On 22 February 2015, the Orthodox Church is on the Sunday of Adam’s Expulsion from the Paradise (beginning of the Lent with neither cheese). The evangelical pericope of Saint Matthew 6:14-21 was read in all Orthodox Churches.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
His Beatitude delivered a sermon in the chapel of the Patriarchal Residence dedicated to Saint Gregory the Enlightener, in which he said:
“The Gospel of the Adam’s Expulsion from Paradise or Beginning of the Lent with no cheese is a light for our soul during the period of the Lent. This Sunday has a great importance, because next day, Monday, a period of inner spiritual climbing to Resurrection begins: the Lent of the Holy Easter.
The forgiveness of “Adam’s Expulsion from Paradise” has deep meaning, although its words are simple and few. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, shows us that forgiveness is the good beginning of the Lent period. We forgive one another’s trespassing so that God should also forgive our trespassing. We forgive one another’s trespassing to be in peace and in communion with all people and like the Merciful Forgiving God. Thus, the Gospel teaches us that man’s relationship with God depends on his relations with his fellow beings and that man cannot come close to God neglecting his neighbour. There is a holy relationship between God and every human being, because every human is created in the image of the Merciful God focused on humankind. The way and extend to which man shows love to his fellow beings contributes a lot to the construction, cultivation and deepening of his communion relationship with God, the Creator of the heaven and earth and lover of humans. Nobody can begin the Lent, as spiritual fight for getting rid of sins and enlightening the soul, without forgiveness, because while forgiving other people the inner lowliness and freedom of the man willing to live the merciful love of God is cultivated. This is why this Sunday, at the Vesper service, we ask everybody to forgive our trespassing and we forgive all the other ones’ trespassing. The forgiveness of the neighbour’s trespassing often implies both the crucifixion of one’s own selfishness and the openness to Resurrection, to a new state of man’s communion with God and with his fellow beings. When forgiving one’s trespassing we admit the fact the respective person should not be reduced to a bad deed committed at a certain time when he or she upset somebody else, because the same person can do a lot of good deeds too.
As for fasting, the Gospel shows us that we should not be in state of sadness, but of joy:„When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Matthew 6:16-18)
That is because we do not fast to be seen or praised by humans, but to be closer to God. Thus, fasting is devotion or self offering brought to God as gratitude for the gift of life and as desire to deify our life (cf. Romans 12:1). Fasting is based on the devotion and love for God. We fast because we love God better than His material gifts which we consume. We entrust ourselves to Him, because He is the source of our life. The man’s life in the body is based on the gifts of God created for the human: air, water, light and fruits of the earth, while the life of the soul is nourished by the merciful devoted love of God that it feels through prayer and through the Holy Sacraments of the Church.
Jesus, our Lord, says: “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:18) namely He mysteriously sees the faithful man who fasts and prays, who loves God-the-Giver, more than His gifts. Thus, the Lent is a spiritual state of sacrifice or offering of the fasting one, a state freely cultivated according to one’s abilities. Fasting is also the sign of the desire of the faithful man to rid of the greed for temporary material things in order to be united through more intense prayer with the eternal unlimited God, the Source of eternal life and joy. In other words, fasting supports the prayer of the faithful man who turns his relationship with God into the centre, light and food of his soul. Thus, whoever fasts without praying does not gather spiritual light in his/her soul, but remains at the level of biological and psychological exercise hygienically or aesthetically motivated. In fact, fasting is not only abstention from food of animal origin, but also restraint from any sort of material greed and from any sin of selfish nature: thought, word or deed with no love for God and for one’s neighbour.