Der Vasken’s Sermon on February 11, 2023

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

Today in the Armenian Church we celebrate “Poon Paregentan”. It is the day of the “Great Carnivale” which ushers in the Seaon of “Great Lent.” The 40-day period of Great Lent falls between Poon Paregentan and Palm Sunday. During Lent, we are encouraged to practice an ancient spiritual tradition that goes back before the time of Moses. It’s a tradition that Jesus Himself practiced throughout His life. Since those times, the Church Fathers have urged the people of the church to learn about this practice and engage in it from time to time. It’s the practice of fasting.

In today’s Gospel reading (Mt. 6:1-21), Jesus tells us how to fast. “And when you fast,” He says, “do not look dismal, like hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward, but when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men but by God the Father and He will reward you.”

Notice the wording here doesn’t say “if” you fast but “when” you fast. He is very clear in this teaching, that there is a time and a place for fasting in everyone’s life and the Church picked up on that important point and created periods of fasting throughout the year. Fasting is meant to help us focus our attention on God. It is meant to lead us to a simpler life—a life that has ore time for God and a life that has less time for physical food but more time for spiritual food. The Kingdom of God isn’t about the physical things of life. It is about the peace and joy of Heaven. It is about surrounding ourselves with those things that will bring us closer to God. It is about preparing ourselves to spend eternity with Our Creator.

Fasting is designed to take the focus off of ourselves so we can focus on God and the needs of others. There is a famous saint named John Chrysostom who spoke beautifully about this. He asked the people of his day if they fasted? “If you do, he asked, “Can you prove it by your works? If you see a poor man, do you show him mercy and compassion? If you see a friend being honored, do you feel envy in your heart or joy for him or her? Do not let only your mouth fast but also your eyes and your ears and your feet and hands, too, he says. Let your hands fast by helping others. Let your feet fast by walking down paths that will please God. Let your eyes fast by training them to look for places where you can spread God’s Love. Let your ears fast by not listening to gossip or hurtful words. Let your mouth fast from unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from eating meat but devour our brothers and sisters?” he writes.

Fasting is much more than doing without certain foods. It is about fasting from selfish ways and wrongful ways that lead to pride, envy, anger, laziness, gluttony and lust–those things that lead us to do wrong in our thoughts and words and deeds, willingly and unwillingly.

Great Lent begins tomorrow. So as you give up something this year, think about how that will help you welcome God into your life more and more every day. Lent is about fasting for a reason and that reason should create room for us to focus on God and grow closer to Him.

May it be a meaningful Lenten Season for us all.

Amen.

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