Orthodox Christians have begun the ascetic labor of Great Lent. Many have waited for this time of increased repentance with joy, but there are also those who look at it with dread. Pravoslavie.ru asked several priest of the Russian Orthodox Church to give us a few comforting words as we set out upon the holy forty-day fast.
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“We are all called to strive for perfection, and prayer and fasting are the best helpers in this work”
—The main joy of the fast, strange as it sounds, consists in the possibility for our change and transformation. It is in the possibility to become something different; to comprehend, hear, and feel that other world that exists not somewhere on another planet but here and now—however it remains completely unseen and non-existent for those who do not seek it and do not try to retune themselves, so that they could enter this most bright and blessed world. And we must definitely all retune ourselves and change, because the fleshly life we are so used to, without which we can’t imagine any other life, changes us and makes us so fleshly that it seems to us that this state and worldview is the only one possible and natural. Meanwhile this fleshly life is in fact absolutely unnatural, because God calls all us people to a special, supernatural life in His Kingdom. This is our goal, this is our calling, and it is the greatest human joy—the aim of all human strivings.
The problem is that we do not understand this or feel it clearly. And even if we know about this, then that knowledge gives nothing to our hearts and souls, because we with our fleshly lives deprive this knowledge of its main strength—living and direct experience of communion with God. Of course, everything is relative in this world, there are varying degrees of a person’s nearness to God and varying measures of tasting His holy blessings, but we are all called to strive for perfection, and prayer and fasting are our best helpers in this work. The Lord Himself said that it is fasting and prayer that help us in a mystical way to change, be transformed, and begin to live in another way—an indescribably joyful, bright, and peaceful life here and now. Peaceful does not mean carefree and easy, but rather free of torment and a doubting heart that comes from sin, from the consequences of a sinful life, which torment and burden a person at times more than material hardships and disorder.
In this fortunate possibility to change and begin living a different life in accordance with the Lord is the main sense of fasting. We will seek this repentant change. And the Holy Church gives to us all the necessary means and “tools” for this. Only obey! Just obey, and that’s all. Begin doing as thoroughly and piously as possible all that the Holy Church offers you in order to be with the Lord—and soon you will see what a saving, bright, and joyful (regardless of the flesh’s complaints) path it is that the Church leads you on to a different, higher, glad and radiant life. This is precisely why the Lord took our sins upon Himself, why He suffered and died on the Cross, and then rose on the third day—so that we, believing in Him and following Him, might become participants in this holy and immortal life. What happiness, what joy there is in this—if only we could understand it! And after all we can, if we wish, make use of this blessed source of fasting and prayer, commanded us by the Lord.