WHAT IS THE GREAT FAST? It is a tithe of the year, some 40 days set aside for spiritual discipline to prepare us for the greatest of Christian feasts, the Resurrection of Our Lord.
Did Christ fast? Yes, indeed. Following His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus went into seclusion in the desert and spent forty days and nights in prayer and fasting. This was His preparation for beginning His public ministry.
What is involved in fasting? To fast means to eat sparingly, that is, to cut down on the amount of food consumed. Abstaining is different. It means the elimination of certain foods from the diet. This usually involves meat and its by-products.
Is that all there is to Lent? No, that is but one aspect, involving the discipline of the flesh. But we are spirit, too, so the Church Fathers speak of the fasting of the soul. St. John Chrysostom says. “The value of fasting consists not so much in abstinence from food, as in relinquishment of sinful practices.”
What about prayer and worship? Now we come to the heart of the Great Fast. Prayer is the key to the renewal of life, to repentance. We stop looking outward and look inward. There is an element of silence. And then there is worship. The wise men came and “worshipped Him,” falling to their knees in adoration.
What about Holy Confession and Communion? These represent a high point in religious experience in the Fast. For here we cleanse our souls and receive Christ Himself into our lives as we come to the Eucharist. Jesus Himself proclaimed. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man… and drink His blood… you have no life in you…
Throughout His public ministry, Christ preached the message of repentance, and stressed the forgiving nature of His Heavenly Father. On this second Pre-Lenten Sunday, The Orthodox Church places before us the most classic example of this, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
In this well-known story, the younger son impatiently demands his share of his promised inheritance, and sets out on his own. He soon finds, however, that his new-found independence and wealth do not bring him happiness. His fortune disappears very quickly. His “friends” desert him in an equally rapid manner. Soon, he is left with nothing.
From the depths of his despair, the Prodigal Son has one glimmer of hope, his Father. Swallowing his pride and recognizing the folly of his wasteful and sinful behavior, the Prodigal Son begins his long journey home, hoping that his Father will, at least, treat him like one of the servants.
The welcome he received, however, went far beyond his expectations. His Father and his entire household rejoiced that this “lost son” had returned home safely! No lectures or reprimands were given, only the warm embrace of a father delighted that his son had returned to his home and to his senses.
Sin brings all of us down to the level experienced by the Prodigal Son. At such times, we are confronted with two distinct choices, remain in such a hopeless state, or follow the example of the Prodigal Son and arise and return to our Father. It is never too late to repent. Our Heavenly Father awaits our return to Him with outstretched loving arms. His capacity to forgive is without limit.
As we approach Great Lent, the season of repentance, may this wonderful parable encourage us to return to the road that will lead us back to our Father… and to our salvation.
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