As the Church finds itself about to cross under the lintel of a new fasting period I find myself reflecting on how the disciplines of the Church are chum for spiritual warfare. I mean this, however, in a way that many wouldn't immediately suspect.
Fasting is not easy for many people. It's not supposed to be. That's one of the reasons it's so efficacious. If I were to declare not flying first class an ascetic struggle people would rightly scoff.
And yet we don't want to be alone in our struggle. We want the person standing to our left and to our right to be as uncomfortable as we are. "If I have to do this, so do you" goes the thinking. "It just wouldn't be fair if we were all standing in line and you left to get a smoothie then came back and took your place again. I've been standing here for who knows how long and you just saunter back into your spot. What if everyone just got out of line? What then?!"
At the same time we often use the language of the rules and regulations of the Church to force everyone to conform. In the same way we'd cite city code about a neighbor that doesn't mow his lawn or call the pound about a man who keeps letting his dog out to relieve itself, we want to disseminate the rules so that everyone has to be as uncomfortable as we are.
I once saw a man who had gotten off the train at Dallas Union Station slide on a slick spot of ice and fall flat on his back. It was the sort of fall where his head and feet were at the same height as he landed at a perfect horizontal on the concrete. He got up cursing and slowly made his way to the bus stop across the street. A few moments later a woman, taking the same path he had from the train stop slipped and fell in an equally inglorious fashion. The man smiled a knowing smile seemingly happy to have not been alone in his embarrassment and - it should be noted - made no effort to warn the woman of the danger.
|Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy!|
The weapons the Church has given us - almost a battlefield guide to waging war against the devil and the sins he delights in us entertaining - are not for our fellow man. When we attempt to cut off a hand, or seal up a wall with someone in it, or make Sherman's March to the Sea of all our neighbors' homes we are not winning a battle, we are sacking Constantinople. The only person who delights in our destruction is the very creature we are seeking to destroy.
"What am I supposed to do? Should I just be quiet while people disregard Orthodox teaching?" A common question that deserves an answer. If you want to take the food from someone's plate and don't have anything to replace it with, you are replacing bread with a stone (Luke 11:11). Said another way, you are not giving him a fish but neither are you equipped pastorally to give him the fishing lessons he needs. Unless the Church has appointed you to a position of authority, you should expect people to ask why you've taken on such a role and you should be mindful that those people who do listen to you are being put on a path without the tools to succeed and are destined to almost certain failure. Are you prepared to bear the responsibility - the millstone - of sending people off into the wilderness without the support they need?
"He's saying people don't have to fast!" I'm not saying that at all. I'm actually a bit of an akrivia-ist on fasting, but I am saying that the struggle is more sizable than the distance a fork has to travel between a person's plate and his mouth. If you want to be helpful by all means put recipes in the church bulletin, bring fasting-friendly foods to Sunday potluck, and most importantly pray for (and not at) those who struggle with fasting and for those people who are ignorant of the need to fast in the first place. "God loves a cheerful giver" and has no purpose for fasting when it is done by compulsion. Shoving someone towards Him is wholly dissimilar to the gait of a man who runs towards Him. When the man falls it will not be his fault, but yours.