Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Great Fast and the Great Struggle - Part 1: Form of the Fight

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Life, every thoughtful person will gradually notice, is one long struggle from beginning to end. This is a fact attested to by every church father, saint, and apostle you will read about. It is demonstrated through the 55-day fast devoted specifically to "repentance". The very existence of this fast is evidence that a great spiritual war is occurring on the earth; and we are all together in the midst of it. Everyone fastseveryone has a personal struggle, a rough battle, to deal with. It is part of God's training for us in our journey to the Kingdom. And most would admit that of all fights we must endure in the spiritual life, the most forceful, tiring, non stop, round-the-clock fight we have to reckon with is the struggle against the flesh.

The essential point we ought always to have in mind at the onset of this struggle is that, with Christ, we will win. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). There's much stumbling and falling along the journey, to be sure; but as long as your hand is tightly in Christ's, ultimately there is no losing. You can not possibly lose; for if you did, so would Christ. But He never fails He only pulls you back up when you've hit the ground. And as you rise, He anoints and heals the wounds. You might reach the Kingdom with many scars, but your arrival is sure, so long as you put your trust in Him. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ" (2 Cor 2:14).

The whole aim of the Great Fast is to redouble our efforts in the fight, to speed us along to victory. A person who sees fasting as just a mere change in dietary regimen, only about what foods are "forbidden" and what "permitted", will scarcely gain anything from it, or might even turn bitter at his unsatisfied longing for meat. The Great Fast is not primarily about food or diet it is all about victory, about freedom (from sin), about making life strong and luminous. And at the fast's threshold, one must see his destination: one must know he will arrive somewhere further than where he is. Most of all, he must know that he will achieve a victory over the flesh, and the celebration is just visible on the horizon the Resurrection Feast.

But winning the great struggle with the flesh is practically impossible without fasting. Why is society around us so drenched with sexual sickness, so hopelessly surrendered to the whims and desires of the flesh? The reason is nobody struggles against the body; and without the help and support of fasting, the struggle is difficult to even begin. "But can you really expect our secular-pluralistic society to fast? We only do it because we are Orthodox" might be someone's reply. But that's simply why, whatever the culture, whatever the country, the Church should be the standard and rule for all life. And this is also why those outside the church even if the majority can never seem to win this fight.

Now is the season to concentrate all your power and prayer in overcoming the one besetting sin in your life. You can do it through the grace of God. Make a plan. Set a schedule. Coordinate a system of prayers, hymns, readings, and so on, that will give you strength day by day. That's the whole point of the Great Fast. Don't let it pass you by with just a change in diet! You've started on the road to victory, and to joy. Again, we beseech you: set a goal, have a vision. Overcome this sin. And never forget: whenever you fall, rise again. "Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved" (Ps 55:22).

~~~The Fathers Speak~~~

A brother asked Abba Agathon about the temptations of the flesh. He answered, "Go, cast your weakness before God, and you shall find rest."

St. Agathon
Sayings of the Desert Fathers

If a King wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food, so that his enemies, dying of hunger, would surrender to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: if a man goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies of his soul grow weak.
St. John the Short
Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Some people live in order to eatbut our Teacher commands us to eat in order to live. Bodies by nature do not benefit from an extravagance of foods. On the contrary, those who eat the most frugal are stronger, healthier, and more energeticWe were brought into being not in order to eat and drink but in order to come to the full knowledge of God.

St. Clement of Alexandria
The Instructor Bk II, ch. 1

During a fast intermingled with prayer, man draws near to God and says to Him, "Lend a hand to Your worshipper." It is the heart crying to God that He may intervene in his lifeBy true fasting man can soften God's heart.

Pope Shenouda III
The Spirituality of Fasting

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