As we have begun the season of Triodion, we sing the words “Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of life” during the Orthros service, and we prepare to enter into Great Lent, beginning Clean Monday, March 18. Just as the first words of our Lord in His public ministry was “repent!” so too does our church tell us to repent. As we approach Great and Holy Lent, there is no way to enter into this blessed season without a repentant heart. As Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of blessed memory said: “Repentance is the door through which we enter Lent, the starting-point of our journey to Pascha. And to repent signifies far more than self-pity or futile regret over things done in the past. The Greek term metanoia means 'change of mind': to repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship to God and to others.”

With this in mind, let us approach the season of the Great Fast, not focusing merely on what we will be “giving up”, but rather with all that we will gain. In fact, I am reminded of the simple instruction that I try to instill in all of our faithful catechumens when we broach the topic and discipline of fasting. That is, before we get into the legalistic nitty gritty of which foods are fast friendly on which days, the first “rules” we should set for our fasting are 1. Eat less and 2. Spend less (we can append ‘time’ and ‘money’ to this rule). Of course, this does not neglect or replace the wisdom and guidance that our Orthodox Church has set for us in our parameters of fasting, but rather provides a healthy approach to the nature of fasting, as a discipline to make us aware of our reliance on God Himself, to bring our hearts into the reality of the Beatitudes and become indeed ‘poor in spirit’ and fully conscious of our helplessness and need for God’s aid and guidance.

We are called, especially in the coming days of Great Lent, to build this discipline of fasting, not for the sake of restriction or diet, but for the sake of growth, genuine and joyful ascetical struggle, and abundance of prayer and charity. This is why we have those resounding and gut-punching words from St. Basil in his homilies on fasting “You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others.” And also from St. John Chrysostom: “The fast should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands, and all members of the body.”

Our call to fasting is a call to feasting as well, not only in our anticipation of the Great Feast of Pascha, but within the Great Fast itself. In fact, it is said so directly from Metropolitan Kallistos that “divorced from prayer and from the reception of the holy sacraments, unaccompanied by acts of compassion, our fasting becomes pharisaical or even demonic… If it is not accompanied by prayer and an increased spiritual life, it merely leads to a heightened sense of irritability… Fasting, then, is valueless or even harmful when not combined with prayer.” Naturally this reminds many of us of that three-pillar approach to Great Lent: fasting, prayer, almsgiving. When we approach this season as a journey of the heart, the fast is a chance to feast on the bounty of peace, hope, charity, prayer, truth, compassion, humility, and service.

Kali Dynami! Good Strength!