St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

March 2005

Fr. Antony Portrait

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

As we approach the Great Feast, let's do all we can to enter into the true spirit of fasting. It is so easy to fall into the rigors and completely miss the purpose and to blindly adhere to tradition without allowing the tradition to transform us. To do this, we must go to the prophet Isaiah who addressed this very issue when speaking of the illegitimate fasting of the people of Israel in his day.

The Israelites were fasting people. God had commanded many fasts and for various reasons in their history. But Isaiah saw some things he didn't like. Their fasting was incongruent with God's purposes. The question he puts in their mouths is one we might well ask ourselves, "Why have we fasted and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls and You take no notice?" The Lord answers, "In the day of your fast, you find pleasure and exploit your laborers" and "strike with the fist of wickedness." To God this was unacceptable. There must be a real connection between fasting and behavior in order to make an acceptable fast before the Lord.

So Isaiah spells out specifically what kinds of behavior indicate a true fast and we would all do well to take note of what he says. "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring into your house the poor...when you see him naked to cover him...THEN your light shall break forth like the morning, [THEN] your healing shall spring forth speedily, [THEN] your righteousness shall go before you, [THEN] the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard; THEN you shall call and the Lord will answer. Are we not just like the Israelites? Do we not find it easy to separate personal faith from social concern? Do we not also like to divide the sacred from the secular? Of course we do, because it is easier than taking the Gospel seriously. Remember: "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me." How much more so should we heed the words of Jesus when we embark on the discipline of the Great Fast.

Please let there be no confusion among us. My salvation is connected to yours and everyone's salvation, my well-being to yours and everyone's well-being. Fasting is not a private thing for "me" and "my" spiritual growth, but for the welfare of all humanity; and it is not only a "personal, spiritual" exercise, but has an essential social element as well. So, while we think about the spiritual discipline to come, we need to consider just how it is that we will make a fast acceptable to God.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Antony