This is not to be practiced without consultation with your spiritual father.
“Behold, my brethren, how much a fast can do, and in what manner the law commands us to fast. It is required that not only with the body should we fast, but with the soul. Now the soul is humbled when it does not follow wicked opinions, but feeds on becoming virtues. For virtues and vices are the food of the soul and it can eat either of these two meats, and incline to either of the two, according to its own will.” (St. Athanasius, First Festal Letter)
Lent is upon us, thanks be to God. Lent is supposed to be a strong spiritual workout, and it’s supposed to be something that even though you might struggle with during it, you miss afterward for its effects. There should be a difference in you before and after it.
Asceticism is supposed to be an act of love. It’s an act of self-denial for the sake of God or your neighbour. To cut your own will for someone or something else shows that you value that other being more than you value yourself. That is the point of an ascetic work. The holiness is not in the act itself. So whether a metanoia, abstinence of food or internet, or whatever it is that you do – it’s meant to be an act directed toward someone, not an act for the self. Some of you might not be “there yet”, and that is okay, because you will still benefit from the discipline. It’s like telling the kids that they need to turn off the television to come and spend time together, versus the kids doing it on their own. Both will have a positive effect (when done properly).
So, the idea of our asceticism during Lent is to rekindle or stoke the flames of our love for God. Over the year we may have become lazy, distracted, or developed habits that have taken us away from our Creator. This is a time to refocus with intensity, and set a standard for our spirituality for the rest of the year.
The idea of this spiritual program is to make sure that there’s some level of intensity during Lent. It’s not meant to be something ‘original’ or to change dramatically all the time. So, this year’s plan is not that different, because the plan was meant to be a baseline, and individual variation and tailorisation can take place with discussion. This is a baseline that I’d have for any of you, and there are definitely exceptions (some of which I will elaborate on). What is different is perhaps a list of “non-negotiables”. I would really like for you guys to struggle hard to keep to this. Remember the words of the psalm are “Depart from evil, and do good”, so in the place of habits/behaviours/activities that we are taking out, put in their place something that is good.
If you are having difficulty, please persevere a little and really try, and also contact me when I return.
Before getting into the plan, I need to say that I am in Egypt on retreat and came out to send this so that it would not come out in the midst of Lent. Because I am on retreat, I am sorry, I am not instant-messaging or available for conversation, as that defeats the whole purpose of retreat. If something is absolutely urgent or very important for me to know, then please send me an e-mail which I will check roughly only once a week. If appropriate, I will reply. I am returning two weeks into Lent.
Again, if you are receiving this from me, it means that you either confess to me, or at some point requested either the program or take spiritual direction from me for your rule. I am simply resending to previous lists. If you have switched fathers of confession or have someone else from whom you take direction, no problem whatsoever, just please do not exercise this rule without consulting with that person!
May the Lord bless the season of Lent and may it be fruitful to all of us to the glory of His Name.
“Abstinence in respect of the soul consisteth in making straight its ways and habits, and courses of action, and in cutting off the passions of the soul.” (Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. II, Questions and Answers on the Ascetic Rule #324)
NON-NEGOTIABLES: While some of these I used to leave to your choosing, I would really like you guys to actually struggle with doing something against your will this Lent. That’s why I’m not offering it as a choice. There is something deep to be gained when one steps away from the routines of life to understand the real cycles of nature and the day and life. We have become anti-social and I really want to see you guys struggle with this (I am joining you in the struggle).
As lent is 8 weeks long, please try and make sure you confess once or twice this Lenten season, especially if your father of confession is at your own parish. For those who confess with me, your next confession date will be on the next date scheduled after my return (i.e. any date during my retreat consider cancelled).
Social Media & Entertainment:
- For the period of your fasting:
- Please cut ALL social media for the duration of your fast, that includes Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, twitter etc…
- Choose ONE and only one method of messaging (assuming iMessage or WhatsApp for most of you), and that is it. Keep messaging on those platforms to a minimum of what is necessary and edifying
- Cut out gaming
- For the entire fast:
- Cut out Netflix, Hulu,
Youtube, Television, ALL media streaming services, and all non-religious films
- If you are someone who watches for more than 10 hours/week, contact me
- I prefer that you not watch even religious shows too much, but if you really must watch something, it must be explicitly religious, not something you philosophise and treat religiously
- Cut out podcasts or news or any non-religious audio programs
- Cut out Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, Television, ALL media streaming services, and all non-religious films
- In place of those things,
consider the following:
- Going for walks, hikes, play Basketball, hit up kids from Church and take them out to play
- Reading your Bible or spiritual books
- Spending time with your spouse, family or friends – in a positive way
- Go out and volunteer in the community
- Put more effort into preparing your Sunday School or Youth lessons
- Write in a journal
- Work on a blog or a positive outlet for something spiritually oriented
- Go take care of your nephews or nieces or someone else who could use a babysitter
- Attend meetings, Bible studies or other services available at Church
- Volunteer anything
- Outreach people, take them out and have real conversation with them
- There are lots of things you can do, these are just the first things that come to mind
- On the non-negotiable list is Wednesday and Friday for the entire fast, irrespective of when you begin your personal fasting
Bible & Prayer:
- Daily prayer and reading should be happening all year long, and increased during Lent, so there should be no day during Lent in which you are not reading the Bible and praying
These are the non-negotiables. If you really
feel that this needs to be negotiated, then feel free to contact me when I
return from Egypt. If you are someone who spends more than 40+ hours/week
between watching stuff and/or gaming, then definitely contact me and we can
look at tapering down.
- Give up something
- Because of the non-negotiables, this part should be something that is particular to you that you know you’re really addicted to.
- Give up your favourite sin – the one that you do the most and that you’ve been putting off dealing with, really take it up this season.
- Add one week to whatever length of fasting you did last year (unless you’re doing the full thing)
- Abstain from food and liquid until noon
- There is no abstinence on Saturday or Sunday
- No abstinence after partaking of the Eucharist
- Avoid ‘fake’ foods
- Try and eat in a way that resembles paleo to the best of your ability (not mandatory, just a suggestion to understand why we don’t eat certain foods)
- Avoid any gluttonous behaviour
- Avoid desserts during Holy Week
- If you have health issues that prevent or require specific consideration, no problem; contact me.
- Daily reading
- Read or listen to something discussing how to read the Bible
- If you’re someone who hasn’t been reading regularly, then choose something and read it daily the entire time
- Suggestions: Any of the Gospels, Genesis, Exodus, or Judges
- If you’ve been regular, choose a book for more intense study with commentary and external resources
- Suggestions: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Lamentations, any major or minor prophets
- Any book will do, just take your time with it
- Spiritual Reading
- This is in addition to, not instead of, your Bible Reading
- The aim here is to learn something new in your spiritual life and how to live, so books of spiritual direction are preferred or lives of Saints who exemplified the spiritual way. Others, however, may prefer books about History, patristics etc… these are all okay, but to me are not the preferred reading for this season.
- Some suggestions:
- Practical Spirituality – By Abouna Athanasius Iskander
- Paradise of the Spirit – By Bishop Youannis of Gharbaya
- Release of the Spirit, Repentance & Purity, Spiritual Warfare, Discipleship, Being with God – all by HH Pope Shenouda III
- Words to Live By, Communion of Love, Orthodox Prayer Life – all by Father Matthew the Poor
- Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, Unseen Warfare – both by Theophan the Recluse
- Life of St. Pope Kyrillos (available free online as PDF)
- Life of St. Pishoy (Paisios) by St. John the Short
- Four Desert Fathers, Macarius the Spirit-Bearer – translated by Tim Vivian
- Life of John the Short – translated by Maged Mikhail (Deacon Severus) and Tim Vivian
- Dorotheos of Gaza – Discourses and Sayings (really highly recommend)
- Conferences of John Cassian
- Way of the Ascetics – Tito Colliander
- Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father
- I really encourage you to buy some of these books and start building your spiritual library if you have not already
- Persevere in your existing rule, feel free to add more psalms (no more than 3 extra unless you speak to me) if you are able
- Be intentional in your prayer – set time apart. If you’ve developed bad prayer habits (praying while driving, in a rush, or while laying down), then stop and do it properly and give it proper time and attention
- Dialogue with God and really struggle in this department. Be regular. Don’t make excuses for yourself.
- Speak to God throughout the day and direct your thoughts toward Him in all things.
- Prostrations (“metanoias”) may be a part of your prayer. Please do not modify these without consultation.
- Consider giving more than your tithes this month, and the ‘more’, give to the poor, the homeless, the beggars on the street – give unhesitatingly, without question, and without judgment
- Give of your time, thoughts, health, energy and being to other people, not yourself
- Give to your spouse, your family, your siblings and your community without demanding anything in return or speaking of what you are doing for others
- Give time to the elderly, the sick, outcasts, socially spurned people, the lonely, newcomers, little children…anyone.
- Spiritual Diary
- Consider keeping a journal, writing in it things that you are learning, things you meditated on in the Bible, ways that you tried to encounter God etc… These can be extremely valuable.