Let the world now bitterly mourn with Eve and Adam,
for it fell together with them who fell by sweet eating.
~ Synaxarion of Forgiveness Sunday
“Sweet eating.” Once again the profound theological poetry of the Church’s hymns have cut to the very heart of the matter. Sweet eating. Adam and Eve’s sin is the same sin with which I struggle. We all battle the passions, because we are human and live in a fallen world. We are sweet eaters, that is to say we pursue the “sweet” desires of our appetites, our passions—not just in food, but our desire for praise, for more possessions, for gratification, for distraction, etc.
This week we enter the “stadium of virtue,” Great Lent, in which we fight against the passions within us. The most prominent weapon in this battle is fasting. Likening our spiritual contest to a battlefield, one hymn says, “Instead of a sword, there is fasting, which cuts every evil from the heart.”
The profound effect of fasting—when done rightly—cannot be overstated. It is the great weapon given to us by God so that we can fight against our self-will and learn to humbly place ourselves into harmony with God’s will. After all, it was a fast that was given by God in the beginning to the first man and woman: ““Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (Genesis 2:16-17) And they rejected this fast, preferring their own will to God’s will.
On Forgiveness Sunday, the day before Great Lent begins, we remember Adam and Eve and the Fall—to connect our own spiritual struggle with that of our first parents: Do I prefer my self-will or God’s divine will?
Yet fasting is not ultimately about effort and exertion or the following of rules. It is about love. When Adam and Eve rejected God’s commandment, they rejected His love. (Or to put it another way, they preferred self-love over divine love—sweet eating over true sweetness, beauty, and joy.)
By fasting we are expressing our desire for God’s love, for a restoration of our original relationship with Him in the Garden of Eden. Each Lenten season is a journey back to the Garden of Eden. (Thus it is also fitting that we do not eat animal products during this time, since in Eden there was no eating of animals.)
Fasting is the mode through which we can experience God’s love to a greater and greater extent. †Elder Ephraim of Arizona encourages us all to embrace fasting as that mode of entering more deeply into God’s love:
“When our fasting coexists, is strengthened, and is encompassed with prayer, with contemplation, with watchfulness, with church attendance, with Confession, with Holy Communion, with good works and charity giving, then is fulfilled the beauty of the soul’s preparation for the reception of Holy Week. Then we will feel the Holy and Honorable Passion of Christ more profoundly, because our hearts will soften, and they will alter and recognize how boundless the love of God is for man. Then the Holy Resurrection will be alive within us with great strength.