I really, really, really like chocolate. And I really, really, really like meat.
But I’m Orthodox now. That means so much of the practice of my faith is about learning to submit my “passions” to the will of God. And there’s this thought that if you can learn to control your stomach, you can learn to control anything. So we fast.
I knew the Orthodox church practiced the discipline of fasting, but if I’d had any idea how much it would be, in reality, maybe I would have thought twice. Nah, I wouldn’t have. But every now and then I have to shake my head a bit, in surprise at yet another way my Orthodox practice is so different from my Evangelical one.
Orthodox Christians fast from meat, oil, dairy, and wine nearly every Wednesday and Friday, in remembrance of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion. Among others, there’s the strict Lenten fast, the Apostle’s fast in early summer, and the Nativity Fast–the 40 days prior to Christmas.
That leaves us vegetarians about half the year.
Christ commanded us to fast, though it is something that is not often done or done with any structure in Evangelical/Protestant land. In Scriptures, we read the words of our Lord saying “When you fast…” which implies that we WILL do this, not that we won’t. In Orthodoxy it is a means of spiritual discipline, it is a way to draw closer to God, and to become more like Christ. It also sharpens our spiritual awareness, making us more attuned to the spiritual realities around us and causing us to bring to mind things we may not think about otherwise.
And now, as we approach the Nativity of our Lord, we abstain. As holiday parties, cookie trays, and eggnog pass our way, we give pause. And we wait. For me, in a way, it seems like we’re in the waiting room, pacing, as we anticipate news the Child is born.
I’m not super-hot at all this yet, and I’m still figuring it out, with the help and guidance of my priest. (Thanks, Fr. Isaac!) But I anticipate as I spend future Advent seasons, upcoming Lents, and these other times throughout the year reflecting on the wonderful gift of our Salvation, I think I’ll figure out a little more about myself, my God, and my faith.