“The value of fasting consists not in abstinence only from food, but in a relinquishment of sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meat is he who especially disparages it. The change in our way of life during these blessed days will help us to gain holiness. Therefore, we should let our soul rejoice during the fast.”
— St. John Chrysostom
… Let our soul rejoice during the fast.
That’s so different from how I’ve been framing everything this year. I’ve been thinking in terms of podvig, of spiritual struggle, of bearing down, of making it real. In my latest blogpost for OCN, I recalled how blissfully I used to set out on the Lenten journey, and how I’m not usually so sanguine about it these days. It led me to a series of questions about what kind of Lent I would have:
Will I try something extreme, and fail? Will I try something too easy, and succeed (which would be the same as failing)?
How can I take things outside my comfort zone without congratulating myself so much that I void any benefits of the effort? How can I keep that blessed tension between asking too much (which is prideful) and asking too little (which is lazy)?
But now I look at my frame of reference — trying, pushing, and all the time, judging — and then St. John’s — relinquishing, changing, and then letting the soul rejoice.
As if to underline the point, the psalm I read later yesterday morning was Psalm 65, of which I’ll lift a few verses:
Bless our God, you Gentiles,
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
Who established my soul in life,
And who did not permit my feet to be moved.
For You, O God, tested us;
You tried us in the fire, as silver is purified by fire. … (v.8-9)
We went through fire and water,
And you led us into a refreshing place.
I will go into Your house with whole burnt offerings;
I will pay You the vows
My lips uttered. … (v13b-14)
Come and hear, and I will describe to you,
All who fear God,
What things He did for my soul. (v. 16)
I think that I need to consider that aspect of the Lenten journey as well. I would hate to miss out on such a blessing because I was assuming that the benefits of the Lenten season should all taste medicinal.