little flowers of faith: daisies                       little flowers of faith: daisies

Le blog de la Bergerie                         Sharing the faith . . . in English . . . et en français!   

Alexander Schmemann - Fast and Liturgy

See full article here

Here are a few paragraphs from Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann' Notes in Liturgical Theology (1959)
on Fasting as spiritual preparation,
on the eschatological expectation of the Liturgy,
on the sanctification of time.

Whatever we commemorate, whatever we celebrate, we always discover - and this discovery is made in the Divine Liturgy - that in the Church everything has its beginning in Jesus Christ and everything has in Him its end, its fulfillment. . Whereas the history of the Old Testament was directed at the coming of the Messiah, the history of the New Testament is directed at the return of the Lord in His glory and the end of the world. That which the Church has and acknowledges in the "mysterion" already, will become evident at the end of this world. And inasmuch as the Church is still in "statu viae" and Christians are still living in this world, they expect, they wait for, this "parousia," they pray and keep the vigil for they do not know when the Son of Man shall come. And this expectation is expressed therefore in a new fasting, in a new state of awaiting.

A second principle necessarily follows the first. It is that of fasting period, which must precede every Eucharistic celebration. Expectation must precede fulfillment. From this point of view, the eucharistic fast is not a simple abstinence before communion, it is made primarily of expectation and spiritual preparation. It is fasting in the scriptural sense indicated above, the waiting for the sacramental Parousia. Thus the whole liturgical life of the Church which, in turn determine the life of each member of the Church, is built on this rhythm of expectation and fulfillment, preparation and "presence."

But fasting has also a second meaning, that completes the one we have just analyzed. It has been particularly stressed and developed in Monasticism. It is the ascetical fast, fasting as a fight against the demonic powers, as a method of spiritual life. The origin of this idea of fasting also goes back to the Scriptures. Before Christ went out to preach, He fasted for forty days and at the end of this period Satan approached Him (Matthew 4:3). In the Gospel, we find a clear statement that fasting and prayer are the only means for a victory over Satan (Mt. 17:21). For the advent of Christ not only fulfills the history of salvation, it is also the decisive moment in the struggle against Satan, who has become the "prince of this world."

According to the Bible, it is through food that Satan conquered man and became his master. Man has tasted of the forbidden fruit, and in doing so has become enslaved to food, so that his whole existence depends on it. This is why fasting, in this biblical perspective, is not to be equated with a mere moderation in eating, with a kind of elementary hygiene. The genuine fast, the true abstinence, the one which the Church glorifies in her holy "fasters," is indeed a challenge to the so called laws of nature and through them to Satan himself. For nothing hurts him more, nothing destroys his power more than this transcending by man of the laws, of which he has convinced man that they are "natural" and "absolute." Without food man dies therefore his life depends entirely on food. And yet by fasting, i.e., by refusing voluntarily food man discovers that he lives not by bread alone. And then fasting becomes the denial of what has become "necessary," the real mortification of that flesh which depends entirely and exclusively on the "unescapable laws of nature." In fast, man reaches that freedom which he has lost in sin, recovers in the cosmos the Kingship he had annihilated by transgressing the will of God.

This idea of fasting rooted in Christ's forty days of fasting and His encounter with Satan, is the foundation of the ascetical fast, which one must distinguish (but not separate) from the eucharistic fast, defined above as a state of preparation and expectation.

It is impossible to indicate here all the theological implications of fasting as it is described and prescribed in our liturgical tradition. We can only point to its essential significance. The Church lives on two levels, has two "states." She is waiting for, but she also possesses already, the object of expectation. In time, in history, she is not only "in via," on her way to the Kingdom, but also the manifestation of this Kingdom. And the meaning of her life is that these two "states" are not separated from each other, do not oppose each other in a radical contradiction. Each of them is founded in the other and is impossible without it. Eternity does not empty or make absurd and meaningless either time or our life in time, but on the contrary gives them all their weight, all their real value. The Church fills with an eternal truth, with reality which she alone possesses, the apparently meaningless flow of time. The rhythm of the Church, the rhythm of the Eucharist which comes and is always to come, fills everything with meaning, puts all things to their real place. Christians do not remain passive between one celebration and the next one, their "temporal" life is not empty, is not "diminished" by eschatology. For it is precisely the liturgical "eschaton" that ascribes real value to every moment of our life, in which everything is now judged, evaluated and understood in the light of the Kingdom of God, the ultimate end and the meaning of all that exists.

For the Eucharist bears witness to the Incarnation, and since it has been coordinated with time, introduced into time, time itself and each one of the moments in time are filled with meaning, acquire a significance in relation with Christ.

It is here that the Church has concealed the treasure of her love, of her wisdom, of her "practical" knowledge of God. The liturgy of the Church must be liberated from a trivial "schedule of services" and become again what essentially it is: the sanctification of time and in it of the whole life, by the presence of Christ. Only such a liturgy does not divide the life of a Christian into two lives, the one "sacred" and the other "profane," but transfigures the one by the other, making the whole existence a confession of Christ. For Christ did not come in order that we "symbolize" His presence but in order to transform and save the world by His presence.

St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1959, pp. 2-9

See full article here


Le blog de la Bergerie    Home    Site Map   Articles    Prayers   Cooking   Photos   Books    FAQ    Links    Contact Us