FASTING — A MEANS TO AN END!
by Judy Yentzen
I would like to quote from THE SPIRITUAL COUNSELS OF FATHER JOHN OF KRONSTADT, Select Passages from MY LIFE IN CHRIST, edited and introduced by W. Jardine Grisbrooke. “The Christian has great, spiritual, divine enjoyments. Carnal delights must always be subjected to these higher delights; and when they hinder the latter they must be checked or suppressed. It is not to afflict man that food and drink are at certain times and seasons forbidden him by the Church, not to limit his freedom, as worldly people say; it is done in order to afford him true, lasting and eternal delights; …”. The Gospel reminds us how we are to fast, “… when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
I have only been in the Orthodox Church a short time — two years now and this will be my second Lenten season as an Orthodox. Because of that, I would like to share with you my first real introduction to fasting, the preparation, and how it affected my life.
I grew up in a protestant faith and, therefore, knew nothing about fasting. In my late thirties, I started going to the Episcopal church where I first read and heard a little about fasting — but only for the Lenten season, There was little said about it and even less importance placed upon it.
About two years ago, my son, David, began attending an Orthodox church and soon discovered it was what he had been searching for. As his interest grew and his enthusiasm showed, I became more and more interested in all the mysterious things he was telling me. I had already recognized that I was on a spiritual journey — a search for a Faith that would fulfill my deepest needs. What David was telling me only served to peek my interest. At the end of 1990, David was chrismated.
With the end of 1990, came Desert Storm. David, since he was a reservist, was notified that he would be activated in early 1991. The week prior to his departure, the family went to Houston to spend time with him. On the last Sunday, we all attended church with him. I watched him go to confession, heard strange and wonderful music and prayers, and listened, for the first time, to an Orthodox liturgy. As David received special blessings and prayers were said on his behalf, what I felt inside was indescribable. Even through my pain and fear, I felt drawn to this beautiful service.
That Sunday afternoon, after liturgy, David explained how upset he was because he was not going to be able to observe his first Lenten fast. I wanted to do something to show my love for my son. The only thing I could think of was to offer to observe the fast on his behalf. Though I knew it was not the same, it was all I could offer. He accepted my offer and gathered material for me to read to understand how to fast but most importantly why to fast.
Upon David’s departure, I struggled with each day. I read and re-read the information he gave me. I studied Scripture and prayed. Because of the very real possibility that David would not return, my entire being felt raw and exposed. I had never known such pain and was completely open to God. He was the only one who could sustain me.
Fasting provided a new means of communicating with God, a new understanding of humility. If you will, let me quote to you once more from THE SPIRITUAL COUNSELS OF FATHER JOHN OF KRONSTADT. “As sincere, fervent prayer is connected with abstinence, abstinence and fasting are necessary in order to maintain within ourselves the Christian life — the ardour of faith, hope and love. Nothing so soon extinguishes the spirit of faith within us as intemperance, indulgence, excessive search for amusement, and an irregular life. To what end do fasting and penitence lead? They lead to the cleansing of the soul from sins, to peace of heart, to union with God; they fill us with devotion and sonship, and give us boldness before God.’’ My understanding of the true sacrifice made for all of us and our dependence upon God for all things was changing. The love was both frightening and overwhelming.
With each passing day, I found myself asking God to provide protection for David, grant me strength to accept what each day offered, and the wisdom to understand what He would have me to do. As the days past, God’s plan became clear — the Orthodox Church was to be my home. God made my decision obvious. He even made the when and how perfectly clear to me. As I prayed for guidance. He answered with such clarity that I did not have to ask a second time. The fasting, together with the time in prayer, gave me a relationship with God 1 had never experienced before.
When I started fasting last year, I thought it was on behalf of my son. Little did I know it was really for me. I can’t say that I was completely successful in keeping the fast throughout Lent but I can say that the experience in fasting was a great success! My journey in Christ has not ended, but my search for the one true Faith has. I invite you and encourage you to join me this year during this fasting and Lenten season.
Judy Yentzen is a member of St. Michael Church in Beaumont, Texas.
From Word Magazine
<Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America