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Lenten reflection: Egypt
by Judith and Tom Snowdon
Judith and Tom Snowdon, of Saint-Joseph-De-Kent, N.B., serve as MCC representatives in Cairo, Egypt. They wrote the following prayer as well as the reflection below on Lenten traditions in Egypt.
Dear God, giver of everything that is good and perfect.
Help us to acknowledge that our enormous wealth comes only from You.
All that we have is Yours: our lives, our health, our homes, our families and friends,
And all of our physical possessions.
You give and You take away, You bless and You instruct, and You always Love.
As we move through this Lenten Season,
May both the joy and the gravity of this knowledge stir us,
So that we may be willing to relinquish our hold on all that defines this temporal existence, and search only for You,
In the depths of our souls, in the faces of those whom we meet, in the cloud of those who have gone before us, and in the witness of Your presence in all creation.
So that we will become richer in love, faith, service and understanding,
More honourable, more just and more worthy
To glorify Our Father Who is in Heaven.
A season of fasting
In Orthodox Christianity, Great Lent is the most serious of several seasons of fasting during the year.
In Egypt, about 10 percent of the population is Christian, and some 90 percent of Christians are Coptic Orthodox. Orthodoxy is a way of life for these Christians. It is entered into, wholly embraced and expressed through the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, the other sacraments and the following of the church calendar, which includes periods of fasting and celebratory times of feasting.
Fasting usually means not eating meat and other animal products, similar to western Lenten traditions. Spiritually, the Orthodox churches live their Lenten experience with emphasis on spiritual growth and love for others.
Firstly, Lent is focused on self-control. By giving up certain foods which are good and wholesome in and of themselves, a person practices controlling one of his or her most basic physical needs and desires, which is to eat.
Eastern Christian writers note over and over again how this basic failure to control eating is at the core of the story of the fall in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve ate when they should not have eaten, when they should have exercised self-control. Our Scriptural heritage and our physical makeup therefore both tell us that fasting reaches toward the very core of human life and experience. The Lenten practice of fasting becomes an occasion of spiritual training or athleticism.
Secondly, Orthodox Christians emphasize that fasting must be accompanied with good works, especially prayer and the giving of alms. To fast without doing these things is often referred to as “Satan’s Fast,” meaning a fast which only tends to make one more centered on oneself rather than on loving God and those around who need help. How easily we turn good things to self-centered ends! On the other hand, how powerful and beautiful is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, enabling us toward self-control, service of others and love to God.