What does the period we know as Great Lent truly hold for Orthodox Christians? Is it a time of abstinence from certain cherished foods to heighten our remembrance of Christ’s loving sacrifice for us? Certainly, but if all we do is abstain from meat and dairy products, denying our bodies these forms of sustenance but not exercising repentance and abstinence of the soul, we lose out on much of the fast, only experiencing a small part of what it means to repent and enter into a new mindset, a new way of being. What, then, is the deeper purpose of this ‘Great Fast’?
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Christian Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith and host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, makes the point in this article that the underlying purpose of Orthodox asceticism is to draw us closer to the grace of God, and through this grace, to cooperate in loving synergy with the divine energies and become divinized- that is, partakers of the divine nature.
“It actually doesn’t particularly matter if we succeed in “self-improvement” by means of asceticism. If we do, great, but if not, what we are actually trying to achieve is something different. It is becoming more receptive to the free gift of divine grace, so that we can become by grace what Christ is by nature, so that we can be united to God in His energies, becoming partakers of the divine nature.”