I present to you a homily given on Forgiveness Sunday 2010 by Fr. Maxim Kozlov at St. Tatiana’s Orthodox Church in Moscow, Russia.
Entering into Great Lent, let us be faithful when we get down to business
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Today, dear brothers and sisters, it would be more correct to address this homily to you with a different greeting. Not simply “brothers and sisters,” nor “beloved in the Lord,” nor “my dears,” but in such a manner:
Soldiers of Christ our God!
Each of you, at some time received this name-soldier of Christ our God. It was received voluntarily-either by an adult who was baptized and agreed to be a faithful soldier of Christ our God or, even if someone was baptized in infancy, then their godparents made this promise. When we consciously and voluntarily accepted this name of Christian, we confirmed the promise and pledged ourselves to be faithful soldiers of Christ our God.
And today is one of those days, not simply of the liturgical year, but in the life of each of us when we can-and must!-confirm that these are not just words.
Many of us have probably heard that, before the beginning of Great Lent, people of our homeland (Russia-translator) were asked if they plan to fast. Those that said (not even having done anything yet, but just said) that they have an intention to observe the fast as the Orthodox Church teaches and as the Typicon proposes totaled four percent. A few more, around twenty percent, were those who thought about changing a little something in their lives during Great Lent. But those who had an intention to observe the fast as the Church teaches (of course it is understandable that they had in mind not strictly according to the Typicon but according to its essence) were four percent. Meanwhile, we know how many people today are inclined to call themselves Orthodox, to talk a little about Orthodoxy, and, of course, to judge a little about the Church, the hierarchy, and the priests. But when it comes to getting down to business, those who are ready turn out to be very few.
And thus, the fast is just the very time to get down to business, when not just some chatter, some conversations, or some sugariness but real effort is demanded of a person who has decided to call themselves a Christian. This is the first thing about which we have to remind ourselves.
When someone enters into a fast, they may have two incorrect dispositions from the start (there, of course, can be many more but we will focus on two).
There is, for example, the following incorrect disposition: someone from the very start dejectedly disposes themselves to the fast. “Well, here is the fast again. It is especially hard this year; the Nativity Fast just ended and here is Great Lent again. What kind of life is it for us Orthodox when it is one fast after another? We can’t have this or this or this.” When a person disposes themselves this way on the interior, they outwardly do not have the courage to admit it. On the exterior they will observe the fast under constraint, because they have to, or because they are afraid, or out of habit. But a fast without determination, without awareness of the purpose for which we are performing it will not bring the soul of man any benefit.
Another incorrect understanding and disposition at the start of the fast is also possible. It is sometimes the case that a person is inclined to observe the fast with zeal but only hoping that it will end as soon as possible. “I, of course, will comply with everything because the fast must be observed, but my goal is to endure these seven weeks. I will strive to observe everything to a certain extent during these weeks, but I’m just waiting until it ends and then I can break the fast and eat, drink, and be merry.” This is also a completely absurd beginning of the fast. With such a disposition, when a person is just waiting for the fast to end, there will be no benefit from the fast. There are such “hard-working” people who in actual fact don’t love to work but love to rest. They can move mountains but they do so, in reality, so that they would have leisure time sooner. For them, real life begins only when that leisure time begins. But a Christian cannot live in such a way that he observes the fast with diligence but his inner disposition is, “that which I desire begins when the fast ends-that is when the life that I’m longing for will be.”
We must endeavor not to tolerate either of these false dispositions at the beginning of the fast. Let us instead endeavor to return to the thought of faithfulness to Christ our God.
We live at such a time that our Christianity practically doesn’t cost us anything. After all, we don’t live in an age of persecution. In the big picture, there are no persecutions on television, nor in our coworkers laughing at us behind our backs, or even when we sometimes say for strategic reasons that secularists and humanists hinder the Church. They, of course, hinder it, but is this comparable to that thirty, fifty, or seventy years ago? It is not even possible to compare the two.
We live at a time that it is very easy to be a Christian. There are no podvigs; there is no fear or threat for us by the fact that we’re Christians. We can educate our children, we can go to work, we can be state officials, and make money and nothing bad happens. No one will say to you, “If you’re a Christian, go away.” Here today we are given the opportunity to weigh our Christianity a little bit and to understand that it has a price and that for the sake of Christ we must constrain ourselves. This opportunity is a mercy of God. This hardly ever happens in our lives but it is happening right now. Let’s perceive it as God’s mercy to us personally. Let’s reflect on our soul, our immortal soul as we know from Scripture and Church hymnography. The soul is immortal.
Well, what is demanded of us in the big picture? Not much-to refuse certain types of food, to turn off the biathlon and figure skating during the first week of the fast, and to understand that it is impossible to sing “My soul, my soul, arise; why are you sleeping?” and to think about coming home and watching them shoot the targets as these are incompatible things. This is just an example. Each one of us can find something in our life that we need to turn off during these weeks for the sake of Christ and profound life in Him.
Let’s all think for ourselves what we can do, to our own measure. By this, our faithfulness to God is clearly shown.
Everyone always mentions one comparison and we will also talk about it. Truly, a fast (in Russian, post-translator), in a way, is like a guard post in the army. It is well-known that one at a post must serve this time conscientiously. A soldier standing at a post knows that he will be relieved after a time. Yes, there will be a little more time of service but then it will be easier, that term will end. Only for that time, not for his whole life nor even for the whole time in the army does he need to be in constant strain. At that time he must not get distracted, nor fall asleep, nor run off to his girlfriend, nor put his gun aside, nor put his headphones on and look at his iPhone or listen to his iPod, but he must do what he is supposed to do. It will be easier later, but now he must do what he must do.
The Lord wisely arranged our way through the Church knowing that our life is non-linear. We can’t be at all times like robots or like some program going along a straight course. The fast is given to us particularly so that, with some effort, we would find ourselves a few steps higher than our usual level. And even if later we slide down some due to our relaxation, we would have moved at least a little step, at least a few meters up the mountain thanks to Great Lent. The fast is given to us so that we acquire this experience yet during our life.
Faithfulness to the fast implies faithfulness in our relationships with people through thoughtfulness to them with greater profoundness. It implies that we need to complete all that which we usually don’t do, think about those things that we usually don’t think about, complete all that which we usually try to put off because we pity ourselves and not others. In this will be our faithfulness to God and our true path in the fast if we will not put this off. This is also a fast.
There is also one more condition that we must observe entering into the fast. Christ speaks about this condition which we heard today in the Gospel today (Matthew 6:14-15-translator): it is to make oneself have a peaceful heart and to forgive offenses. We must strive to conquer in our heart all hatred, all hostility, and rejection of other people. We must also strive, if we know that we are obviously guilty before others-those intimate with us or distant from us-in some actions, in some words, or in the disposition of our life, to nullify them by changing our life.
Beside this present fast, maybe there will not be another chance, no one knows.
So let’s make a good beginning, faithful soldiers of Christ our God. Let’s remember that our soul is immortal and that the fast is not a disciplinary exercise but the school for life in Christ. Let’s remember that with joy we must enter into it, going to meet God. Not only entering it with the thought that Pascha will be after seven endlessly long weeks but that in the very effort of the fast a meeting with God will happen and the result of that will be the joy of the Paschal night. Let’s force ourselves to be disposed to this favorably and responsibly.
You can find the original here.