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Avoiding the Fast of Demons

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Written by Basil on 12/18/2002 1:35 AM. Filed under:

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In the weeks preceding Christmas, Orthodox Christians prepare by three ancient traditions of self-denial: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Although it is easy to focus on the fasting, this year I have found myself focusing on prayer. A dear priest I know calls fasting without prayer “the fast of demons, for demons do not eat, but they do not pray, either!”

As the choir director for my parish, I have been exhorted often on the importance of prayer. Our parish priest reminds me that I am teaching my brothers and sisters how to pray in song. The priest to whom I made my first confession in the Orthodox Church warned me sternly, “I will tell you what I tell my altar boys: If you have not said your prayers in the preceding week, you cannot serve in the altar.” I confess that I have not lived up to this high calling. As my logo humbly proclaims, I am a sinner.

In the past, I have said that I do not pray, but that is not entirely true. I have often availed myself of momentary ejaculations invoking the name of God, Christ, his mother, and the saints. Like Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, I have tried to keep the remembrance of God. I hesitate to mention it, but I have been mostly faithful in blessing my food (if not always offering thanksgiving after receiving it). I have at times offered extemporaneous prayers for specific needs, and I have been learning the prayers of preparation and thanksgiving for holy communion.

So you can see that my problem is not entirely that I do not pray. It is that I do not pray with discipline. During this year’s Christmas fast, I have been concentrating on keeping a Rule of prayer. True to my nature as a bookworm and amateur liturgist, I have taken my Rule from the 1945 Manual originally published in Britain by the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. It is not the entire set of morning and evening prayers; I have selected certain prayers so that I do not grow weary too quickly. I hope eventually to keep most of the entire Rule. As the rubrics in the Manual state so compassionately for morning prayers, “If the time at disposal is short, and the need to begin work is pressing, it is preferable to say only a few of the suggested prayers, with attention and zeal, rather than to recite them all in haste and without due concentration.”

If this seems proud, remember that I have only been trying to keep this rule for a short time. I kept a Rule once for three straight months. I was so impressed with myself! Three months! Longer than I had ever before kept any prayer discipline. Then, something broke and I stopped completely. My present attempt has not even been two weeks. We shall see if my hubris will submit to God enough to allow me to keep it more permanently. Don’t hold your breath. I’m a sinner, remember?

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One Response to “Avoiding the Fast of Demons”

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