by Clark Wilson
"When you pray the prayer rope, how many knots do your fingertips
grasp at one time?" -- St. Nepsis
I need a new word. Or, perhaps, an old one -- it may be that the
Fathers had the word I seek. Anyhow, listen:
A non-Orthodox Christian asked me, simply and honestly, about Orthodox
fasting. I was tongue-tied, floundering around. Later I concluded that the conversation
died because it restricted itself to fasting. It seemed that to give a picture of
Orthodox fasting I must talk about Orthodox feasting; if I talk about eating breakfast
cereal with water instead of milk I must also talk about White Castle "sliders" in the
Paschal potluck. It seemed that the fast and feast together were the real unit that
needed talking about.
And it's not that they belong together like separable complements
(bread and butter) or like opposites that compensate for one another (light and dark).
Rather, the actual unit of the Orthodox calendar is the fast-and-feast. It is for this
unit I have no word. Perhaps you know one? Or perhaps you can make one up?
Furthermore, I opine that the fast-and-feast does not have the
quality of "first eat your broccoli and then you can have ice cream." It seems to me
that the fast-and-feast is a unit in the same way that the Passion and Resurrection are
a unit, that "the evening and morning were the first day." That is, this is not a
technique by which some authority wheedles us into healthy practices. Rather, it is
simply The Way Things Are. Fasts are followed by feasts, feasts are preceded by fasts,
and that is just the shape of reality.
This pattern pervades the life in Christ. Weekly, daily, hourly. One
instance of the pattern is preparation and Communion. To receive Communion without
preparation is not to get something for nothing; or to get the core of something while
avoiding the superfluous; or to get something good by violating a bothersome rule.
Rather, to receive Communion without preparation is to get only part
of the something, as if one bought a Bible that had every other word missing.
The details of preparation? We know them. Some appear boldface in
the church bulletin: confession, fasting Sunday morning. Various booklets include prayers
of preparation for Holy Communion. There is a useful pamphlet in our bookstore:
"Preparing to Receive Holy Communion," by Fr. Tom Avramis. It is "a guide to frequent
participation in Holy Communion for the Orthodox Christian."
And let me point you to a hidden jewel. There is in our bookstore a
Conciliar Press pamphlet, "Practical Prayer: An Interview with Metropolitan Anthony of
Sourozh." Within it (pp. 14-17) are Metropolitan Anthony's teachings on preparation and
Communion. His word is lively, direct, and fresh. But I still don't have a name for the