Der Vasken's Sermon on February 11, 2018

Feb 12, 2018

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today the Armenian Church ushers in the Season of Great Lent.  Great Lent begins with Poon Paregentan and it ends with the weekend of Palm Sunday.  So beginning today, the 40-day period of Great Lent begins.  We know that, during Lent, we are encouraged to practice an ancient biblical tradition--a tradition that Moses practiced; a tradition that the prophets of the Old Testament practiced; and that Jesus Himself practiced.  And since those times, our Church Fathers have urged men and women and families to learn of this practice and engage in it from time to time.  

It's the biblical practice of fasting.  Jesus often spoke of fasting.  In today's Gospel reading [Mt. 6:1-21], He tells us how to fast.  Listen:  "And when you fast," He says, "do not look dismal, like hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so that their fasting may be noticed by others.  Truly I say to you.  They have their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting may not be noticed by others, but by God the Father and He will reward you."

He is very clear in this teaching that there's a time and a place for fasting in the life of every Christian.  And the Church picked up on that important point and created periods and opportunities of fasting throughout the year. Fasting is meant to help us focus our attention on God.  It's meant to lead us to a simpler life--a life that has less time for self but more time for God; less time for physical food but more time for spiritual food--because the Kingdom of God isn't about the physical things of life.

  • It's about the joy of the Holy Spirit.
  • It's about the peace of Heaven.
  • And it's about spending eternity with God.

Fasting is designed to take the focus off of us and focus on God and the needs of others.  So we're called to fast as Christ fasted.  This fast is not just about food.  It's also a fast for our eyes and our ears and it's a fast for our hands and our feet as well.  Let me explain.  There is a saint named John Chrysostom, who lived 1,600 years ago, and who wrote about this point very beautifully.  "Do you fast?" he asks.  "If so, give me proof of it by your works." 

  • "If you see a poor man, have mercy on him.
  • If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him.

Do not let only your mouth fast but also your eyes and your ears and your feet and hands, too.

  • Let your hands fast by being free of greed.
  • Let your feet fast by ceasing to chase after those things that displease God. 
  • Let your eyes fast by disciplining them not to glare at that which is inappropriate.
  • Let your ears fast by not listening to gossip or hurtful words.
  • Let your mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from eating meat but bite and devour our brothers and sisters?" he writes.

Fasting is much more than doing without certain foods.  That's actually the least important part.  It's about fasting from selfish ways and wrongful ways and greed in all its forms.

Let's close with a teaching from the Church.  During Great Lent, let us

  • Fast from being unsatisfied and feast on gratitude;
  • Fast from anger and feast on patience;
  • Fast from complaining and feast on appreciation;
  • Fast from worry and feast on the promises of God.
  • Let's fast from our daily pressures and feast on personal prayer time.
  • Let's fast from bitterness and feast on forgiveness.
  • Let's fast from self-pity and feast on compassion.
  • Let's fast from suspicion and feast on trust.
  • And during the forty days of Lent, let's feast on hope and fast from being discouraged.

Great Lent begins today.  So as you give up something this year, think about how that will help you focus more on God and your spiritual life.  Lent is about fasting with a purpose and the purpose is that we choose to fast to create room within us to focus on God and to open up to Him the furthest corners of our heart. May our Lenten journey be meaningful during the next forty days.  Lent is about fasting with a purpose.  Let's find the purpose.

Amen.