Great Lent shows man the path to Easter – to the Resurrection. During this time, man limits his food as well as entertainment, but this fasting is not merely abstinence from food; it is the restoration of inner peace in our hearts. This journey of a soul towards God is a struggle with sin. Sin distracts a person from God, destroying his inner peace. Thus, we must control our words, thoughts, and feelings, as this is the basis of our inner struggle towards God.
In order for our hearts to be able to embrace the love of Christ, they must be open to embracing the virtues of love, compassion, humility, and patience.
We are all inclined to sin. Therefore, the purpose of the fast is to focus on the struggle with our sinful nature, so that we may gain that inner spiritual freedom and beauty, which can only be bestowed through the love of Christ.
The mind and feelings of an intemperate and proud man wanders. He looks for sinful foods to satisfy his emotions and desires and seeks opportunities to quarrel with others. For sin develops roots that entwine the inner world of the soul, distorting man's perception of the world and hindering his focus.
Fasting is not just outward abstinence. The external abstinence of food, entertainment and pleasures enables man to focus inwardly, in the silence of his heart, allowing him to make way for God to dwell in his heart through prayer and repentance.
When sin enters a man, it destroys his inner world and prevents him from being attentive and sensitive to what is happening both within his soul, as well as outside. Consequently, in such a state, we often cannot see our fellow man. We hurt people through our words, looks and behaviour, without even noticing it. We live in a way, which we think is more convenient, simple, and profitable and when we encounter someone in need of help or for whom something needs to be done, we simply ignore them or consciously move away. We have an imaginary sense of freedom and independence, not wanting to listen and humble ourselves before those next to us.
A life built on self-esteem, self-exaltation, and pride, mortifies a person, making him unable to see or hear another. God too becomes dead for a man who has no repentance or love. One who is consumed by his own ego, does not know anyone but himself. Thus, the aim of fasting through outward abstinence is to soften our hearts, in order to "fertilise" our souls and make them capable of embracing the love and grace of God, which alone revives and resurrects us, making us partakers of the "life of the age to come".
The Church speaks about the heavenly world, but the heavenly world begins here, on earth. It begins when the Lord enters a person's heart. Enlightening him to begin to sympathise and empathise. The love of Christ is sacrificial, when it touches our hearts, we can reach out to others and support them.
The Lord Himself said "...love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). The fruits of God's love and of the Holy Spirit are inner peace and Divine beauty, transmitted through our words, thoughts, and deeds. Indeed, a person who bears God within himself, becomes a source of love and peace. To acquire the peace of Christ, one must open one's heart to the love of God. Which means that we must help those who are near. As St Seraphim of Sarov says, "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved."
The school of love is worship. During the fast, we ask God to help us in our struggle with ourselves, with the sin, which is in us, that prevents us from being free in and with God.
Passion enslaves and binds a person, making him incapable of creating something new in this world. Destruction begins when sin takes possession of a person. Therefore, our struggle for inner peace is the beginning of building within ourselves the wholeness and purposefulness that we need in order to get to the source of life and to draw from it the love that animates and resurrects us.
This path of fasting is the path to eternal life, and we do not walk this path alone. Abstinence is not some external gloominess or some outward harsh rules of life. Rather, it is gratitude to God for what you have; a careful attitude towards everything you have received in this life. It is a humble bearing of those sorrows, illnesses, and losses, which are inevitable in this world. One sinful thought or word is enough for us to lose contact with God and other people. That is why we need to be careful about what we say and where we go in this world. Sin tries to deceive us and becomes our desire. Yet, we must consider whether there can be joy, where there is no love of God? Can there be joy where my ego results in the rejection of my fellow human being? Is it even possible to use the word "joy" for something that is built on sin, selfishness, and disregard for others?
Let us think of the consequences of our choices in this world. Let us not, thoughtlessly, rush when it seems we can do something and get instant pleasure. The Psalmist teaches, "Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy "(Psalms 125:5) Therefore, by satisfying our sinful desires, we kill our immortal soul and close our heart’s doors to love, thus killing it.
Fasting helps us to take a sober look at ourselves, focusing the strength of our soul on our inner being and acknowledging our sin. We pray, “Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother” (From the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian – Ed).
Too often, we are judgmental, rebuking and seeing the faults of another. Yet, we fail to see ourselves and justify our sins. This deceit has become the norm of our life, and thus, we live following our own desires, in accordance with the sin that controls us.
So, entering Lent, let us look at the examples of the holy fathers who spoke about the importance of the inner struggle. "If you have love within you, it will get you through any situation in life, without losing peace and love for your neighbour and your whole life will be turned into a journey towards the eternal kingdom of God’s love".
May God help us all!
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