What should we be really doing during the Lenten season? In a recent essay entitled, “Giving It Up? Fasting During Great Lent in the Armenian Church,” V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan explains the often misunderstood and maligned tradition of fasting. Here are six principles which he presents on this important Christian discipline. Click Here for the full article.
1. Fasting is about reducing excess to make room for God:
The point of fasting is to eliminate from our lives all manner of excess that distracts us God’s love for us. Such excesses could be food, alcohol, shopping, electronics, gambling and all other diversions. By fasting we trim these excesses from our lives so that we can more clearly perceive God in this world and among us.
2. Fasting is not about “Giving Up” anything:
God does not want us to deprive ourselves of anything, especially when it may hurt us or affect our health. God does not expect us to sacrifice animals and perform sacrificial rituals as the Jewish people did before Christ. The ultimate sacrifice and the only one that counts is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. Our eternal God sacrificed his only Son for us as a sign of his unconditional love for mortal humans. So, fasting is not about depriving ourselves from candy or anything else. It is rather the complete dedication of our lives to God, as St. Paul challenges us: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1).
3. Fasting alone will not make me a better Christian:
Fasting is not about earning brownie points to get into heaven. No human being can achieve salvation on his or her own, whether through fasting or any other effort. Jesus Christ is the only door to salvation. Christ brought salvation with him into this world. All we have to do is accept it. We fast not to earn our way to God’s favor, but to celebrate the fact that salvation has already been achieved for those who follow Christ. Fasting should assist us to refocus on our faith, aid us to recognize God’s love for us, and inspire us to love one another.
4. An effective fast must be thoughtful and prayerful:
Rather than ask, “What shall I give up this Lent?” we might better ask ourselves, “What is holding me back from devoting myself more wholeheartedly to the Lord? What am I overindulging in? What is sucking up time that I could better use for the sake of more Christian pursuits? How am I spending my money? What can I relinquish to simplify my life and make it more Christ-like?” Thoughtful and prayerful reflection on these questions will guide us to a more correct and edifying Lenten fast.
5. Fasting is a personal but not a private matter:
Christ was very clear that we should keep our fasting practices to ourselves. And yet the fruits of fasting are interpersonal, because ultimately fasting is about healing God’s community, the Church. Fr. Daniel writes, “Good, prayerful fasting should lead to an outgoing, compassionate spirit of reconciliation among the members of the church, which mends and strengthens that community and fosters communion with one another and thereby with Jesus Christ. So, while the details of my Lenten fast should be between God and me, my fasting is the business of the Church. To put it another way, my fasting affects you and your fasting affects me.”
6. Happy Fasting
If we are fasting with the proper mindset, then it should lead us to a deeper, more meaningful and uplifting communion with the Creator. And that will bring us joy. As we trim the excess, we fill ourselves with hope and joy as we wait for the ultimate celebration.