A Time for Every Matter
There was wonderful, pious woman in my first parish as a priest, who got upset with me when, on the Feast of Pentecost, I announced that the coming week was fast-free, just as we are currently enjoying following this past Sunday’s celebration of the Great Feast of Pentecost. After kissing the cross and kindly touching my hand, she gently but firmly “corrected” me that we Orthodox Christians fast EVERY Wednesday and Friday. Since she had lived a life of faith for almost four years to each year I had stumbled through, so I wasn’t about to correct her.
But if I were to correct her, I would’ve quoted the book of Ecclesiastes which reads “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). So just as we did for the 40 days following Pascha, we enjoy a fast-free week this week. These are times for celebration that most of us welcome warmly. But just as validly, when we follow the cycles of the life of the Church there are times to fast. Pascha was preceded by Great Lent and Holy Week. Christmas comes only after Advent. And this coming Monday is the beginning of perhaps the least known fast in our liturgical year: the Apostles’ Fast. Unique among fasting periods, this one varies in length because the beginning can come early or late depending on the date of Pascha but it always ends on the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. On some years this Fast is just days long or missed entirely, but in other years (like this year), it can be several weeks long.
And so if we can accept there are times to celebrate and break from fasting, so too we must accept that there are times to fast. Once more I will remind us that in our hyper-individualized society, the only “times” that we tend to recognize are those that we designate ourselves. All the messages around us seem to tell us that not only should each of us get what we want, but when and how we want it. And perhaps because of this, it is harder to fast now that it any other time in the Church’s history: more people enjoy more options from which to fast. And so perhaps there has never been a more important time in the Church’s history for her members to fast.
As all fasting seasons do, this one prepares us to celebrate. In this case we prepare to honor Saints Peter and Paul, co-founders of our Mother Church of Antioch and the principle apostles to both the Jewish and Gentile world at the dawn of Christianity. Because being an apostle literally means “to be sent,” they both accepted the call and went. By the time each of them had died for the Christian faith, it had spread to the great majority of the Roman Empire. We honor them and their accomplishments of the past, and we honor them in order to emulate them, continuing as their successors in being sent into the world, bringing God’s truth and love.
Of course being able to bring God’s truth and love assumes we know it first and have it to share, and this is where is fasting comes into play. In the midst of a “have it your way” society we need training to remember how good it is to have it God‘s way.
So let’s celebrate Pentecost this week and enjoy the fast-free celebration! Burgers tonight? Why not! Fried chicken or steak this Friday? Let’s do it! But then let’s embrace the Fast just as surely come Monday. Let it be a time for denying our self-centered tendencies and recover a stronger God-centered and other-centered perspective.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
And there is a time to fast and a time to break from fasting.