During Lent, as we go about free from our “cholesterol-related concerns,” we are more inclined to re-examine ourselves and our lives. The purpose of the fast is precisely in getting us to reevaluate things and events, or at least to evaluate them from a different angle. We usually live buried to the neck, and sometimes even over the neck, in everyday preoccupations and worries and thus damage and embitter our lives.
When during Great Lent I hear announcements and fanfare about this or that gala dinner, with “delicious food and a well-stocked bar,” I often ask myself in dismay what, if anything, is left of our faith and what does our faith mean to us? And if I were to tell my virtuous fellow Serbs who are still digesting greasy hunter’s stew and other gourmet dishes, that they behave as “the enemies of the Cross of Christ” and that their “god is their belly,” (Philippians 3:18-19), how offended would they be? However, regardless of the wrath of those whose stomachs are full, we still need to stop and consider this: how can we hope for God’s mercy when we constantly offend Him, as individuals and as a people? An old Serbian religious song says, “And the people abandoned the fast that was like a bridge to heaven. Now they are building a bridge to hell.”
We have drifted away from God and His law. Not very long ago, and I am sure many of you remember this, on the first Monday of Lent, known as Pure Monday, homes were cleaned inside out, the dishes were scrubbed with lye and even the salt shakers were washed in case any residue of non-lenten food remained in them. People fasted without oil and took communion on Sundays. They kept the fast even though they worked hard in the fields, and they were none the worse for it.
On the Saturday of St. Theodore, wheat was offered in the churches in memory of the early Christians from the time of St. Theodore of Tyre. They survived for a lengthy period of time by eating boiled wheat so that they would not be defiled by eating food from the markets which the idol worshippers had desecrated with the blood of sacrifices. Today, as we host gourmet dinners in the midst of Holy Lent, we can’t seem to understand why things aren’t working out the way we feel they should. They’re not, and they won’t – until we decide to come back to God and His law.
Life is sacred and it is given to us by God. “Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?” (Job, 10:9) We must, of course, take good care of the lives we have been entrusted with. No one is telling us that we must stop taking care of ourselves, or destroy ourselves by senselessly emaciating our bodies. However, no one has given us the right to waste our lives and go to extremes. Life is not a purpose unto itself. If a man’s only purpose in life were to eat and drink, then it would indeed be senseless. Our earthly days have been given to us so that we might redeem them wisely. And they are numbered. (Job 14:5) “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of a hireling?” (Job 7:1) asks the righteous Job. “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psalm 39:5) says King David.We do not have to go through the same school of life through which many wise individuals went thousands of years before us. We should be able to adopt at least a part of the collective experience and wisdom of those who lived before us. To this day I have yet to meet an old person who does not tell me that life is a “vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
After the wise Solomon and his experience there is very little left for us to doubt and to know. He did all the doubting for us and tried many things that we couldn’t possibly try even if we wanted to. We can read his confession in the Old Testament. And this is what he says: “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity… I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life… I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts… And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour… Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1, 3-5,8,10-11)
If only we had the sense to understand this and think of our posterity (Deuteronomy 29). A life wasted in eating, drinking and making merry will also pass quickly. “They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.” (Job 9:26) And King David sings to the same tune: “We finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor or sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:9-10)
Isn’t it then much more appropriate to focus on our essence, that which is most valuable in us and which never dies? All beauty is only temporary, so is the health of every single one of us, our strength and vitality will wane…. Only the soul lives for ever.
Our soul defines who we are, not our body which is nothing but a package in which our soul is cooped up and limited. This is something we all should ponder during these Lenten days. And if we are unable to pull ourselves away from indulging our stomachs now, when will we be able to do so? It may be too late for self-examination once the doctors insert tubes into us and hook us up on life support.
“Take heed to yourselves,” says our Lord Jesus Christ, “lest your hearts be weighed down by carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” (Luke 21:34) St. Paul the apostle urges us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
The days are evil because they fly by quickly. It is for this reason that we have been called to life, from a state of non-being to being, to live our lives meaningfully. We are, so to speak, on a mission here. After we have completed our mission, we leave in order to give an account to our heavenly Father for the days we have spent on this earth.
Heavy food awakens our carnal passions and dulls our spiritual senses. Let us detach ourselves, at least during Holy Lent, from our every day life. Let us nourish our souls as our body fasts. Let us turn inward, let us reflect on the transiency and the deeper sense of our lives in the light of God’s law. Let us return from the “foreign land” to our heavenly Father that He may receive us and have mercy on us.