Benefitting From Lent

Great Lent is a beautiful season in the Coptic Orthodox Church and an opportune time to work on our spiritual lives. Fortunately for us, the Church tells us exactly what steps to take in order for our relationship with God to grow and flourish. In every Lent liturgy, deacons chant the following: “Blessed are those who have mercy, who give to the poor and fast and pray, The Holy Spirit will fill their hearts, The Son will show them mercy on Judgment Day.” It could not be more clear that in order to mingle with our God more intimately, we must give to the poor, fast and pray. But what exactly do these things mean? How do these things bring us closer to God? And lastly, how are some practical ways we can implement these three into our busy college lives?

“Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matthew 5:42). The Church first tells us to give to the poor. Before even mentioning fasting and prayer, giving to the poor is emphasized. Through this deed, we must remember that Our Lord God and Savior himself was born into poverty, without even a place to lay his head. Remembering this fact, it is almost a no brainer that we must care for those who cannot provide for themselves. The poor and homeless are in dire circumstances and yet through them, God provides for us a way to show mercy and give alms. To give to the poor is to give to Christ himself. St. John Chrysostom remarks that “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” We must remember that every human being we encounter was created in the image of God, and to neglect the poor, especially during the Great Lent, is to neglect Christ himself. Amidst our busy lives in university, giving to the poor is perhaps one of the easiest of tasks. Whether it be walking past homeless people on the way to class, going on homeless runs in small groups or participating in OCCM community service events, the opportunity to help the poor is not hard to come across. Moreover, when it comes to giving, it does not necessarily have to be in the form of money, food or supplies – giving can come in the form of a smile, kind word or conversation. So let us give to the poor out of love during this Holy Fast, remembering that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

“And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:2). The second thing the church instructs us to do is to fast. Fasting in essence is weakening our body for the sake of strengthening our spirit. To fast is to abstain from indulging in the pleasures of the world by limiting the food that our bodies require. However, sometimes our weak and miserable souls often consider 55 days to be too long. To be intimidated by a long fast is to give God the impression that he deserves less, when in reality, our sacrifice of fasting cannot nearly amount to His sacrifice on the cross. We must remember all of Christ’s sacrifices for us, remembering that we are indebted to him forever. With this mindset, questioning or challenging a long period of fasting seems incomparable by far. As St. Augustine notes, “fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, [and] renders the heart contrite and humble.” Detaching ourselves from our worldly needs and lusts through fasting is an essential step to breaking a barrier between us and our Savior Jesus Christ. Practically speaking, there are many opportunities to fast on campus. With many vegan food places, as well as the abundance of food options on every block – there is no excuse not to fast. When making a plan for fasting, it is crucial that you consult with your Father of Confession in order to be best prepared. So let us fast with humility and a mindset of detachment during this Holy Fast, steadfastly remembering all of Christ’s sacrifices for us.

“Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:11). 


The third thing the church tells us to do is to pray. Prayer is talking to God directly, and it is mentioned last because through giving to the poor and fasting, our prayer is made complete! Prayer may seem like the Sunday school answer to getting closer to God, but there is often more to prayer than we think. Prayer is very special because we can talk directly to our Creator at any moment, without needing to even open our mouths. We are able to speak to our God who has felt every emotion that we miserable humans have experienced. Jesus Christ as a human has felt anger, sadness, loneliness, sorrow, stress and every emotion we can possibly feel. Why then do we not speak to our God more? When met with adversity, how many people do we consult with before we consult with our God, who can actually solve our problems? When in need of strength or wisdom, why do we turn to caffeine or professors when a strong and all knowing God is at our fingertips? It is clear that prayer is an essential part of spiritual growth; after all, how can you not talk to someone you love? St. Basil the Great notes that “in everything they [the apostles] did, they thought of God and lived in constant devotion to Him. This spiritual state was their unceasing prayer.” It is true that we are nowhere near the spiritual level of the apostles and we are by no means exempt from the necessity of prayer. There are many practical ways to pray through long, busy days on campus. Often reciting the Jesus prayer (“My Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”), praying hours of the agpeya in our free time or simply thanking God through the day is sufficient. God accepts our informal prayers just as much as our formal ones, and it is important to remember God when our lives get busy. So let us pray without ceasing during this Holy Fast, manifesting our love by speaking to our Heavenly Father.

Giving to the poor, fasting and prayer are all keys to our union with God. However keep in mind that these three come as a package and cannot be separated. Our compassion for the poor is made perfect through our fasting and prayer, so is each one is perfected by the others. Let us practice these three, as Christ promises that for those who do, “The Holy Spirit will fill their hearts, [and] The Son will show them mercy on Judgment Day