“I have sinned, O Savior, yet I know that Thou art the Lover of men. Thou strikest compassionately and pitiest warmly. Thou seest me weeping and runnest towards me as the Father recalling the Prodigal.” – from the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete
The first week of Great Lent is hard. We attend church everyday, and fast rigorously, as much as we can according to our own strength. On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of the first week, “Clean Week,” we read the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. (Read about it here.) This glorious canon of repentance sets for us the tone and timbre of the rest of Lent. Although one of the main themes of the Canon is repentance, another theme running through it is one of God’s grace and mercy.
On these first days of Great Lent we are weakened by the fast. Our bodies are weak from lack of food, our minds unfocused, and our souls tempted by Satan. We are reminded that it is only by God’s grace that we even attempt this journey towards the Risen Lord.
On Tuesday of this week, I came home from work tired and bone-weary. I was hurting, and did not have the energy to stand in church. But God’s Grace meets me where I am. I didn’t make the prostrations or the bows at church, and I didn’t sing along with the choir. It was enough to stand and sit and absorb the words, offering them up to God in my heart. If I don’t have the health or energy to attend all the services this Lent, I will be at home, praying and absorbing the words of the prayers, knowing that others are supporting me through their prayers at church.
I am going to fail during the fast. I am going to reach the limits of my physical strength and will-power. I am going to fall down, but I am also going to get back up and keep moving towards God. That is the point of the fast. We are not fasting to give up a bad habit, or to develop self-discipline, or even to allow ourselves to see the sinfulness and brokenness inside of us. We are fasting to see God’s Grace more readily, and allow it to act in us. We fast to pray. We fast to move towards theosis, becoming united with God in His divine energies.
And we do it together.
Every single one of us in the church is fasting. My fast may look different than yours’, but we are all fasting together, giving up meat, dairy, and oil as much as our strength/weakness will allow us to. We’re supporting one another through prayer and actions. Because it’s only as we are more united to each other that we are united to God. This is comforting to me. Fasting isn’t about legalism or trying to “do right by God” or trying pray our way to some desired end, fasting is about growing together as a community growing closer to God.
His Grace is sufficient for all of us, and we respond like the Prodigal, moving towards Him as He moves towards us. Glory be to God!