On the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Fr. Theodore spoke about Orthodox Praxis in his homily. Drawing the distinction between Theoria (theory) and Praxis (practice) is important. Theoria is tied to Theology, the teachings of the Church. Praxis, on the one hand, is associated with worship, and on the other hand, is connected with “living rightly,” day to day as an Orthodox Christian.
In the New Testament, we read of the teachings of the Lord. We also see in the N.T examples given by our Lord that point to what it looks like to live as a Christian in relation to others, not simple to know the truth. When Great Lent comes around each year, we are reminded of the ascetical practice of fasting that we’re about to embrace. We are also reminded of the many beautiful services the church off ers during this unique season. Both increased prayer and fasting are opportunities for all of us to deepen our repentance, engage more fully in our faith, and draw closer to God. Unfortunately, both increased prayer and fasting can have the opposite aff ect on us; they can be to our judgment if we’re not approaching them and practicing them in a way that is acceptable to God.
Recall the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee stood before God praying, “I fast twice a week and I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:12). The Pharisee prays, fasts, and tithes, and feels he is living a life pleasing to God. Could we not also say, “I fast during lent, I go to Great Compline, Pre-sanctified liturgy, the Canon of St. Andrew, and do many prostrations?” Does this mean that we are living a life pleasing to God? Aren’t we doing what we’re being asked to do? In theory, yes, and we could make an argument that in practice we are too, and we wouldn’t be wrong, if we only look at praxis in terms of our worship.
What gives air to the wings of prayer and fasting, and allows them to function as they were intended, is love for others. The Fathers don’t hesitate reminding us that the demons can fast more than us and can stay vigilant while we sleep. What the demons lack though, and what makes fasting and prayer acceptable to God is when they are done in love.
If I fast exactly how the church “prescribes” but am impatient towards my spouse, or my children and give way to anger and irritability, to what avail is my abstinence from certain foods? If I attend all the church services throughout Great Lent, but turn a blind eye to those who are hurting, then what good is my perfect attendance? We place a lot of value on “doing” what we feel is expected of us, and what we believe will help us. We would fare better if we placed as much, if not more value, on how we are in the presence of others.
Those who caught the woman in the very act of adultery were ready to execute her because that’s what the Law prescribed. Christ, on the other hand, recognized the person of the woman, her woundedness, her sickness, and her desperation and refused to be problem-focused. The father of the Prodigal Son was not focused on what his son had done wrong, rather he focused on his return, his repentance, and the fact that he had come home. The Good Samaritan was not concerned about why the man got beat up and was left for dead on the road. He simply saw his suffering and he went to him and took care of him. The stories in Scripture are endless regarding how we are to be with others.
We have another opportunity this Great Lent to increase our fasting practices and attend more services. More than this, however, is if we could focus on how we are living our life in the presence of others. Do we exude the fragrance of Christ after an encounter with our spouse, our child, our co-worker, or our fellow student? Is this not what our Lord is seeking from us (Cf. Mt. 25:35-40)? Does He want to see how well we fast, or how many services we go to, or how many spiritual books we read during lent?
Don’t misunderstand me, all of these are very important. However, they mean nothing if we don’t allow ourselves to be transformed by them, if we don’t allow them to create a change in us where we reflect the Light of Christ to others. Is this not what Great Lent is for? If you want to measure your Lenten journey at the end of it all, look no further than how well you were able to show mercy, kindness, gentleness and love to others.
With Love in Christ,