"Slowing down for the Great Fast.

By: Father François Beyrouti.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church. Placentia, CA.

The death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the key event of our Christian faith. Therefore, we not only celebrate it on one day, but spend forty days, plus holy week preparing ourselves to experience more fully the mystery of God’s great love. Although this love is beyond the ability of any human to fully understand, this period of the Great Fast helps us to grow in our appreciation of our identity as sons and daughters of the Risen Christ.

In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul speaks about the Christian journey of better understanding the Risen Christ. He says: “... For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as nothing, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, ...  [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (3:8-11)

Yes we as Christians must daily want to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection in order that we too may rise with Him. However, we will not discover this in passing or by accident, but will only draw closer to the Risen Christ if we take time to look for Him and also to walk with Him first on the road to His death before continuing on to the road of the Resurrection.

Tomorrow we begin the period of the Great Fast where traditionally people ate no meat, fish, or dairy products. In this traditional fast only shrimp, clam seafood were permitted as these could easily be gathered and cooked quickly. The purpose of this strictness was to focus on simplifying life as much as possible so that we may be able to focus on things that are more important than eating and drinking such as: prayer, helping the needy, growing in holiness, and moderation in eating and other matters.

These goals may seem contrary to all the values of our modern culture, but this time of the Great Fast is an opportunity for all of us to grow in these basic Christian virtues. Fasting may not be popular, but ironically the word “fast” is the one word that best describes how most of us live and the world that surrounds us. We want fast downloads, fast computers, fast games, fast flights and fast cars on fast roads. We want fast interactions in fast banks and we want fast food in fast restaurants. Unfortunately we sometimes want fast services in a fast Church and increasingly more we want fast relationships that are so fast that they naturally end up being over really fast.

However, some things are so important they cannot be fast. This is what makes the “Great Fast” great because it c-h-a-l-e-n-g-e-s  u-s  t-o  r-e-a-l-l-y  s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n. The word “fast” in the “Great Fast” is not synonymous with things that happen quickly, but it is the other meaning of the word ‘fast’ which has to do with us holding firm to the things that we believe are essential in life. For example, when we get in a car we “fasten” the seat belt because we want to protect that which is most precious. This is the meaning of the word fast in “the Great Fast.”

Our precious faith cannot be lived in the fast lane, but can only be lived by slowing down in order to see Christ in our lives. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (13:12-13) which we read today “Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; [13] let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.”

If you are having problems slowing down, note how God Himself though by His nature is very fast, decided to slow down for us. If He did not slow down He would have never been able to be with us in the way that He is today.

Throughout the Bible people experienced the fullness of God’s power in things and moments that were slow. Slowing down became a sign of His power, not of His weakness. In the book of Job we read: “By his power he stilled the sea;” (26:12)

And in many other instances God slowed down and made Himself known in this way. In the first book of Kings we read: “behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD,             but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; [12] and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

From that “still, small, voice” God spoke to Elijah and it is from this s-t-i-l-l, s-m-a-l-l, v-o-i-c-e that God speaks to anyone who slows down and is willing to listen. We see and experience the fullness of God’s glory and power, not in the thunders and clouds that may impress us, nor in the speed of life that we keep getting progressively addicted to, but in the moments when we agree to slow down and appreciate all that He has given us.

Ironically, the fullness of His power was only able to be revealed to us when He became incarnate of the womb of the Virgin Mary. At this moment, God not only slowed things down, but He became slow for our salvation. St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

He slowed down to the extent that it became a scandal and a hindrance for the belief of some. When He slowed down to wash the feet of His disciples Peter was scandalized. Yet Jesus made this a very important lesson for His disciples when He told them: “Do you know what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15)

However, even this was not enough, Jesus slowed down further by dying on the cross and was willing to be mocked in the process. Those around Him said: “let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matthew 27:42) But he did not need to respond, because in His slowing down even to death, He became the first dead man to continue to work after He died. In fact, Jesus spoke most clearly and convincingly through what He did in the days that followed. He appeared to his disciples and said to them “I will be with you till the end of time.” But Jesus who slowed down, cannot be with us if we don’t slow down and agree to be with Him?

If we don’t slow down we will never know what we are missing in our relationship with God and in our relationship with others. This is what we prepare ourselves to experience more fully by living the Great Fast. By simplifying what we eat and by simplifying our lifestyle we are able to focus more intensely on the paradise of blessings that surrounds us. Ironically, by slowing down we end up seeing more of life.

Try this either today or sometime this week. If you are used to going somewhere by car, try taking your bicycle instead. Then notice the things that you have missed while driving the same route by car. Next time try walking there and notice the things that you’ve missed while riding a bicycle. You could have taken the same road for five years, but it is only when you slowdown that you will notice things that you have never seen or appreciated before. Unfortunately, we often rush through life and miss so many things that were intended to bring us the greatest joy.

However, it is not enough to just slow down. In order for the “Great Fast” to be truly great we have to slow down and focus on the face of the Crucified and Risen Lord who through His death and resurrection not only conquered death, but promised to conquer all that may be dead in our lives. During this time of the “Great Fast” let us slow down and see what these things may be. This is our true and great “Fast” which focusses on going very slow in order to hold “fast” to our faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Unfortunately, the more we hold on to what we want to eat, to what we want to say, to what we want others to think of us, to what we want others to do for us, and to any other human attachment that may be controlling us, we are not walking in the right direction. But, when we realize that we do not need to be faster than others and even God, then we can slow down and better see his face and the face and needs of all those around us.