This is the end of our second week. I am being reminded of how the devil usually jabs me harder during Lent than at other times. I don't know if that is really true, but I know that I am being besieged heavily these days. If I had nothing to do but to sit quietly in my log cabin and stoke the wood stove between cups of tea and chapters full of holy words, and if day after day I could break from my reading to stroll through the snowy woods to pray, I'm sure that I could fly up to Pascha like a carefree angel. Then, at the moment that Salome announces that He is risen, I would sing 'Hallelujah' in perfect harmony with the crowd while holding my brightly burning candle in my wax-dripped hand joining its glow with my own.
Instead, conflicts, like bowling balls are careening towards me to knock me down and out. Bruised, I manage to get back up, again and again, brush off the dust of disappointment and remember that it's Lent. So I look around for the outstretched fingers of a saint to grab onto.
Last night I obeyed the fast* to the letter, and did not even use oil in my dinner. It made me feel good to deny myself that embellishment to my vegetables. Experience has taught me that self control will make me feel lighter and stronger by Easter. Every day of success climbs, and every day of rationalizing the rules away sits still.
Last night too I read my bookclub book, Lost City of Z, about Percy Harrison Fawcett who explored and mapped the Amazon at the beginning of the 20th century. I was in awe of what he was willing to endure against the devastating obstacles of heat, the dense jungle, innumerable vicious pests and disease. Compared to Fawcett's Amazonian exploits our Lenten climb seems risk-free.
Or is that an illusion? Forces that are out to destroy us would rather destroy our souls instead of our bodies. Each body dies one way or another, but only the most demon defiant souls will be given death-resistant bodies in kingdom come. Lenten disciplines help us strengthen our souls to combat deadly evil.
Time will whisk each and every one of us to Easter whether we climb the mountain or lounge around the beach. Oh! but the view of the resurrection is so much better from the top of the mountain of Lent.
Enough musing; I must try harder to climb. Where are those fingers I spotted stretched to grab my hand? There they are, I said to myself stretching as far as I could to meet them. "Come closer, I can't reach you." I cried desperate for help. "Closer!" Oh my! Who are you?" I asked.
" Anthony of the desert." He replied softly.
"Oh, help me Saint Anthony," I cried. "I need to get away from these maddening bowling balls!"
Then he replied,
** "Know this: that the demons have not been created like what we mean when we call them by that name; for God made nothing evil, but they have been made good. Having fallen, however, from the heavenly wisdom, since then they have been grovelling on earth. On the one hand they deceived the Greeks with their displays, while out of envy of us Christians they move all things in their desire to hinder us from entry into the heavens; in order that we should not ascend up there from whence they fell.
Thus there is need of much prayer and discipline, that when a man has received through the Spirit the gift of discerning spirits, he may have power to recognize their characteristics: which of them are less and which are more evil; of what nature is the special pursuit of each, and how each of them is overthrown and cast out. For their villanies and plots are many. The blessed Apostle and his followers knew such things when they said, (in Corinthians 2:11) and we from the temptations we have suffered at their hands, ought to correct one another under them. Wherefore I, having had proof of them, speak as to children.
Wherefore, children, let us holdfast our discipline, and let us not be careless. For in it the Lord is our fellow worker, as it is written, to all that choose the good, God works with them for good.
Let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire things which we cannot take with us?
Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us -- to whit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality. If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek hearted."
"Thank you Saint Anthony." I replied, "I understand. You defy demons with your discerning eye and counter them with goodness, not giving them too much attention, but rather storing up your treasures in heaven. I'll try." Then it occurred to me that with such good advice, I might be able to jump up to the next plateaux and avoid those bowling balls at the same time. Brilliant idea!
Orthodox Christian fast is to abstain from anything that has blood. This rule forbids eating any dairy, fish or meat products for every day of Lent, including the weekends. Shellfish such as shrimp, clams, muscles, are acceptable. Olive oil and wine are also forbidden during the week, but according to the current Orthodox calendar are acceptable on Saturday and Sunday. Fish is allowed on March 25th: the Feast of the Annunciation, and on Palm Sunday.
* Life of Saint Anthony of Egypt by Saint Athanasius