Dear fellow believers,
By the grace of God, we have once again entered into the 3 days lent popularly known as `Nineveh Lent', the smallest of the 5 canonical Lents of the holy Church. "Lent is not a collection of prohibitions but it is an option for what is positive". Fasting is one of the traditions Christians have inherited from Judaism. It was common enough at the time of Jesus for him to warn us: "When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward". (Matt 6:16).
There are many ways to keep a good Lent. During Lent time, a faithful believer of Christ is supposed to abstain from some particular food or pleasure, especially avoiding non-vegetarian and sex. This is what exactly St. Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:5 "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self control".
Some people doubt whether diet regimen during Lent in our church is biblical or not. Abstaining from the king's rich food, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah ate vegetables (lentels) and drank water. (Daniel 1:8-12). See what Daniel says, " In those days, I Daniel, was mourning for three weeks, I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks".(Daniel 10:2-3). It is said in Joel 1:14; 2:12 that we have to lament and mourn for sanctifying fast. The fasting period is called the lamenting period. Daniel did not eat any delicacies, meat or wine during fasting period. According to one's strength, power and call everyone adjusts the dietary arrangements and the duration of the fasting. We see that St. John the Baptist, the greatest of all born of women abstained from eating fish or meat. The children like Hananiah and the rest ate only lentels, and drank water. Daniel rejected the delicacies and wine. The Church takes note that the Hebrew youths were blessed by God through holy fasting. It was fasting that delivered the children from the furnace and Daniel the prophet from the jaws of the lions.
Simple food in small quantity helps creating in oneself awareness that gluttony is a sin. A scoop of simple food would help one to cherish an idea that our prayers should be need based and not greed based. Lent is, further, an opportunity for oneself to abstain from bad habits like smoking and drinking.
The Church's commandment is that one should not eat anything until evening or 3 p.m. If one is not capable of doing it, fast till mid-day. If possible, one should avoid tasty and rich food like egg, milk, fish, meat, etc. And purify himself/her self through prayer, meditation on Bible and prostration. One is bound by moral obligations, such as giving alms and helping the needy etc, during fasting period. It is compulsory that one should participate in the Holy Qurbana after the true confession.
As our lives become ever busier, there is the danger that the voice of the Lord gets drowned out. Even in Jesus' own time, it was easy to become distracted by the cares and duties of everyday life as the episode of Martha and Mary shows. As an antidote, Jesus invites us to "come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). In the early centuries of the Church, men and women accepted this invitation quite literally and withdrew to a solitary life in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. From this began the Christian monastic tradition. While not all of us feel a call to become monks or hermits, there are many disciplines and practices we can all undertake to help us live this season of renewal to the full.
Lent means living exclusively with God. It means making a space for God in our life. Spend time reflecting on your own baptism. Read John 4:5-42, John 9:1-41 and John 11:1-45. Ask God to renew the gifts you have already received. Do something extra, like visiting the sick. Lent is a time of not only prayer, but also for fasting and alms deeds, which Augustine called "the wings of prayer" meaning, presumably, that without the fasting and alms deeds, our prayer remains earthbound and ineffective. It is good to have a charity box for each one of us. Earmark the money thus collected by fasting for philanthropic activities. See what kind of fasting God wants from us all. "Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives" (Isaiah 58: 6-7). This is not enough to fulfil a Lent. What is necessary is to have repentance.
When Jesus began his public life and preaching, his first message was not "Love one another" or even "Love your enemies", it was "The kingdom of God is close at hand, Repent"( St.Mark 1:15). The English word `Penance' is the translation of a Greek word `metanoia'. The root of penance is the Latin word `Peona', meaning punishment, penalty, pain, grief. It is not surprising that Lent, time for penance, is not our favourite time of the year. Metanoia, however, does not mean punishment or pain: literally, it means a change of mind. So Lent is not meant to be a time for punishment and pain, but a time for changing our minds, changing our outlook and attitudes, a time for changing our hearts. This is vividly illustrated when Prophet Joel tells Israel, "Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn" (Joel 2:13).
Finally, apart from abstention of food and worldly pleasures, it is good to have `Mauna Vretham' (Keeping silence all through the days of the Lent). Silence is the best way to hear the voice of God for it is written thus in Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God".
May God give us strength and enthusiasm to observe this Lent without failure.
St.Peter's & St.Paul's Indian Orthodox Congregation,