The Seventeenth Day of Great Lent. FASTING & PARTICIPATION IN LENTEN SERVICES
[Not everyone] can attend the entire cycle of Lenten worship. Everyone can attend some of it. There is simply no excuse for not making Lent first of all the time for an increased attendance of and participation in the liturgy of the Church. Here again, personal conditions, individual possibilities and impossibilities can vary and result in different decisions, but there must be a decision, there must be an effort, and there must be a “follow-up.” From the liturgical point of view, we may suggest the following “minimum” aimed not at the spiritually self-destructive sense of having fulfilled an obligation, but at receiving at least the essential in the liturgical spirit of Lent.
Throughout the entire Lent, it is imperative that we give at least one evening to attend the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with the spiritual experience it implies— that of total fasting, that of the transformation of at least one day into a real expectation of judgment and joy. No reference to conditions of life, lack of time, etc., are acceptable at this point, for if we do only that which easily “fits” into the conditions of our lives, the very notion of Lenten effort becomes absolutely meaningless. Not only in the 20th century, but in fact since Adam and Eve, “this world” was always an obstacle to the fulfillment of God’s demands. There is, therefore, nothing new or special about our modern “way of life.” Ultimately it all depends again on whether or not we take our religion seriously, and if we do, eight or ten additional evenings a year at church are truly a minimal effort. Deprived of that evening, however, we are depriving ourselves not only of the beauty and the depth of the Lenten services, not only of a necessary spiritual inspiration and help, but of that which, as we shall see in the next section, makes our fasting meaningful and effective.
There is no Lent without fasting. It seems, however, that many people today either do not take fasting seriously or, if they do, misunderstand its real spiritual goals. For some people, fasting consists in a symbolic “giving up” of something; for some others, it is a scrupulous observance of dietary regulations. But in both cases, seldom is fasting referred to the total Lenten effort. Here as elsewhere, therefore, we must first try to understand the Church’s teaching about fasting and then ask ourselves: how can we apply this teaching to our life?
Fasting or abstinence from food is not exclusively a Christian practice. It existed and still exists in other religions and even outside religion, as for example in some specific therapies. Today people fast (or abstain) for all kinds of reasons, including sometimes political reasons. It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting.
It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible: one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other at the beginning of the New Testament. The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us.
Christ, the New Adam—and this is the second event—begins by fasting. Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation; Christ was tempted and He overcame that temptation. The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death. The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. The lack of space prevents us from giving a detailed explanation of the meaning of this parallelism. It is clear, however, that in this perspective fasting is revealed to us as something decisive and ultimate in its importance. It is not a mere “obligation,” a custom; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.
~Adapted from Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent