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Lenten Meditation I: On the purpose of the fast

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Written by Basil on 02/13/2010 3:56 PM. Filed under:


I wish I could spend my time posting delicious recipes of our family’s fasting menu. Instead, I’ll be struggling with providing three different diets to my family (mine, [my eldest daughter]’s and everyone else’s which includes some serious Asperger’s-related food aversion issues). I guess I’ll write about the struggle. It’s just so NOT neat and tidy, so NOT well organized and so NOT perfect. Morning Coffee: I’m not READY!!!!!.

It sounds like you are ready.

According to a fellow traveler (a choir director whose late father was a prominent priest and whose brother is an archdeacon), in Russia if you cut out meat you are fasting.[1] During the Christmas fast the refectory was not without a steady supply of hard-boiled eggs. (For the weak, of course. And I was so weak.)

In directed reflection on the purpose of the fast, one of our classes discussed the probability that the aim of all the ascetic struggle and lenten hymnody is to break down the delusion that we have done anything. If we keep the fast, we are accused of pride and self-righteousness. If we break the fast, we are accused of slovenliness. (And we all break the fast.) At the Pasch, Saint John Chrysostom’s preaching kills us:

You are welcome at the banquet anyway. You have not done anything to deserve the feast: That is the whole point. (Still, what do we do with the soiled wedding garment which we were to keep spotless? Or those Boy Scout virgins when we run out of oil? Or those frightening tales of burning trash heaps and lakes of liquid fire?)

The great fast not about getting anything right; that is why the Triodion[2] begins with a contrast between a sinful tax collector and a religious zealot four weeks before Lent. The fast forces us to admit that we are broken and destitute without Christ, and Christ himself will give each of us what we need to bring us home.


  1. Orthodox guidelines for fasting – “The rules of fasting in the Orthodox Church are of a rigour which will astonish and appal many western Christians.” —Metropolitan Kallistos [Timothy Ware] The point my friend makes is this: After a thousand years, common Russians understand that fasting is about heart attitude and not conscientiously keeping a book of rules.
  2. Triodion – The liturgical book prescribing the conduct of services during the period of the great fast. Begins four weeks before Lent and ends with the midnight office of the holy and great Saturday. The Pentecostarion begins with paschal matins.


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3 Responses to “Lenten Meditation I: On the purpose of the fast”

  1. Meg/Anastasia Says:

    This morning I was grumbling that I forgot to use the last of the real butter on my toast while I could do so without feeling guilty… but there’s so much more to preparation than eliminating temptation or avoiding guilt… Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Alana Juliana Says:

    Thanks for this, Basil! I needed to hear this today. Your words really blessed me.

    Half of us are at home from Church this morning, since a big day visiting friends in Lex and St. Athanasius for Vigil meant a late night and simply “too much” for certain persons in our family. Again, we do what we can.

    Forgive me, a sinner. And pray for us.

  3. Basil Says:

    Forgive me a sinner, as God forgives us all. And pray for me.