Message From Fr. Peter On The Start of Great Lent
Are you as excited as I am? Lent is now under way! Our Mother the Church offers us an amazing opportunity to change our lives for the better – to gain inner strength and peace and experience much spiritual joy. She does this by encouraging us to make use of three powerful spiritual weapons during the Great Fast, that of Prayer, Fasting and giving alms (doing good works).
Regarding prayer… if you look at the schedule of services for this week, you will see there are services every day and on Monday, both morning and evening. You will notice a new service this year, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete on Monday, Tues and Thurs Evenings- a beautiful poetic hymn of repentance that serves as a wonderful diagnostic tool in helping us to see what areas of our life need attention. We sing some beautiful melodies and respond over and over, “Have Mercy on Me O God, Have Mercy on Me.” And of course the beautiful Presanctified Liturgy on Wed and Friday evenings ( fast at least 3 hours before) . And at home we have the opportunity to be stronger in our daily prayer life and in reading of the bible and spiritual books.
About fasting… we must realize that without fasting, there is no Lent! To that end, the Fathers of the Church established in ancient times through their collective experience the guidelines for Lenten Fasting. Essentially, the rule of the Church for Lent is to "Strict Fast" - abstaining from meat and dairy products from the First Monday of Lent until Pascha. This time includes both Saturdays and Sundays, which in the Orthodox reckoning are considered a part of Lent, unlike the reckoning of the Western Churches. All parishioners are wholeheartedly encouraged to partake of this practice as much as they are able.
On the other hand, the Fathers of the Church have also put forth that a light and steady rule that is kept is preferable to a difficult one that is soon broken and forgotten. With the realization that not everyone is able to strict fast for the whole of Lent, one might consider simply fasting from meat. And if it is not possible to fast entirely from meat, perhaps fasting from meat during the weekdays of Lent, may be a more manageable discipline.
It is suggested, as has been the practice of many in the Diocese over the years, that the following fasting discipline be observed as a minimum baseline upon which to build with each passing year:
A strict fast from meat and dairy products on the first day of Lent, Good Friday and Holy Saturday and abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the entire Holy Week.
I encourage you to speak to me for guidance in determining a fasting regimen that makes sense for your personal and family life situation, that sufficiently challenges you, yet is not detrimental to ones physical and spiritual health. Please keep in mind the elderly and infirm are not bound by the physical fast. Also, fasting without increased prayer and acts of charity is merely a “diet” and will have no spiritual benefits. Make the most of the time, pray fast and help others and your church community. You will certainly be blessed! A beautiful Lenten Journey to All!
With Much Love, - Fr. Peter
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