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Today we in the Orthodox Church have arrived at the Sunday of Forgiveness or Cheesefare Sunday.  The Gospel for this Sunday is Matthew 6:14-21, which speaks of the importance of Forgiveness and in another aspect, the importance of fasting, but not for show but rather for one’s own soul.

In the Church, this is the last day on which the eating of dairy and egg products is allowed.  On Monday which is often referred to as Pure or Clean Monday, Great Lent Begins, a period in which we are exhorted to fast from meat, fish, dairy and egg products.

In the earliest days of Christianity, only two days of fasting were designated prior to Pascha, later it involved the entire week from Palm Sunday to Pascha. By the 4th century, the period of fasting had been extended an additional 40 days in imitation of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Most if not all monasteries observe this strict form of fasting, whereas, many in the modern times, because of personal reasons etc., have modified their strict observance. But as the Gospel Lesson says, our fasting should be done in private and that we should not gloat over those for whatever reason do not follow the strict, correct form of the fast.  It is indeed admirable if one is able to observe the fast as prescribed for it does help especially with one’s own prayer life, for Lent, is a very intimate preparation to meet the Lord.

All Orthodox Christians should fast, but each person and each family must prayerfully choose and commit themselves to a specific fasting discipline that is suitable to their own circumstance and that they can keep.  Strict fasting in the early Church meant no eating of food at all during the day and after eating sparingly. Whatever your discipline, some sort of fasting is good for the soul and for one’s prayer life.

So let us set out upon the fast with joy, preparing ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our souls and cleanse ourselves for spiritual battle.  Let us purify our souls and cleanse our bodies, so as we fast from food, let us also fast from every evil passion, rejoicing in the virtues of the spirit!

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