Food and drink were intended for nourishment and enjoyment. Passion transforms the natural acts of eating and drinking into gluttony and dissipation.
The theme of repentance is heard so often during Great Lent because it expresses the essential conviction of our Christian faith that the human person is called by God to change. This involves above all a struggle (podvig) against what the Holy Fathers term the “passions”. These include our basic inclinations as well as thoughts and feelings which drive a wedge between ourselves and God, between ourselves and other persons. The passions are not sinful in and of themselves. They are the product of “fallen” or corrupted nature, and as such they incite to sin. Here are a few examples:
- Sexuality was intended for our participation through intimate conjugal union in God’s work of creating human persons in His image and likeness. Passion transforms sexuality into “sex,” meaning the self-centered drive to satisfy lust.
- An innate longing for God characterizes human nature as it was intended to be. Passion transforms that longing into idolatry, and insatiable desire to worship, serve, and manipulate gods of our own making.
- Passion turns righteous indignation into anger and condemnation.
- Passion turns the desire for participation in the glory of God into “vainglory,” the need to please others and receive their praise.
- Passion distorts a commitment to truth and justice into expressions of anger and a thirst for vengeance.
Our Church, however, not only takes seriously the consequences of the Fall, she offers an antidote: God’s saving plan for healing and transformation. Applying this antidote constitutes the “program” of Great Lent. Fr. Alexander Schmemann often used to say that Lent is simply the return to the natural order of things. We begin by acknowledging our need for thoroughgoing change. Then we take significant steps to effect such a change. Here are some of them:
- Reading the Holy Scriptures and spiritual teachings to first learn and then begin to obey the commandments of Christ.
- Praying, fasting, and giving alms that we may first see and then transcend our self-centeredness.
- Joining confession of sins and receiving the Eucharist to an ardent quest for mutual forgiveness and a genuine reconciliation and union with God and our fellow human beings.
What is the source of this transformation? The Grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
God alone can save us; we can’t save ourselves. Nevertheless, there is an essential “synergy” or cooperation between ourselves and God. The goal is holiness. Only as we ourselves grow in it can we influence other people, even social structures and institutions.
It is holiness as divine energy or power that brings about change in ourselves and the world around us.
Adapted from a talk given by Fr. John Breck, and reprinted from the St. John the Evangelist Orthodox Church website.