Daily Reflection April 8th, 2020

Daily Reflection April 8th, 2020

PROLOGUE FROM OCHRID • APRIL 8, Holy Apostles from among the 70: Herodion, Agabus, Asyncritus, Rufus, Phlegon, Hermes, and those with them REFLECTION

“There is heroism above heroism and asceticism above asceticism. St. Epiphanius of Cyprus invited Hilarion the Great to dinner and, in order to show the greatest hospitality to his distinguished guest, set roasted chicken on the table and offered it to him. Hilarion said to him: “Forgive me, but ever since I was tonsured a monk, I have eaten nothing butchered.” To this Epiphanius replied: “And I, ever since I was tonsured a monk, have never lay down in bed until I first forgave my enemy.” Amazed, Hilarion said: “Your virtue is greater than mine, O holy master!” This is a great lesson for all of us. Fasting is an admirable thing, but it is more admirable to forgive insults. Through fasting a man is preparing for charity, but by forgiving insults a man shows charity. Fasting precedes forgiveness, but fasting alone does not save without forgiveness. ” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

Fr. John’s Reflection:

“Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?

“Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:5-11)

Fr John’s Reflection

I think that sometimes God must look at us and just shake His head. So often, in our pride, we think that today we face unprecedented spiritual issues and temptations. We strain against the life that the Lord and His Church gives us. Fasting is a good example. We spend all these days during the year (most Wednesdays and Fridays), and periods of fasting (Great Lent, Apostles Fast, Dormition Fast and Nativity Fast) struggling to “figure out what to eat,” or make excuses as to why we can’t fast from food in general or certain foods, or confess that “I don’t really fast,” meaning I eat what I want and ignore the calendar of the Church. So much of what we do during fasts is about “what” and not “why.” And we have the added joy this year of the fears and restrictions that go along with the pandemic. So we don’t have the joy of supporting each other in fellowship and worship, nor the sacraments to strengthen us. Another excuse.

But the Church gives us today a selection from the Prophecy of Isaiah (written between 745-680 B.C.!) which speaks to the fundamental issue: our fast is not about “what.” It never has been from the dawn of time. The Lord asks through the prophet a rhetorical question: in speaking about man afflicting his own soul? Is it about bowing our heads and wearing sackcloth and ashes (an Old Testament symbol of shame and repentance)? Are those actions what lead to an “acceptable day of the Lord”? NO – rather, the Lord says that a true fast is to loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, share bread with the hungry, care for the poor who are cast out, cover the naked, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh! Sound familiar? The Parable of the Great Judgment was spoken by the Lord before His passion. All of these things are much harder than simple dietary rules. So why not try to keep the “rules” so they might strengthen us to keep the harder fast?

One last comment. What does He mean through the prophet when He says, “[do not] hide yourself from your own flesh…”? It seems to me that He is simply saying, “Don’t ever forget that you are human also.” We must begin our fast, continue our fast, rejoice in the end of the fast, always remembering that we are all living in glass houses. When we show any mercy upon anyone, we are showing mercy to ourselves. Even in the midst of this most strange Great Lent, as we approach the strangest Passion Week and Pascha we will probably ever experience, it is nonetheless incumbent upon each of us to complete these holy days simply remembering our own humanity, and thereby allow humanity in others, and especially the Other, to blossom in our hearts and souls. Blossoms only occur in the watered garden, and a spring of water which will never fail that He says we become when we fast the way He wants us to fast! Glory to God!