A Few Points to Ponder as We Enter the Great Lent

A Few Points to Ponder as We Enter the Great Lent
A Few Points to Ponder as We Enter the Great Lent by Rev. Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip

There are many spiritual exercises which help us to grow in Christ. Holy sacraments, fasting and Lents, prayers, meditations, teaching and preaching in the church etc are preparing a ground for receiving grace from God for this spiritual growth. These spiritual exercises, especially fasting/Lent can be compared to the stone jars into which water was poured according to the instruction of our Lord at the wedding in Cana (St. John 2:7). By being in those stone jars, water could meet its creator and He in turn, could transform it to tasty wine. Though the stone jars prepared a ground for the transformation, the source of that change was God only. Likewise, we are supposed to be poured into Lent for being transformed by Divine Grace. It must be noted that the gospel reading at the time of entrance to the Great Lent is concerning Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

Great Lent began in the ancient Christian community as a preparation for the baptism of the aspirants of Christianity on Easter day. Gradually all believers in the church participated in this Lent and renewed their baptismal grace. It became a time for those who were already Christians to prepare for the Holy Week especially for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is a time of renewed devotion: of repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time of real renewal of minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and his teachings. As St. Basil the Great says “Baptism is a calling for living according to the incarnation and to be molded and formed in thought, word and deed by the teaching of our Lord.” So Lenten periods, especially great Lent, is a time of the renewal of our baptismal calling and grace. We die with Christ and resurrect with Him through the Great Lenten experience.

All important feasts in the church are preceded by short or long fasting. Lenten preparation for the feasts is a preparation for the heavenly joy in this life also, yes a joy which is lasting. Through the Great Lent we are progressing towards the festival of the resurrection of Christ, the joy of the feast of feasts.

Counting the intermittent Sundays also, Great Lent itself lasts for forty days which reminds us of the forty days fasting of Jesus Christ. It officially begins on Monday seven weeks before Easter and concludes on the fortieth Friday, the day before Palm Sunday. However, fasting continues for the following week, known as Passion Week, Great Week or Holy Week, up until the feast of the resurrection of the Lord (Pascha/ Easter).

There are two types of fasting: 1. Ascetic fasting by avoiding certain types of food 2. Total fasting by avoiding certain times of meals. Even though fasting till evening is the ancient Orthodox tradition, fasting at least till noon prayer is practiced by many even today. During lent we follow both types of fasting which also includes fasting with regard to social media and use of electronic devices .

Jesus Christ has not only observed fasting but also taught about the significance of fasting. (Mathew 6:16-18). It is noticeable that it was Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ who observed the longest fasting – forty days each- were seen in dazzling light on the transfiguration mount according to the Gospels. Let us have a look at a few important advantages of fasting:

  1. Fasting/ Lent is a time when we cooperate with God for the nourishment of our inner being. During Lent we give more time for Bible reading, meditation and Prayer so that our spirit is purified and enriched by God, the life giving food of our inner life. Then the Holy Spirit who resides in our spirit can smoothly guide us. Meditating on the gospels in silence during this period will be a beneficial food for our inner life.
  2. Lent is a powerful weapon for our unseen spiritual warfare which means our unceasing struggle against sinful passions and negativities of life. By saying ‘no’ to a few kinds of food, missing or skipping meals, staying away from gadgets and also marital sex, our will is strengthened to say no to evil temptations also.
  3. Fasting /Lent is a training for simple life. Fasting and vegetarianism during the Lent are invitations to overcome the enslaving power of consumerist culture which is based on greed. In the midst of prosperity and over consumption we are trained to enjoy the beauty of a simple life based on need. So during the Lent we limit our life to very necessary things and minimum needs with regard to food, social media, internet, and the use of technology in general. So Lent is a powerful shield to ensure our freedom against the attack of the powerful dehumanizing consumerist culture of today. Consumerist culture defines success in terms of money which increases the purchasing power, maximum consumption / purchase of luxurious items, power etc. The pressure to fit into this misguided vision of success makes life unnecessarily complex, hectic and competitive thereby leading to illness. This will deprive many of the minimum necessary sleep-time also. Spiritual boldness to be moderate in life is essential for being happy and healthy.
  4. Lent reminds us of our duty to help, especially the poor and the needy. Freedom from the grip of over-luxurious life and enslaving consumerist culture makes us sensitive to the basic needs of the poor and the suffering and share with them our resources. In the book of Isaiah there is an enlightening description about the fasting which is pleasing to God: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58: 6-7).
  5. Fasting /Lent is to ensure divine protection in our spiritual journey (Ezra 8: 21 & 22). In our transient journey on this planet to eternity our ultimate trust and security is to be with and in God who strengthens us to conquer all kinds of evil and to progress. In short, through fasting we humble ourselves and surrender fully to God who empowers us to face all challenges and negativities (St. Mathew 17:21).
  6. Fasting is also beneficial for our physical well-being. Rest and fasting are the basic requirements for the smooth functioning of the vital energy to eliminate toxic elements from our body and subsequent healing. According to experts of holistic training, cold, headache, diarrhea, vomiting and fever are not actually diseases, but reminders to take rest and fasting for the preservation of the body by this ‘pranic energy’. It is also a scientific truth that after around sixteen hours of fasting, autophagy (literal meaning is self-eating ) is stimulated in our cells which brings about cleansing of the cells and regeneration of newer and healthier cells. It may even contribute to lowering the risk of cancer. Scholars are of the opinion that fasting is the most effective way to trigger autophagy.
In spite of the fact that they were leading a simple agrarian life, our forefathers and mothers in Kerala took Lents and thus their spiritual growth seriously and with responsibility. This may open our eyes to see the greater need of fasting/Lent in the more complex and challenging life-situations today.

Spiritual exercises are useful only to those who have a vision to cultivate and develop their hidden potential which is primarily spiritual. By being with Jesus Christ, we are pursuing the desire to excel in life by becoming like Him, the ultimate standard and source of fulfillment of our human potential. Jesus Himself exhorted us to become perfect like God who is love. Jesus revealed the nature of such a perfect life as a fully evolved man. Spiritual exercises like unseen warfare, repentance and fasting, prepare the ground for fulfilling the Christ-potential in humans by equipping them to receive grace upon grace from the fullness of the Lord. Thus the Holy Spirit we have received in baptism will become more active to increase our ability to love, to be pure , humble, truthful, just and compassionate. This is the secret of the joy of spirituality that wells up from the depth of our being which gives a pre-taste of heaven on earth. So Lent is like a journey through a desert to the joy and spiritual abundance of the promised land. Celebration of the feast of the resurrection of the Lord at the end of the Great Lent is a taste of that paradisiacal joy.

Article by 
Rev. Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip


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