The blessings of the contemplative life do not burst in on our lives like a flash of lightning. They do not arrest our attention the moment we open our eyes to look for them. Rather, they permeate our lives imperceptibly. They are like the light of the rising sun. The first faint light of dawn penetrates the veil of darkness – slowly but surely. Although it is difficult to trace the inception of this light, it spreads until it pervades everything. It dispels the darkness before the sun rises into view.
In order to attain a fruitful life of prayer, we should not expect blessings to fall upon us suddenly. Rather, we should make our way through with slow but sure steps. We need a long, disciplines struggle. We need patience and constraint. It is enough to make progress however slow that progress may seem, or however pitch-black the world around us and around our faith may appear. Mere progress in the life of prayer and intimacy with God is a sure sign that we will reach our goal. It is proof positive that the light must appear, however long it may be hidden from us. Once it appears, the fruit of our laborious struggle and our faith and patience will materialise. When we constraint ourselves in our struggle, when we expend our sweat and tears, when we contend with our doubts and whispers – walking on in spite of the darkness that shrouds everything in us, our own eyes may not see in ourselves anything but weakness. The eyes of God, however, see precious and valuable signs of growth: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29); “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake.” (Heb 6:10)
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]
[Tomorrow, the 16th day of Hatour in the Coptic calendar marks the beginning of the Blessed Fast of the Nativity. May God grant us an acceptable and fruitful fast before Him, to aid us in the salvation of our souls, and to the Glory of His Name.]
Fasting by itself is not a virtue. It is nothing at all. Without prayer, it becomes a bodily punishment that induces spiritual aridity and bad temper. The same is true of prayer; without fasting, it loses its power along with its fruits.
We may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense. Neither has value without the other, but together, the sweet savour of their incense fills the air.
Fasting calms the impulses of the flesh and quenches the fire of passion; it curbs the prattling of the tongue. Thus, it substantially prepares us for the work of prayer and the release of the spirit from slavery to the flesh. In this way, fasting allows the spirit to contemplate the truths of eternity and the age to come.
The following constitute spiritual meanings for fasting:
– Fasting is not a deprivation from certain kinds of food, but a voluntary abstinence from them.
– It does not humiliate the flesh, but refreshes the spirit.
– Nor does it fetter or imprison the senses; it releases them from all that hinders the contemplation of God.
– Fasting does not seek to repress the appetite for food. It renounces this appetite and, in renunciation, elevates it to relish the love of God.
– Fasting does not imply confinement or restriction, but aims at joy and magnanimity of heart.
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life, Chapter 13]