-Exercises during the Lent
Written by: H.H Pope Shenouda
Lent is one of the oldest and most holy fasts of the year, where we remember the forty days fasted by our Lord, to which we add the Passion week, which is a treasure for the whole year.
It is important to experience this fast as a spiritual period. Therefore, we have to contemplate together the spirituality of the fast and train ourselves to practise it.
Fasting is not just abstaining from food, this is just a means to contol the body in order to elevate the spirit.
During fasting, do you completely control the body? Do you take interest in positive actions that help you grow spirtiually?
As you deprive your body from food, do you give your spirit its food?...
Therefore, fasting has always been connected with prayer, contemplation and other spiritual activities, such as reading, singing, spiritual gatherings, spiritual exercises and judging oneself.
As fasting is accompanied by prayer, it is also accompanied by repentence. Nineveh is such an example, with all the humility it involved. There is also the fasting described by the prophet joel (2:12-17). God is pleased with fasting in which sin is abandoned more than mortifying the body. We read about the fasting of the people of Nineveh, "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and he did not do it." (Jn.3:10)
Fasting has also to be accompanied by acts of mercy. We act mercifully towards people so that God may have mercy upon us. We experience people's pain when we feel hunger, so we have pity on those who are hungry and feed them...
One of the best sayings of the Fathers about fasting is: "...if you do not have what to offer these saints then fast and offer them your food." This has been explained by the prophet Isaiah (Ch.58)
Fasting is a period of forsaking material matters and whatever relates to them.
Forsaking means, having no concern about material arrangements and it's types, which would make the this holy time lose its Spirituality and become a formality. The Prophet Daniel said this beautiful saying during his fast, I ate no pleasent food."(Dan.10:3)
Forsaking food by abstaining from from it and from its cravings is, in general, evidence of asceticism because of the preoccupation of the heart with whatever is spiritual and beneficial for eternal life.
Exercises during the Lent:
To have a powerful effect on your spiritual life during the lent, you need to follow certain exercises, which when you put into a life situation, you would have benefited from your fast:
1) To exercise giving up a specific sin, out of sins that prevail upon you, and is repeated in many of your confessions.
2) To exercise learning some Psalms from the Agpeya. You may choose on or two Psalms from each of the seven prayers, especially the Psalms that leave an effect on you.
3) To exercise learning the Bible readings of the different hours of the Agpeya, divide them into parts, analyze them knowing that for each prayer there are three or six parts.
4)To exercise the mental prayer of what you have learned. You may pray during work, on the road, while with people or at any time.
5) Use these prayers, Psalms and bible readings as sphere for contemplation, to enable yourself to pray them with depth and understanding.
6) To exercise spiritual readings: either by plentiful reading from the Bible regularly, with understanding and meditation...or reading the lives of the Saints or some spiritual books, so that you may gain a profitable yield of deep readings.
7) During the Great Lent, you may exercise learning the hymns of the lent and the Passion Week, and repeating them until you are full of their spirit.
8) You may exercise a certain level of fasting, under the supervision of your spiritual father.
9) There are many spiritual exercises in the field of dealing with people...such as gentleness, patience, enduring others' weaknesses, controlling anger, using words of praise and encouragement, serving and helping others, kindness and meekness.
10) Other exercises in purity of the heart: Such as modesty, inner peace, love of God, being satisfied without grumbling, quietness with no disturbance, internal joy in the spirit, faith and hope...