The Great Fast: A Progress Report

Orthodox Christians are just over halfway through the Great Fast. It is a time of increased prayer, study, helping those less fortunate and yes, fasting.

I’ve talked previously about my struggles with fasting. Many of you were kind enough to add words of encouragement. I appreciate it very much. So I wanted to give you an update of sorts, and hear from you about your journey thus far. Please know that this accounting is not to boast or be an example. If anything it’s a confession of how far off the mark I am.

In terms of strict adherence, it’s been a mixed bag. There have been days when I held firm to the dietary restrictions, skipped meals and upheld both letter and spirit of the fast. There have been other days where I was not as strict, but made allowance for human weakness or inability to avoid proscribed foods.

On a few occasions I have completely failed. The desire for food was too great, or my own will was too lacking. I’ve tried not to beat myself up or be a Pharisee about the whole thing. But I also know I could have tried harder.

My prayer is increasing, but not enough. Morning prayers are easy. Evening prayers are not. Saying grace in public is a big step, especially for a former Protestant. We do it as a family, and there’s a comfort in that.

I’ve been attending more services, but probably not as many as I should. There is always more to be done, improvement to be made. I beat myself up about it, which is probably what everyone does until they have the wisdom to understand how to do this right.

We’re trying to give more in aid of the poor and fatherless. The abundance we have as a nation is never more obvious than when we throw a few extra cans of food into the cart to give to charity. I fear that my giving it out of my excess, not out of my own portion.

If I sound joyless at this stage, I probably am. I’m only seeing the tasks and duties ahead, and not the coming joyful celebration of Pascha. I’m seeing my failures and lack of discipline, not the grace that was given to me.

I’m reminded of the sorrowful psalms of King David when he was burdened by his sins. The depths of his despair in these poems make his later songs of rejoicing all the more vibrant.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are xa broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;

then will you delight in aright sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Pray for me as together we strive to finish the Great Fast with discipline, with humility, and with the promise that Christ has come to bring us out of our sorrow.