these podcasts (and read the blogs), consider:
 

1. Why does service to others have such a profound impact on the one doing the serving?

2. Are there places or times of the year that may be best for service projects?

3. Do you live in a community that could especially use your services?

4. What special talents do you have that could benefit others?

-Nick Lionas, Young Adult Coordinator
 
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