H/T: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. Here. Lenten greeting by Metropolitan Ephrem. Translated from the Arabic.
The Fast is for Purifying the Heart
Beloved, at the beginning of the fast we are placed before this struggle that comes to us anew. We receive it with gladness, joy, and enthusiasm of heart. We have been preparing for it for over a month. We must be prepared for struggle throughout our life. The fast, in itself, does not mean anything unless it is a channel that delivers us to attachment to Christ. If you do not eat, your health weakens and you die. And so, when you approach this fast, you approach the fact that you will die. However, you will die for Christ’s sake and at that moment you will realize that Christ is the source of life, not the food, possessions, and pleasures that are in this world.
This is why the Church comes today to teach us what the Lord said: When you fast, wash your face and anoint your head. Do not grimace and show people that you are fasting, as though you will get people to think well of you. This is because your worship should be in the heart. Worship of the heart does not negate external worship. There are those who say, “do not fast, rather let your tongue fast,” but these are meaningless expressions. When you fast, your entire being fasts, not just your tongue and not just your stomach. Your entire being distances itself from sin.
So let us strive to purify our hearts, so that the Lord will make us worthy of His kingdom after this life that we lead here in struggle and enthusiasm– out of love, and not out of revulsion, fatigue, or weariness. We approach the fast and the struggle with joy and enthusiasm. The first thing that we must undertake or achieve in order to purify our hearts is for us to forgive people, to pardon them for having behaved in a sinful manner with us. And in return, we ask them to forgive us so that we will be freed from the claims that we hold against each other. However, we will not fully enjoy God’s forgiveness if our hearts are not pure like His heart and forgiving like His forgiveness. He no longer recalls the evil deeds we did against Him, the lack of honor that we gave Him when we offended Him with our sins.
And so the purpose is not to eat fasting foods, in as much as through our enduring these foods and the like, we express our longing and our hunger for Christ. Instead, we sit at our table, we take out the Bible and we read it carefully, eagerly, and with longing, so that we can eat and be sated from it. In consequence, when we have discovered all the richness, abundance, and great love that Christ offers us, we are no longer able to hold on to bitterness, hatred, or hardness in our heart toward others. And so we forgive and we cry out to Him, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. So let us repair this interior relationship between us and Christ.
May the Holy Lord make us worthy to receive forgiveness for our sins and purification of our hearts from every bitterness, hatred, and harmful desire, so that we can desire Him and keep Him in our hearts as an everlasting treasure. Amen