Some very encouraging things happened this week. We have been teaching and practicing fasting (Wednesdays, Fridays, and appointed fasts) here in the Philippines for the past two years. But Filipino culture is not familiar with fasting, so it has been quite strange to the hearers. Certainly a few have been practicing fasting according to the Church’s calendar. But in recent weeks, speaking with the Orthodox Christians who have been received in the past few months, I see that many are now seriously planning how to eat, how to pray, and intentionally planning to undertake the Lenten struggle for the virtues.
It was an enormous adjustment for our people to begin coming to the Liturgy without breakfast first, but that has now become the norm. It was strange when the catechumens were told that we come to Confession every time we Commune, but this is now the practice throughout the Russian Orthodox mission.
And now, through the teaching of Orthodox clergy and visiting missionaries, and through exposure to worldwide Orthodoxy on Facebook, the newly-illumined are for a change asking us how to fast.
The liturgical life of the Church cannot exist apart from the ascetical life: that which is done in secret, where no one can praise or applaud. This was the lesson of the Gospel readings from Matthew 6 in the Divine Liturgy this Saturday and Sunday.
I taught in several churches about the rite of Forgiveness practiced on the Sunday evening before the Great Fast begins. The service of Vespers with all its verses is not ready yet, But after Sunday’s Typika service, a number of mission parishes asked and received forgiveness of all, just as your church did this Sunday at Vespers. And, for the first time, there was enthusiasm when I promised that next year we will have the proper service of Vespers in Cebuano, so that we can serve this rite in its fullness. It is this growing hunger for real Orthodoxy – in practice as well as in words – that makes me hopeful for the future of the Orthodox mission here.
Teaching on fasting has been a slow process, and I’m sure it will continue slowly. But what a pleasant experience it has been lately to see the Orthodox actively seeking to learn and embrace the life of the Church, not merely as a new denominational label but as the Faith that can save their souls.
The prayer of St Ephraim