fasting spiritually

The Nativity season for Orthodox Christians does not begin with shopping the day after Thanksgiving, but with fasting toward confession and repentance for 40 days, so that we may be illumined concerning the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation and birth for ourselves and all around us. In an Orthodox country this is somewhat supported by the culture, but in America there must be adjustments in light of our call to love the many people around us who are not Orthodox, for they too are bearers of the image of God. What this means for each of us will be shown to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as we are alert to His voice.

In addition to our common fasting from food and drinks, Isaiah the Prophet writes,

Is not this the fast that I choose . . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; . . . and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? . . . . If you pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, . . . and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:6-7, 10-11, RSV)

This way of life must attend our dietary restrictions if our fasting is to have real meaning. We must, as St. Ephrem writes of Christ, in our richness become poor, pouring ourself out, as it were. This applies to giving appropriate gifts, and to our relations with those who are lower in worldly status than we are.

Christ became man to provide salvation to all who will open the door of their hearts to Him (2 Tim. 2:4). And we all need this healing of soul and body, for we all have disabled ourselves spiritually (with physical consequences) by sin. (This includes people who are also disabled in some way through no fault of their own.) And he will retain His humanity, His identification with us, for all eternity. And in like manner we are certainly called to maintain giving, empathetic personal relationships with those around us who need our help: our strengths to bolster their weaknesses, and their strengths to bolster ours. This how we become persons in the likeness of Christ. This is why St. Paul counts the gifts of weaker brethren as indispensable. (1 Cor. 12)

The reality of healing personal relationships between persons with disability and others can happen within families, in group home systems, and really, anyplace where people rub shoulders. The people at L’Arche, for one, exemplify this.


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