Lent, the period preceding Easter, commemorates Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. For many Christians, it’s a time of abstinence, penitence and fasting. However, not everyone can give up something for Lent. This week’s clergy discuss alternatives.
The Rev. Ronald Stelzer
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Centereach
The focus of Lent should not be about anything we do or refrain from doing, but about what God has done for us. We are sinful and cannot save ourselves from sin and its consequences. But God loves us so much, anyway, that he has come to this earth as our savior to reverse the curse by his sinless life and suffering and death on the cross. He is, as the Scripture says, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Our relationship with God and our eternal destiny depend on our recognizing who he is and what he has done for us and both believing and confessing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35) This conviction and life-transforming experience comes from faith born of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel and sacraments Jesus has entrusted to his church. Regularly gathering with God’s people to hear his word and receive the Eucharist, along with personal and family devotions including Bible reading and prayer, especially the Lord’s Prayer, is the best way to pay our Lenten respects and nourish our souls and prepare for a meaningful and joyful celebration of the Resurrection — Christ’s and our own. That, and sharing the good news of God’s grace with others — who all need it. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” (Acts 16:31) whether you fast or not.
The Rev. Mark L. Fitzhugh
Rector, St. John’s of Lattingtown Episcopal Church
On Ash Wednesday, thousands of Christians worshipped around Long Island, and were invited by their clergy to “the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting and self-denial, and meditating on God’s holy word.” Episcopalians leave nothing to chance on this, as our Book of Common Prayer (p.265) makes it clear, observing a holy Lent is not an option. Nevertheless, slowing down to observe a holy Lent is not always easy. Think about how many smartphone apps are developed to provide options for success. They are limitless and so are our options to experience Lent.
Unfortunately, health issues can limit the spiritual options some have to fast during Lent. God says, “No problem!” Seriously, the point of any spiritual discipline is to help draw the individual closer to a loving and forgiving experience of our creator God. Of course, the options we can choose throughout these 40 days to arrive at that intersection of God’s grace and love are many. Here are a few fasting substitutes to consider: Give up negative behavior; shopping; and my best suggestion of the day — watching politics on television. Also, “take on” reading Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The word Lent simply means “spring,” and even on these frigid days, let us remember that whatever option we choose to express our thankfulness to God, the warmth and love of God for us is unconditional.
The Rev. Andrew Cadieux
St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Blue Point
As Christians, one of the more humble offerings to Our Lord is our fast that we offer during Holy Lent. This prepares us to enter into the joy of Holy Pascha — Easter. Observing the fast is not the only way in which to observe Lent. Prayer and repentance are equal pillars of belief. These columns of faith guide our body, mind and soul to be at one instead of at war with each other. St. John Chrysostom, in his sermons, tells us himself, “It is more important to fast from sin than it is from food.” He also says, “It is more important to control what comes out of our mouth than what goes in.”
Do we curse our fellow man with the same mouth that we use to praise Jesus? If so, then we must re-evaluate our fast and therefore our journey during Lent. Fasting did not begin with Christ although he gave us this example when he went into the desert and fasted for 40 days and nights. We of the Orthodox Christian church believe that the concept of fasting began at creation when God commanded Adam to not eat from the tree of knowledge. Therefore, fasting is the way in which we deny ourselves of earthly pleasures, so as to receive heavenly ones. Fasting, prayer and repentance are a means to an end in which we must constantly realize that our entire existence depends upon God, for Jesus tells us himself “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Our dependence upon God allows us the possibility of receiving the gift of eternal life.