March 9, 2008
1. “The night is far gone, and the day is almost here. Let us then cast away the works and deeds of darkness, and put on the full armor of light.” Romans 13:12
I don’t think that more fitting words could be found, to introduce us to another spiritual period, which commences tomorrow, with Clean Monday. St. Paul emphasizes the supreme importance of this great period by admonishing us “to cast off the works of darkness and then clothe ourselves with the armor of light!” The works of darkness are, the sinful life, which chokes any person, and destroys him or her, not only in this life, but also in Life Eternal.
How wise the Church Fathers were, to select for today’s Epistle Lesson, which is heard in all Orthodox Churches world-wide, selected from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. The whole excerpt read today, is filled with instructions for acquiring the new life, which is flooded with Christian light and glory. But in order to come under the bright light of Christianity, one must become free from the weight of sin, which is so often overbearing.
That is what our Lord cares for us to do. To come under His light, because He is the Light of the world! Thus, the opportunity to awaken us spiritually comes once again, with the Great Lenten Period. The great tragedy though, does come for many Christians, who will make every effort to refrain from certain foods, which is nothing more than a self-discipline to bolster our character, and to lead us to the spiritual.
When a Christian confines the fasting period, to strictly abstain from certain foods, without having a connection to the real spirit of Lent, it would be better not to fast, because this type of fasting has no connection with the basic idea of Lent. As a result, there is no uplifting of the spirit, because we seem to be victims, anchored in this temporal life.
Some become followers of the ancient Greek epicurean philosophical system, ------‘Let’s drink, let’s eat and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. “ It is really a shame, that people who consider themselves Christians, do not actively discipline themselves so that they
May follow the path that the Lord has paved for us, and which guarantees us fulfillment.
The Church will always preach that verse of St. Paul: “cast away the works of darkness, and clothe yourselves with the armor of light!”
Humans surely agree with the words of St. Paul, but comparatively few will follow. Perhaps it is the fact, that even we witness the death of others, paradoxically we don’t think that our turn will come. Did you ever notice that people become philosophers at Funerals, and come forth with phrases like: “Everything is so temporal and vain, and that nothing remains in this world, except malice and wickedness.” This philosophical expression might last a day.
3.When the next day dawns, these “philosophers” already have forgotten yesterday, and they automatically fall into the same, old, lifeless routine. If truly we lived with the thought, that the Lord would call us home today or tomorrow, to be sure, Christians would become more Christ-centered.
But, the reality is, that so many are religiously indifferent, if not faithless. Others are literally absorbed in their work, to provide for their family’s necessities, but oftentimes for the many unnecessary luxuries. In the broad.
In the broad spectrum of the deficient in faith, we may classify those, who deified themselves, either by their acquisition of a position of power, or wealth, who thinks that life is worth living, mainly when you can participate in festive occasions. But, how sturdy are the foundations on which they are based? When one has a position of power, he or she surely depends on others, and on relative situations. But, as with any other force, things can basically change, when their image collapses, and from a king, one becomes a pauper.
The person, who considers himself of herself the fountain of wisdom, does come to grips with himself or herself, sensing their insignificance when they are about to leave this world and are not in a position to explain or understand the mystery of death! How supreme it would be for the wise to believe that wisdom is a God-given talent.
4. After these two general categories, that is the powerful and the wise, we classify those spineless people, who permit their basic instincts to prevail, so as to fall in line with the Epicurean philosophy “Eat, drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you may die!” Truly a deplorable situation, which creates a putrid condition in society. Living only for the physical enjoyment in this life, he or she pays dearly, and runs a high risk of ending up and rotting in a way in the hospitals or asylums from incurable disease. So many Christians today have lost a true vision of man, as an integral unity of the visible and the invisible; the body and soul; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life, forgetting St. Paul’s affirmation: “Do you not know, that your body is the Temple of God, in which the Holy Spirit dwells?”
While I realize that we live in a totally different society from that when the rules of fasting were formulated, still we have to believe that the true values are eternal, and the examples of many people down through the ages, have proved that everything is possible to the believer, as the Lord taught.
We must not tend to justify, as does happen so often, - - we must not tend to justify our weaknesses and shortcomings, saying that it is difficult to effect that, which would have been easier in times past.
Rather than do this, we must gird ourselves to meet the challenges, because as St. Paul said, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
To face and win over these seemingly powerful forces, we must put on the “armor of God”, and take the weapons of light in our hands.
History has proven times over that spiritual forces were always able to overcome material forces. Today, in any advertisement, Newspaper, TV, Radio, we are deluged with offers to exercise our bodies and be trim, and there is nothing wrong with this.
But exercising our bodies, is only one half of our being. What about exercising spiritually? Reading the Bible, Praying, Reading Books that will edify our spirit, listening to programs that are spiritually uplifting. This is the great need of the day. Unfortunately there is almost total neglect, although these exercises could very directly benefit our whole society, if all people reverted to them.
What we need is commitment. Lent offers us unlimited opportunities, and it holds true, that the thought of Fasting, if taken seriously, will most assuredly keep us on track for true spiritual development.
Just listen to one of the hymns of Cheese-Fare Sunday to recognize the true spirit of Fasting.
“Let us begin the season of Fasting with rejoicing; giving ourselves to spiritual strife - - purifying the soul and body - - Fasting from passions, as we fast from foods - - faring on the virtues of the Spirit, which, if we continue to long for, we shall be worthy to behold the most solemn Passion of Christ, and the Holy Pascha rejoicing with spiritual joy”.
This one hymn is a mini sermonette and truly covers the field regarding the essence of Fasting.
Let us then make a clean start tomorrow with Clean Monday. Let us convert our inner being, which carries with it every guarantee of granting us fulfillment and true happiness. Amen.
“Therefore brethren stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or our epistle.” - Thessalonians 2:15