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Fasting as Communion

Fr. Vasile Catalin Tudora

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The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one (John 17:22).

The experience of communion is the ultimate experience for Man, according to Lossky, and the perfect model of this communion is found in the Holy Trinity. The three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share the same divine nature, although they are distinguished from each other. They are distinct and yet eternally together, partaking in the most sublime act of love that could exist. We have been created in this divine image of communion as we are distinguished from each other and yet we share the same human nature, being called to a universal brotherhood of love.

But being only in communion with man would not be enough, because we are called not just to be like God but also to be united with Him, not in nature but by participation. For this to be possible, to be able to experience in our lives the true communion of the Trinity we need the true presence of the Trinity in our lives. The incarnation is the Mystery that makes possible the communion between the Holy Trinity and humanity, through Jesus Christ. This union is completed on the Cross where Christ, situated at the intersection of the two axes, reunites God with mankind and in the same time re-establishes the basis for human inter-communion. He is the gate that gives us access into the intimacy of the Holy Trinity: as brothers of Christ we also become sons of the Father and we partake of his fatherly Love accomplished in the Holy Spirit.

The place where this communion is fully expressed is the Church "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Mat 18:20). Christ is present in the midst of His community through the Holy Eucharist. Through this Sacrament, and the whole liturgical life of the Church, the Holy Trinity enters in the lives of the faithful, penetrating every aspect of their existence. As Christians all our life should be a Liturgy, a permanent strive to stay in communion with God and with our brothers in faith. Through this understanding the Christian life is a life of sharing, understanding and love and not one of selfishness, antagonism and hate.

We live however in a fallen world where the Christian principles of life are more than often forgotten. Instead of striving to aggregate around the Church in communion, man tends to separate, to find individualistic ways of self fulfillment. This is one of the main problems of our society today: the common goal is forgotten for the sake of the personal gain.

Many times people say: we cannot obey Church rules, they are too strict, the world is changing and our Church does not, we cannot follow anymore. And unfortunately many leave the One Apostolic Church and follow the easy-ways-out offered to them by other churches.

The true reason why many think in this way is a lack of understanding of the need for liturgical and canonical unity in the Church. We need the unity of liturgical practice because it is an important form of expressing the communion of the Church. When one fasts according to the guidelines of the Church, one is in full communion with the whole body of Christians that do the same. One is in communion with the other living Christians that fast, with the departed faithful that have observed the fast during the Church History, with the Apostolic Fathers that have perfected the fasting rules, and above all with Jesus Christ that has taught us directly the importance of fasting in our spiritual life. By abiding to the standards of our Church we are fully partaking into the living body of the Church, sharing the divine Spirit that flows through her veins.

Fasting, and all the other ascetic exercises we are called to accomplish, are devoid in this way of any individual merit. One does not fast to be better than another, to compare, but simply to be like everybody else. There is no boasting in following the standard, is a minimum that is required from us. "So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!" (Luk 17:10)

In this common act of abiding together to the wise rules laid out by the Church we come together as brothers, supporting each other, forgiving each other's weaknesses, moving forward as a block, united, toward the final destination of mankind.

The guidelines themselves are the fruit of communion as they spring from the universal repository of revelations of the One Church. The practical rules of the spiritual life did not came out of nowhere, they are not the work of some sick churchmen that had nothing better to do, but they represent the distillate of God's revelation to His chosen ones, the Fathers of the Church, proven through the experience of generations and generations of faithful that attained salvation by abiding to them.

Using the experience accumulated over the history in her shared conscience, the Church has been able to distinguish for us what is beneficial and what is detrimental for our spiritual life. The Church has seen what foods are best to make us more prone to meditation and prayer and which are making us heavy, sleepy and forgetful toward the needs of the soul. The Church knows what requests are beneficial for our souls and incorporated them into her hymnology and prayers. The Church has discerned for us the virtues we need to strive for that will bring us closer to our spiritual goals. And the examples can continue.

Understanding this background how can one still say: it has to be another way to God, without following the Church, without fasting, without the Sacraments, without all that is required from us? Thinking this way leads only to a gradual separation from the body of the faithful into an individualistic and selfish attempt to reach the goal in a solitary and irrational attempt. As Tertullian said in the 4th century: unus Christianus, nulus Christianus - one Christian is no Christian. We cannot be Christians and act in opposition with the Church as we are on our own, as everything is between us and God, forgetting that He is the divine Head of the Church. If we want to get to Christ and Christ is in the Church, how can we want in the same time to be outside of the Church?

Our whole life should become therefore liturgical, a service offered to God and our brothers, a continuous struggle to be one with the body of Christ, by abiding to the holy framework laid out before us by generations of saints. The only way to step up on the ladder of divine ascent is to loose our selfish predispositions that characterize our fallen nature, and give up our egoistical and self-centered mindset.

Following Christ is not a private affair, as many erroneously believe, but is a cooperative attempt, is the fruit of the participation of the whole Church in an effort that will redeem not only Man but the whole cosmos with him.

Fr. Vasile Tudora pastors St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas, and edits the Gladsome Light Dialogues blog

Posted: 23-Mar-2009



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