This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it in vain pursuits.
St. Isaac the Syrian
The fast that I kinda dreaded is here. And, oddly enough, I don’t dread this. In fact, I am embracing this year’s Nativity Fast. No meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and limited fish until December 25th. Why would I, still a Baptist pastor who loves all of the seasonal feasting this time of year, submit to endure such an act of self-denial? To identify and end all of the vain pursuits of my actions, words, and thoughts.
It would be too easy for me to fast this time of year and get on some sort of self-righteous kick about how Orthodoxy is superior to the absolute foolishness of western Christendom’s Christ-Mass. But, self-righteousness is as vain of a pursuit as substance abuse or addiction. This is an opportunity to seek greater humility not only by saying “no” to the foods that I enjoy (my mother-in-law makes a delicious turkey hash). I will also use this time to reflect on spiritual growth without boasting to myself (or anyone else) that I am growing.
This is a departure from what we see in many corners of Christianity. We do quite a bit of declaring about how “Blessed and Highly Favored” we are. Watching TBN’s “Praise-a-Thon,” blessings, favor, and promises are being sold to people for seed offerings of over a thousand dollars. We want “stuff” from God, will pay top dollar for it, and will tell all the world that we got it and who gave it to us.
Isaac the Syrian gives us a better direction in the Christian life. Each day we have the chance to repent and bear the fruit of repentance as Jesus and John the Baptist called us to do. This is not to say that God never satisfies our material needs. But, the blessings, favor, and promises are not the main reasons for our existence. We are corrupt creatures of the flesh. We are called to turn from corruption and live as incorruptible children of God. Repentance is the direction we take to receive a gift far more meaningful than the stuff of earth. We become more like our Father.
And if this is the true aim of our earthly existence, we should be on guard of the things we do, say, and put our minds on. Even if a man does not rape, isn’t lust for a woman he knows he can’t have a foolish line of thinking? Or a woman not slandering her neighbor, what good does it do for her to wish something harmful to her rival? Not only the obviously wicked, sometimes we have to rise above secular pursuits that keep us from fully seeking and embracing the Lord’s mercy and love. Favorite sports teams should not lead us into an obsession. Fine wines ought not cause us to become forgetful.
Fasting is a choice. The humble pursuit of God is not. Let us use these days wisely.