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Fasting, Feasting and the Pursuit of Happiness

December 11, 2012

NativityFor a relatively small community, this period of the year is marked by vigilant fasting in preparation for the Savior’s humble birth from a Virgin most pure.  It is a time punctuated by the vigilant yet joyful expectation for this blessed moment of radiance in the night of human history.  Through the ascetical practice of fasting, through the mystery of confession, and through the liturgical commemoration of the prophets of old, we prepare our hearts for the glad tidings of great joy: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

For the larger community of the world, however, this same period of time is marked by frenetic shopping and continual parties at home and in the office as an expression of what? perhaps, holiday cheer, but certainly not as a preparation for anything greater than itself. And in many instances, it is marked by excess-overeating, overspending, and overindulgence in drink.

And so, the former community has its eyes fixed on the coming of the feast while avoiding feasting until the Nativity itself, while the latter often is so worn out and frazzled by all the activity and commotion that it is left with little to celebrate once Christmas arrives. This is a busy season for the police, paramedics, therapists, social workers, and clergy who have to deal with the aftermath of all the revelry.  Sadly, during this time of year suicides increase, domestic violence is on the rise, and emergency room populations swell.  Yet, our contemporary society beckons us to partake in the feasting for that is where happiness is thought to be found.  Empirical evidence shows this is not the case.

What happened to the pursuit of happiness?  Why are so many people depressed, anxious, and exhausted?  I would submit that just as the human body provides us with warning signs when it is not healthy, so too the human spirit.  The human spirit is not created to pursue earthly happiness as an ultimate goal.  When our souls are flooded with noise, activity, and constant stimulation, the spirit rebels-often leading to depression, anxiety, and exhaustion.  Material possessions, food, and drink don’t satisfy us.  They were never intended for such a purpose.  When the Nativity of Christ devolves into nothing more than the pursuit and acquisition of such things, the human soul can be led to nihilistic despair.

The true significance of the Holy Nativity can only be appreciated if its celebration is preceded by a period of preparation that is consonant with the event that calls for the wise searching of the magi, the simplicity of the shepherds, the purity of the Virgin, and the humility of the manger.  Just as St. Andrew prepared to meet the Messiah through his discipleship with the Forerunner, we also must spend time in a period of ascetical preparation.

  1. susan permalink

    such profound joy to read this. you speak a language i understand, in a world where i feel like i am a stranger in a strange land.

    • To feel like a stranger in a strange land is a hard thing outside of faith, but it becomes wonderful when one deeply believes and recalls l that “here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and an innumerable company of angels.”

      Fr. Alexis

  2. Bruce permalink

    Father Bless!!! I love your thoughts below:

    I would submit that just as the human body provides us with warning signs when it is not healthy, so too the human spirit. The human spirit is not created to pursue earthly happiness as an ultimate goal. When our souls are flooded with noise, activity, and constant stimulation, the spirit rebels-often leading to depression, anxiety, and exhaustion. Material possessions, food, and drink don’t satisfy us. They were never intended for such a purpose.

    It certainly seems to me that we have compellingly clear warning signs here in the U.S.with the rate of increase in mental disorders ironically occuring at the same time we devote more research, resources, and deploy more empirically sound mental health treatments like CBT to combat what appears to me to be an epidemic increase in mental disorders especially among our young.

    One of the great values of your book is it’s potential to ‘reframe’ many of our these problems in a spiritual Christ centric context. The small god of science has lead our culture to an unspoken faith that we as we progress in our material ability to produce; we are also progressing in all other ways including spiritually. This belief is so strong than it typically is not even challenged.

    Much of our contemporary society believes it is unscientific to accept a set of authoritative absolutes like God is the Center, God is Good, God is Love, God is everywhere present and filling all things….and reverts to the belief that all knowledge is relative/provable and that to accept something as an absolute is to show your ignornance. So, ironically again, our contemporary society believes ABSOLUTELY that all knowledge is relative. This, absolute, instead of God, is the most common absolute I encounter when you trace that belief systems back to their starting point. I’m now 57 and I was unable to rise above this line of thinking until I was 53….so, I certainly understand how difficult it is to break away from the ‘knowledge of man’ idols our contemporary world places ahead of God. And whatever we are left with in our knowledge of God both wrong and diluted by what we place ahead of Him.

    I do think the Western world is approaching a ‘brokenness’ where it must find God authenically where He is. The work you’re doing is certainly encouraging me that we are on our way!

    Thank you Father!!!

    • Bruce,

      The Lord God bless you!

      Thank you once again for your kind and illuminating comments. There is much solace in realizing that we have fellow sojourners on a common path through a desert land to a goal that fills our entire life with meaning, hope, and blessedness. You are so very right: people do not really understand the limits of science, nor the limitlessness of faith. And when people lack understanding, they lose the ability to see, to discern, and to make wise decisions. They misuse science, which is ever juggling variables, and fail to use faith, the one constant in a changing world. This all makes me think of one of my favorite verses in Holy Scripture, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Thank you again for your comments and be of good cheer, for through repentance and the invocation of the Holy Name of Christ, “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

      In Christ,

      Fr. Alexis

  3. Father,

    I realize this isn’t the best place for this comment (so please feel free to not publish it), but I could not find any contact information on the site.

    I have been following and reading this blog for a couple of months now. In that time, I have taken up many of the practices listed here (regular Wed/Fri fasting and the Jesus Prayer, especially). I have been a Christian (of the Reformed Protestant variety) for some 16 years or so, but have consistently struggled with a variety of sins that I never could conquer. However, through the grace of God, utilizing these tools to submit my will and to seek union with Christ, I have been finding that all the things you say should happen (a state of nepsis, a “peace”-ing of the discursive mind, and replacement of sinful thoughts with Christ’s name) have happened. I especially am amazed that my imagination, which could easily go off in flights of fancy and sinful desire, can be quelled by filling my thoughts with the name of Christ in the Jesus Prayer. Where Christ abides, no sin may be!

    Hallelujah! And thank you. May God bless you.


  4. RVW,

    Thank you for your comments and for sharing your own experience of putting into practice the teaching of the ancient Christian fathers. I think your own words will serve as encouragement to others and that makes this effort worthwhile. So, thank you once again!

    Yes, the tools do work. Christ is near. And we can come to know that by taking some simple steps, like the simple steps that all the humble and repentant followers of Christ have taken throughout the ages. I pray you continue on the blessed path that leads to that peace “which passeth all understanding” in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    In XC,

    Fr. Alexis

    • susan permalink

      Father Alexis, It is very meaningful to read the words “Christ is near”. Throughout my life I have gazed into the night sky and prayed, “Lord, I know you are near but sometimes it feels you are a million years away”. The secular world has marched steadily away from God; sometimes my arms ache from the emptiness of it all. In my heart and in my mind’s eye, for all that I am, I know God is with me. Still, I live with the constant feeling of being a wanderer, stranded here on this planet. I appreciate everything you write because as I said a few days ago, it is like hearing a language I understand but rarely hear outside of the Liturgy and our home. Thankyou for allowing the connection. It is very encouraging.

  5. wil permalink

    yes, the divine readyness is prepared in the most beautiful ways, peace and happiness for all you

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