H/T: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy (here)
By Metropolitan Georges Khodr
The Apostle Paul said to us in today’s Epistle, “The night is over and the day draws near.” Now we set aside works of darkness and approach the light, this light that will come to us on Holy Pascha. But before that, this divine light will come to us through these struggles that we undertake with mercy and favor from our Lord.
The pure Evangelist spoke to us about a fast that we undertake for God’s sake. We undertake it in secret in that we do not make a show of it and we do not make claims about it, but we know it as a mercy from our Lord and we struggle until the grace of God’s good pleasure reaches us and until we have been trained in the Lord’s behavior and the fear of Him.
The issue is not one of refraining from food or drink. It is not only refraining from meat. These are exercises by which we train for something loftier. Naturally, we must subdue this body through fasting in order to tame it and teach it that there is something better than the body and in order to make it sensitive to the existence of the poor. In early Christianity, fasting was primarily based on this idea: one refrains from food in order to distribute its value to the poor. Christians would fast as long as they knew that someone among them was in need and they fasted when they wanted to provide food to the poor. This is why mercy was one of the aspects of the fast. The point of the fast is for us to be trained in it in the school of mercy.
Thus the Lord said in today’s Gospel reading, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” That is, do not be reliant on money, but know that there are poor people who need this money and that they have a right to it. The money that you possess it not yours in the end– it belongs to those who need it. Giving is not optional. You must give. This is not charitable giving; this is a duty because the earth belongs to all people and the earth’s wealth belongs to all people.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth because where your treasure is, there your hearts are also.” That is, if you consider money to be your treasure, then your hearts are overflowing with love for it and if you consider the kingdom of God to be your treasure, then your hearts have become full of God. Life must not waver between God and the world, as we see ourselves continuing to hesitate between Christ and that which is not Christ. This is why we enter into the struggle of this fast, recognizing that Christ is all life and consequently we will inter into the sobriety of Christ in order to build for Him a glorious church, not made only of stone, but also of hearts in intimate harmony.
This struggle of ours is undertaken by each one according to his ability and as his health permits, in terms of what pertains to food and drink. However, we all undertake it together in terms of what pertains to the spiritual aspect. That is, we all together are called to love, to forgiveness and to join all people to our hearts so that God may join us to His heart. If we love people, then we are God’s beloved and if we hate people, then we are banished from God. There is nothing in the Christian Church other than us loving each other and us struggling to remain in this love throughout life.
No matter what people say about us, no matter what they do, people are all God’s beloved and children of God and so we love them, we support them and we fast from slandering them so that we all may have a share in the Lord’s love.