There's one of the stories from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who is given a rule of prayer which he considers too lenient. His elder gave him only a handful of prostrations per day when he had been doing some inordinate amount like 200. I really don't remember the full detail of the story. I do remember the point, though. He comes back to his elder to report on his prayer rule and how difficult it was to do so few prostrations, how fatigued he was, and how easily distracted he became. When he asked why it was that so few prostrations were so hard to complete, his elder told him that it was because the devil had made the extra prostrations easy for him. Powerful stuff.
We've been given instruction not to fast by two different priests. Our priest in North Carolina told us not to, but to focus on our family, saying prayers, and trying to live in light of the Gospel as we slowly moved into Orthodoxy. Our priest here has basically given us the same instruction, reminding us that with two small children, a full time job, and the struggle just to make our income match our outgo every month, we don't need to prove how Orthodox we are by having a long prayer rule, plus however many Jesus prayers, plus 42 prostrations, plus...plus...plus...plus. He was very clear: you need to find the time to meet God in the ordinary. So during this Nativity Fast, we aren't fasting.
I really hope this posting isn't going against the injunction against boasting or blowing trumpets during fasting that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount. If it is, please forgive me. I just find it strange to be eating while others fast. It's strange, also, to be receiving the charity and gifts that we would like to be giving to others. We're learning how to be lilies and sparrows, and if you recall, it is the sparrows that our Heavenly Father feeds. We're trying to be aware of the fact that true fasting, according to Scripture is a broken heart, forgiveness, sorrow for sin, released prisoners, et al. We're also trying to be aware of the fact that it would be easy for us to fast right now, and our egos would be stroked quite nicely as we modestly turned down hamburgers and turkey dinners due to our religious restriction.
I'm discovering more and more that Orthopraxy is more than two hours of prayer every day, half the year eating vegan, and learning to converse in four different languages about food. It's really about living life that is being shaped by the Gospel. Am I living the Nicene Creed? Do I really believe all of those things? Am I seeing that I need a physician to heal me from this horrible disease of sin? If so, isn't that truly Orthodoxy? Metropolitan Jonah gave a talk several months (if not a year) ago on the Catechumenate in which he said that it's not a time to catch up on 1500 years of Church History. It's an opportunity to work on making the best first confession you can make. I'm trying to live in light of that, and following the advice of my priest and the commands of our Lord. May God break my heart this Nativity Fast with His love for a broken world, and may the compassion that He showed to a sinful people inform my every action and every thought.