Our Life in Christ

Our Life In Christ 

Beginning of the Dormition Fast – August 1, 2021

by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher

Dormision of the Most Holy Theotokos

Beginning on August 1, the Orthodox Church practices a two week-long fast prior to the Feast of the Dormition (lit., “Falling-asleep”) of the Theotokos on August 15.

This Dormition Fast is the fourth and final fasting season of the Church year, along with the Nativity Fast (40 days before Christmas), Great Lent (40 days before Holy Week and Pascha), and the Apostles’ Fast (of variable length, beginning the Monday after All Saints until the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul on June 29).

Thus the Orthodox Church calendar consists of fasts and feasts on a weekly and seasonal basis. (Every week we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays in remembrance of our Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion, and we feast on Sunday in the Divine Liturgy because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the dead.) The rhythm of fasting and feasting does not express a life of vacillation between one extreme or the other, the harmful practice of either starving or gorging ourselves.

Rather, the constant interplay of fasting and feasting brings the balance of moderation to life, that of preparation and fulfillment. Purposeful fasting – abstaining from all or certain foods for a time – brings order and a goal to our lives often abandoned to uncontrolled desires. “Some men, in truth, live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, ‘whose life is their belly, and nothing else.’ But the Instructor – Christ – enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, nor is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. Wherefore also there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food.” (St. Clement of Alexandria; The Instructor II.1)

We fast to check our lusts for pleasure, and the most basic pleasures are satisfied with constant and luxurious eating and drinking. We also justify uncontrolled eating and drinking by forgetting that our lives are more than just biological machines in need of physical nutrition. Again, St. Clement: “Those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest and healthiest, and the noblest; as domestics are healthier than their masters, and husbandmen than the proprietors; and not only more robust, but wiser, as philosophers are wiser than rich men. For they have not buried the mind beneath food, nor deceived it with pleasures. But love is in truth celestial food, the banquet of reason.”

God has ordered our lives in Christ toward the goal of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, that is, communion with the Holy Trinity in the company of the angels and saints. This ultimate reality is otherwise known as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9; Matt. 22:1-14; Lk. 14:15-24). This supper is the Feast for which we are to prepare every week, every season, as the people of God: the Lord’s Supper which is Christ Himself given to His people as the true Food and Drink (1 Cor. 5:7-8; 10:16-17; 11:17-34; Jn. 6:53-58).

Fasting reminds us that satisfaction of the delights and pleasures of this world, because of sin often mindless and excessive, is not the true feast. Thus we abstain from things of this world to focus on the age to come. “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:18-20). We participate in the age to come through Communion in Jesus Christ, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching…But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” etc. (Heb. 10:25; 12:22f.).

We truly feast having separated ourselves from the sinful desires and passions of the world in the love of that which truly satisfies our deepest needs of body, soul, and spirit.