How to Pray for Ukraine

Ukraine’s top Church leader, Metropolitan Onufriy, not only called on his people to pray (early on in the war), but gave them a prayer rule. It is short and simple, and he asked them to pray it at least once a day.

Pray Psalm 90 (91) with twelve prostrations or bows. “He who dwells in the help of the most high shall abide in the shelter of heaven’s God.”…

Bishop Daniel of Chicago, who spoke to one of the Ukrainian bishops in those first few days, suggested we all join them in their prayer rule, as well as fasting for them. The war started right on the verge of Great Lent, and with such a disruption of daily life, many Ukrainians likely could not keep to the fast as they normally would have. Now, we are on the verge of another fast, the fast in preparation for the Dormition of the Mother of God on August, 15th. So, this is an opportunity to take up our brother’s burden and carry it for him.

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Why Fast?

Our Lord began his ministry with a fast, and addressed fasting not with an indifference of saying  “if you fast”; rather teaching his disciples with the words “when you fast . . . ”

Matthew 6:16-18

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

In the previous post, we have instruction on Great Lent and the fast, but it is important that we continue to explore the deeper meaning of the fast by hearing from the Fathers of the Church.

St John Chrysostom says:

Fasting is a medicine.   Fasting is the change of every part of our life,  . . .  Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works?

  • If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy.
  • If you see an enemy, reconcile with him.
  • If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him!
  • If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well.

Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness.
Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights.
Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well.
Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.
Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers?

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power.  Because . . .

  • He neither requires the abstinence from foods,
  • neither does the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting,
  • neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs,

. . .   We fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things.  So, if there are some . .  .  who are hindered by somatic* ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast,

  • let him display richer almsgiving,
  • let him pray more,
  • let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance.
  • Let him become reconciled with his enemies,
  • let him distance from his soul every resentment.

If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else.

To read the full version of this Homily, follow this link

Selections from St. John Chrysostom homilies “On Fasting”

* Somatic: relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind. and spirit (synonyms: worldly · temporal · secular · mortal · human · mundane · material · nonspiritual · materialistic · carnal · fleshly · bodily · physical · corporal)

Great Lent & Fasting

The season of Great Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is a time of

  • renewed devotion: of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,
  • repentance & renewal of our minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and His teachings,
  • our return to the great commandments of loving God and our neighbors, most of all!

In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent is not a season of morbidity and gloominess. On the contrary, it is a time of joyfulness and purification. We are called to “anoint our faces” and to “cleanse our bodies as we cleanse our souls.” The very first hymns of the very first Vesper service of Great Lent teach us:

Let us begin the lenten time with delight . . . let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the Spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing.

Thy grace has arisen upon us, O Lord, the illumination of our souls has shown forth; behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance.

It is our repentance that God desires, not our remorse. We sorrow for our sins, but we do so in the joy of God’s mercy. We mortify our flesh, but we do so in the joy of our resurrection into life everlasting. We make ready for the resurrection during Great Lent, both Christ’s Resurrection and our own.

Lenten Fasting

Generally speaking, fasting is an essential element of the Christian life. Christ fasted and taught men to fast. Blessed fasting is done in secret, without ostentation or accusation of others (Mt 6.16; Rom 14). It has as its goal the purification of our lives, the liberation of our souls and bodies from sin, the strengthening of our human powers of love for God and man, the enlightening of our entire being for communion with the Blessed Trinity.

The Orthodox rules for lenten fasting are the monastic rules:  No meat, no eggs or dairy products. These rules exist not as a Pharisaic “burden too hard to bear” (Lk 11.46), but as an ideal to be striven for; not as an end in themselves, but as a means to spiritual perfection crowned in love.  However, this is the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord:

  • the casting off of evil,
  • the bridling of the tongue,
  • the cutting off of anger,
  • the cessation of lusts, evil talking, lies and cursing.

Continue reading “Great Lent & Fasting”

Preparing for the Journey to Pascha!

Pre-Lent

zacchaeus

The paschal season of the Church is preceded by the season of Great Lent, which is itself preceded by its own liturgical preparation. The first sign of the approach of Great Lent comes five Sundays before its beginning. On this Sunday the Gospel reading is about Zacchaeus the tax-collector. It tells how Christ brought salvation to the sinful man and how his life was greatly changed simply because he “sought to see who Jesus was” (Lk 19.3). The desire and effort to see Jesus begins the entire movement through lent towards Easter. It is the first movement of salvation.

publican

The following Sunday is that of the Publican and the Pharisee. The focus here is on the two men who went to the Temple to pray—one a pharisee who was a very decent and righteous man of religion, the other a publican who was a truly sinful tax-collector who was cheating the people. The first, although genuinely righteous, boasted before God and was condemned, according to Christ. The second, although genuinely sinful, begged for mercy, received it, and was justified by God (Lk 18.9). The meditation here is that we have neither the religious piety of the pharisee nor the repentance of the publican by which alone we can be saved. We are called to see ourselves as we really are in the light of Christ’s teaching, and to beg for mercy.

prodigal son

The next Sunday in the preparation for Great Lent is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Hearing the parable of Christ about God’s loving forgiveness, we are called to “come to ourselves” as did the prodigal son, to see ourselves as being “in a far country” far from the Father’s house, and to make the movement of return to God. We are given every assurance by the Master that the Father will receive us with joy and gladness. We must only “arise and go,” confessing our selfinflicted and sinful separation from that “home” where we truly belong (Lk 15.11–24).

meatfare

The next Sunday is called Meatfare Sunday since it is officially the last day before Easter for eating meat. It commemorates Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment (Mt 25.31–46). We are reminded this day that it is not enough for us to see Jesus, to see ourselves as we are, and to come home to God as his prodigal sons. We must also be his sons by following Christ, his only-begotten divine Son, and by seeing Christ in every man and by serving Christ through them. Our salvation and final judgment will depend upon our deeds, not merely on our intentions or even on the mercies of God devoid of our own personal cooperation and obedience.

. . . for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and in prison and you visited Me. For truly I say to you, if you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me (Mt 25).

We are saved not merely by prayer and fasting, not by “religious exercises” alone. We are saved by serving Christ through his people, the goal toward which all piety and prayer is ultimately directed.

cheesefare

Finally, on the eve of Great Lent, the day called Cheesefare Sunday and Forgiveness Sunday, we sing of Adam’s exile from paradise. We identify ourselves with Adam, lamenting our loss of the beauty, dignity and delight of our original creation, mourning our corruption in sin. We also hear on this day the Lord’s teaching about fasting and forgiveness, and we enter the season of the fast forgiving one another so that God will forgive us.

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Mt 6.14–18).