Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The Ecology of Lent The following excerpt comes from a lecture given six months ago by the Orthodox priest Fr John Chryssavgis. Later in the lecture, Fr Chyssavgis will outline three theological models of caring for the earth - solidarity with a creation that is "groaning in labor pains even until now" as we "groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption" (Rom 8:22); the renunciation, repentance, and responsibility of asceticism; and the contemplation of creation through the use of water, bread, wine, oil, fire, light and darkness in the Liturgy. Here is Fr Chryssavgis on fasting in the Orthodox Church. Please feel welcome to share your own experiences this Lent in the comments box. [T]he ascetic way is a way of liberation. And the ascetic is the person who is free, uncontrolled by attitudes that abuse the world; uncompelled by ways that use the world; characterized by self-control, by self-restraint, and by the ability to say “no” or “enough.” Asceticism, then, aims at refinement, not detachment or destruction. Its goal is moderation, not repression. Its content is positive, not negative: it looks to service, not selfishness; to reconciliation, not renunciation or escape. “Without asceticism, none of us is authentically human.” Let us examine one particular aspect of asceticism in the Christian Orthodox spiritual practice, namely fasting. We Orthodox fast from all dairy and meat products for half of the entire year, almost as if in an effort to reconcile one half of the year with the other, secular time with the time of the kingdom. To fast is: - not to deny the world, but to affirm the world, together with the body, as well as the material creation; - to remember the hunger of others, identifying ourselves with—and not isolating ourselves from—the rest of the world; - to feel the hunger of creation itself for restoration and transfiguration; - to hunger for God, transforming the act of eating into nothing less than a sacrament; - to remember that we live not “by bread alone” (Matt. 4:4), that there is a spiritual dimension to our life; - to feast along with the entire world; for we Orthodox fast together, never alone or at whim. To fast is to acknowledge that all of this world, “the earth, is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof” (Ps. 23:1). It is to affirm that the material creation is not under our control; it is not to be exploited selfishly, but is to be returned in thanks to God, restored in communion with God. Therefore, to fast is to learn to give, and not simply to give up. It is not to deny, but in fact to offer, to learn to share, to connect with the natural world. It is beginning to break down barriers with my neighbor and my world, recognizing in others faces, icons; and in the earth the face itself of God. Anyone who does not love trees does not love people; anyone who does not love trees does not love God. To fast, then, is to love; it is to see more clearly, to restore the primal vision of creation, the original beauty of the world. To fast is to move away from what I want, to what the world needs. It is to be liberated from greed, control, and compulsion. It is to free creation itself from fear and destruction. Fasting is to value everything for itself, and not simply for ourselves. It is to regain a sense of wonder, to be filled with a sense of goodness, of God-liness. It is to see all things in God, and God in all things. The discipline of fasting is the necessary corrective for our culture of wasting. Letting go is the critical balance for our controlling; communion is the alternative for our consumption; and sharing is the only appropriate healing of the scarring that we have left on the body of our world, as well as on humanity as the body of God.