by Nick Papas
from The Word, December 2001
My dad oversaw many projects in his years of working as a manager for Westinghouse. He learned various managerial methods along the way. One fascinating lesson he passed along to me can be applied to the Church and fasting. It has to do with helping anyone involved in a project to see “the big picture.” Dad explained that seeing “the big picture” gives people a sense of fulfillment. Being able to see how their piece fits into the puzzle also helps them to do their work in a less burdened manner.
Often, when involved in a project, we have incomplete, strange and even wrong reasons given to us for why we are doing what we are doing. This can happen to Christians that are given the “project” of fasting. We often do not have “the big picture”; instead we have incomplete or poor information. By applying my dad’s managerial method maybe believers would find fasting to be less burdensome and more fulfilling.
What is “the big picture” when it comes to fasting? To know that God loves us! I am reminded of the story of when someone caught a glimpse of St. Herman of Alaska carrying a huge log. The log was well beyond the weight of something he should have been able to haul. Here is a literal example of a heavy load being made light. Did Herman possess superpowers? Yes. He possessed the superpower of the knowledge of God’s personal love for him.
Even though “the big picture” is that God truly loves us, we often do not believe it or feel it or experience it as St. Herman did. That is why God gives us fasting. It is His gift to us. This gift is both a medicine and a tool. It is a tool that helps us to break through the wall of unbelief and dig us out of the ditch of not feeling His love. It is a medicine that heals the mind and heart of strange notions and misconceptions.
God is ever-patient in His attempts to show us His love, while at the same time eager for us to have His love. That is why this marvelously effective, wall-removing and healing gift of fasting works. It is a tool that allows Him to reach across from His hard-for-us-to-imagine and invisible world into our everyday material world. He reaches across simply to give us his message . . . . He loves us!
As adult believers we know a lot about God. Many of us can quote scriptures or know all the Festal troparia. We may be familiar with the writings of the Fathers. We are probably seen as “good” people in our communities. But, many of us still have nagging, chronic problems. We might be ungrateful or angry all the time or self-centered, drink or eat too much, be depressed or anxious . . . you name it. We know in our minds all about these problems we have. We are intimate with our faults. We look in the mirror and see them daily. And of course our friends and family are there to remind us of them in case we forget.
The inability to change is very frustrating. It is like St. Paul’s words in Romans Chapter 7. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” This frustrating predicament leads us into one of two directions: 1) we will be resigned to accepting our character foibles; or 2) we will struggle to discipline ourselves and to tame them. The first way is self-deceptive and leaves us in our pain. The second never really works and usually replaces one pain for another. Both are so popularly enticing, though, that many authors have made millions offering their flavor-of-the-day solutions. These authors attempt to convince us that there is a way to find results and peace if only we would try their latest method. But true peace is not found in these approaches, nor do they provide a full, St. Herman-like, experience of God’s infinite love. (To be continued next week.)
Relics of Protomartyr Stephen - August 2
Thy relics have risen from the bowels of the earth like a treasury of the immortal life of all creation. The Church, rejoicing in the grace that she receives from them, duteously honours thee, O Protomartyr Stephen. Preserve us from error and heresy by thine intercession.
Kontakion, Tone 8
Thou wast the first to be sown on earth by the heavenly Husbandman; thou wast the first to shed thy blood for Christ, O blessed and famous Stephen. Thou wast the first to be adorned by Him in heaven with the crown of victory, O spearhead of athletes, the martyrs' first-crowned champion.