Kristo Amefufuka! (Christ Has Risen!) Amefufuka Kweli! (Truly He Has Risen!)
The Orthodox Church of Tanzania has taken Great Lent and Pascha to a new level for me. Living next to the church, I was able to participate in all of the Pre-sanctified Liturgies, Akathist Hymns, and Holy Week services–something that had been all but impossible for me to do in the states. As with Christmas, I wasn’t subjected to holiday distractions like the Easter Bunny (which I recently discovered was a symbol taken from paganism!) and candy sales. Pascha was simply a feast day focusing on the Resurrection of Christ and nothing more.
This was definitely one of the more spiritual Lents I have had; but as far as fasting from food goes, I came up way short. Going into Lent, I knew things would be difficult, seeing as our daily diet is similar to what the monks eat on Mt. Athos and that we always take full advantage of any chance we get to stray from that diet. I decided that I would make this Lent more about what comes out of my mouth than what goes into it. It was almost like I knew what was in store for me. When Katie and I arrived in Nairobi (right in the middle of Lent) we soon discovered that fasting would be all but impossible. Our meals were included with our stay at the guest house, and it was all the stuff we missed eating stateside–burgers, pizza, and some of the best desserts we’ve had in almost 10 months. I gave in to the temptation based on 2 things: 1) it was the food that was prepared for us by our hosts, and 2) I knew that I probably wouldn’t get food like this until my next trip to Nairobi or until I got back to the states, whichever came first. Perhaps it was a cop-out on my part; but for me, fasting is more than just abstaining from food. Many Orthodox Christians (myself included) often put too much of an emphasis on fasting to the exclusion of faith, good works, and prayer. I made sure to embolden and underline the last part of that statement because I don’t want anyone to think I am downplaying the importance of fasting. Fasting is an essential part of Orthodox spiritual life, but all too often I have heard people either making a big deal about fasting or asking others about what they are giving up for Lent. St. John Chrysostom wrote:
“I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!”
One of the daily Lenten readings also resonated with me:
“They seek Me day by day, and desire to know My ways. As a people who did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God, they now ask Me about righteous judgment, and desire to draw near to God, saying, ‘Why have we fasted, but You did not see it? Why have we humbled our souls, but You did not know it?’ Because in the days of your fasts, you seek your own wills, and mistreat those under your authority. If you fast for condemnations and quarrels, and strike a humble man with your fists, why do you fast to Me as you do today, so your voice may be heard in crying? I did not choose this fast, and such a day for a man to humble his soul; nor if you should bow your neck like a ring and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself, could you thus call such a fast acceptable. I did not choose such a fast,” says the Lord; “rather, loose every bond of wrongdoing; untie the knots of violent dealings; cancel the debts of the oppressed; and tear apart every unjust contract.” –Isaiah 58: 2-6
For me, this is what fasting should be about–not just abstaining from certain foods, but also from things like gossip, envy, greed, and lust. I still failed from abstaining from even those things, but that brings up one of the most important reasons why we fast: to show us that we can’t do this alone and that we need to rely on God’s grace to get us through.
Thank you to my support team!