Humility isn’t born of a full belly

Lent – the Great Fast – is fast approaching, and the checs and I will be trying to do a much more ‘traditional’ Lenten fast than in years past. This is going to entail some changes in the weekly grocery list, as the old-fashioned Byzantine Great Fast menu eliminates meat (including fish), dairy foods, eggs, olive oil and wine. (Shrimp and other shellfish are OK though). This means that the four of us, confirmed carnivores all, will be essentially vegan for the 7 weeks beginning February 4.

Why bother? I thought the same thing. As this is not meant to be any sort of scholarly research paper there won’t be citations and links to online Bibles for the Scriptures I’m going to paraphrase shortly – I think most of them are common enough that you’ll agree I got them right. What follows are my thoughts on what I think I can hope to gain by following a much stricter ascesis during this Great Fast than I’ve ever done.

The olive oil prohibition in particular got me to thinking, until a verse from good ol’ Psalm 23 lit up in my brain – “Thou anointest my head with oil…..” Honored guests, in the time of Christ’s life on earth, were anointed with perfumed olive oil. Olive oil was practically used as currency. The Pharisees and others of more-than-modest means dressed their hair and beards with oil. By denying myself the use of olive oil, I am inwardly telling Christ, “I am not worthy, I have humbled myself as someone who is too lowly to be received as an honored guest at your banquet” – the feast of Pascha will symbolically represent the reception of me, a sinner, to the Heavenly Banquet, drawn in by Christ Himself.

Meat, and fish? Well, the Great Fast is supposed to be a time of taming the passions, which some early Church Fathers say that meat inflames. And with today’s concern about cholesterol and mad cow disease, 7 weeks away from meat probably wouldn’t hurt any of us. As for the fish, there’s the mercury scare and all that. But wait, there’s more. St. Paul wrote, more than once I think, about spiritual children having to be fed on milk and pablum, not being ready for meat. Denial of meat foods takes us back to that sense of pure trust in God for all that is good for us, a simple childlike faith – we are not ready for the spiritual gymnastics of a Teresa of Avila or a John of the Cross – once again we are prostrate before His great mercy – “Lord, I am not worthy….”

The Psalms mention in several places that the person in pursuit of holiness shall “nurse at the abundant breasts” of the Wisdom of God. We deny ourselves milk and cheese so as to leave no worldly obstacle between our desire for wisdom, and God’s delivery of it to our hearts.

I almost wrote that I didn’t ever see any connection in regards to wine. Writing this, I believe that the abstention from wine is to discourage spiritual gluttony – too much wine makes people giddy, silly and useless – too much of the things of God, if we are not properly prepared (through practice of prayer, regular conversations with a spiritual father or mother, frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion), can lead to delusion, errors and……..pride.

Basically all this denial is meant to foster humility. Pride is the root of most, if not all, sin, and if we make a serious attempt to grow in humility we cannot help but become less prideful. “I must decrease, but He must increase.” We humble ourselves for the period of Lent in order to more fully feel, at Easter, that “Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered death, and to those in the grave He granted life.”

Here are two prayers, from the book Byzantine Catholic Prayer for the Home, from St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Seattle:

Prayer of the Great Fast: O Lord Almighty, God of powers and of all flesh, You dwell on high, but watch over the humble. You search the heart and the innermost being of man, and clearly perceive his secrets. O Eternal and Ever-Existent Light, in You there is no change nor even a shadow of change. O Immortal King, accept our prayers which at this present moment depend upon the multitude of Your mercies, and which we offer to You from defiled lips.  Forgive our transgressions committed in word, deed, or thought, committed with knowledge or through thoughtlessness.  Cleanse us from every kind of defilement of body and soul, and grant that we approach all the nights of this present life with a watchful heart and sound judgment, awaiting the glorious coming and day of revelation of Your only-begotten Son, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ who will come with glory as Judge of all, granting to everyone according to their deeds.  Let us not fall and become slothful, but rather, help us to be on guard and ready for good works.  Let us turn from our former ways and be ready to joyfully accompany Him into the divine inner-chamber, where the sound of rejoicing never ceases, and where there is indescribable delight in those who behold the inexpressible goodness of Your countenance.  For You are the True Light that enlightens and sanctifies all things, and all creation praises you + forever and ever.  Amen.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem:  O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.  (Prostration)

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.  (Prostration)

O Lord and King, grant to me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed now and ever and forever.  Amen.  (Prostration)

O God, me merciful (+ and bow) to me a sinner.  O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy (+ and bow) on me.  O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned (+ and bow) without number. {Repeat 4x}

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.  Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.  O Lord and King, grant to me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed now and ever and forever.  Amen.  (Prostration)

May all of you have a grace-filled, blessed, holy and joyful Lent, and may the Lord of all grant all that is necessary for your salvation, now and always.

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2 responses to “Humility isn’t born of a full belly

  1. As we begin this Great Fast, we await the NEW WINE in new wineskins. We await a wine invaded by Divinity by the WORD made flesh. During this fast, we are reminded of the abstention from the blood of animals in the OT, and meditate on the coming of the Christ Who shed the Blood He shares with us. How mind-lowing this priviledge is!

  2. Pingback: Vegan Glory