Many Orthodox Christians live in cities, have jobs with long hours, long commutes, and many other things to do. All this leaves its mark on our spiritual life. Some simply do not have the time or strength to participate in all the Lenten Church services. Pravoslavie.ru asked a number of pastors of the Russian Orthodox Church to say a few words about what they see as the most important thing that a Christian should do during the Forty Days Fast, to suggest something from their own experience, and to help those caught up in daily cares to determine a spiritual program - the maximum and the minimum - for these days. Here are a few of these answers. (the complete article can be found in English and Russian at www.pravoslavie.ru)
Igumen Nektary (Morozov), rector of the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, "Assuage My Sorrow," Saratov:
Our life is like sleep. The world attracts us, lulls us to sleep - we live from day to day without noticing what is going on in our soul, where we are going, and how healthy, or rather how sick our "inner man" is. The devil also lulls us; no sooner do we rouse ourselves to action than he begins to sneak up and say: "Yes, you need to change, correct yourself, and you will definitely do so - but later, later."
Often we can only be roused from this sleep, this state of false peace, by some serious trial - sickness or sorrow for which we are unprepared. For some, this awakening is death.
Great Lent is a time when we can shake off the shackles of sleep; a time when we can spiritually come to life, having listened once again to the kontakion of the Great Canon: "O My soul rise up, why art thou sleeping? The end draws near." This is a time when we can make ourselves stop, interrupt the endless, daily rush, look into the state of our heart, understand how far we are from God, from the ideal to which He calls us unceasingly.
This time, when the heavens open for us, is a time when the pain of repentance can most sting our soul and urge it to seek again for that freedom from sin and passions that can heal this pain. The Lord is so close to each penitent during these days.
So little is asked of us! Just to break away from everyday affairs, come to church in the evening, and let your soul drink in the words of the pastor of Crete [St. Andrew] like the parched earth drinks in the rain. Resolve to do what your soul, awakening and coming to life, will more and more insistently demand of you.
Archpriest Igor Shestakov, head of the youth department of Chelyabinsk diocese, rector of the Holy Trinity Church, Chelyabinsk:
During the first days of the fast, there is a special feeling - it’s as if you have wings, you forget about the vanity of life, feel at peace, and your heart becomes warm. I remember my first "Great Lent experience," neophytic and confused, as it is for everyone who at first comes to the Church, I suppose. I felt the order and austerity of the Lenten services in the first week; I read the kathismas on the cliros, prayed each evening at the Great Canon, and at the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. Having only attended services for a few months before this, I did not suspect it - but once I "became acquainted" with these services, I was convinced that these are the most solemn and magnificent services of the whole yearly cycle of services.
Now, having served for two decades at the altar of the Lord, I impatiently await the Lenten melodies, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the three-canticled canon, and the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. Someone might ask, "What else is there for a priest to do?" Others might exclaim, "We have no time to pray and fast; those long services are difficult and hard to understand. We live with the problems of today, we get tired and irritated. Leave us alone with your fasts - we don't have enough to eat anyway!" What can I say to that? Should I begin the mentor's rhetoric that is little accepted even by a church-going audience? Or remind the people that they are patently ignorant?
Our problem is that we do not look at the essence of the fast as a freewill act of love for God. In general, we speak very little about free will, freedom in truth and love. We should feel the need for fasting, we should want to fast in repentance, humility, and self-restraint, without condemning those who behave differently during these holy days. Then the world of chant and prayers directed at us will suddenly be understood. A person can feel that he is spiritual when he takes up arms and wars against idleness, despondency, ambition, and vain talk. Against laziness and sluggishness of soul. Against fatness and slackness of spirit. This is a passionate work, and only those who want to be a Christian not only in word but also in deed will resolve to do it. Here we need all our Christian courage and our will. If not, then it means we have made peace with our slavish habits, inclinations, and passions, and we don’t dare to challenge them.
Today, fasting is an open challenge to hedonistic morals, consumerism, spiritual indifference, and egoism. This is a war, a battle, a test of the strength of our faith, the firmness of our hope, and the strength of our love. Who of us wants to be a struggler and good warrior of Christ? Enter the open doors of the church, and stand amongst those whose spirit keeps vigilance and rejoices over the enlivening Holy Forty Days Fast!