Since today is the first day of the Triodion (what we call PreLent) we heard in today’s Gospel lesson the story of the Publican and Pharisee. As I wrote before, and have often said from the pulpit, getting into heaven isn’t about whether or not we follow all the rules. Getting into heaven requires a loving and Christ-like heart, and a life lived in communion with Christ. Since the Pharisee in today’s Gospel lesson made such a big deal about following all the rules, including how much he fasted, the Church actually forbids fasting this week, just to reinforce the danger of pride in our spiritual journey.
So….NO FASTING THIS WEEK! While I’m on the topic of fasting, I often hear people quote (normally) their yiayia who said, “It isn’t about what goes into your mouth, but what comes out.” We quote this saying in an effort to reinforce that life isn’t just about following the fasting rules. This much is true. However, in my personal interactions over the past 25 years with many people in the Church who quote their yiayias, they do so not to reinforce against pride, but because basically they don’t like to fast. As Saint Paul teaches, “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” (Romans 14.3) Fasting isn’t about eating. Fasting is about training ourselves to live a life in communion with Christ.
Let’s go back for a moment to yiayia’s saying. She is correct in teaching us that what we say is more important than what we eat, but how do we learn to speak with Christ-like love? Fasting is the ultimate tool to learn discipline. It is the great exercise which strengthens our ability to control our mouths, and the rest of our bodies. Fasting teaches us how to place our mind above our urges. Let’s face it. When we find ourselves in an argument with others, we feel the urge to lash out. When we fast, we learn to tame our urges, and speak words of love rather than words of vengeance. Of course, we don’t always get it right. We are on a lifelong journey, and through repeated efforts and God’s grace, we can eventually get it right.
There will be plenty of time to fast in the next eight weeks until Pascha. This week, although we shouldn’t fast, let’s put our focus on defeating pride. Let’s make our yiayia happy that we can understand and remember to watch our mouths this week. We will fast later, and then we will have enough struggle just keeping up.