On Thursday, August 1, 2019, we begin the observance of the relatively brief Dormition Fast that prepares us for the celebration of the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15. And, as with every fast, we once again are presented with a challenge and a choice. In this instance, the Dormition Fast presents us with a choice between “convenience” and “commitment.” We can choose convenience because of the simple fact that to fast is decidedly inconvenient. It takes planning, vigilance, discipline, self denial, and an overall concerted effort. It is convenient to allow life to flow on at its usual summer rhythm, which includes searching for that comfort level of least resistance. To break our established patterns of living is always difficult—something we would only contemplate with reluctance. So, one choice is to do nothing different during the Dormition Fast—or perhaps just doing something minimal, as a kind of token recognition of our life in the Church. Such a choice may not yield in terms of further growth in our life “in Christ.” It may, rather, mean a missed opportunity.
Yet, the choice remains to embrace the Dormition Fast, a choice that is decidedly “counter-cultural” and one that manifests a conscious commitment to an Orthodox Christian “way of life.” Such a commitment signifies that we are looking beyond what is convenient toward what is meaningful. It would be a choice in which we recognize our weaknesses, and our need precisely for the planning, vigilance, discipline, self denial and overall concerted effort that distinguishes the seeker of the “mind of Christ” which we have as a gift within the life of the Church. That is a difficult choice to make, and one that is perhaps particularly difficult within the life of a family with children who are often resistant to any changes. However, such a difficult choice has its “rewards,” and such a commitment will bear fruit in our families and in our parishes. (If embraced legalistically and judgmentally, however, we will lose our access to the potential fruitfulness of the fast and only succeed in creating a miserable atmosphere in our homes.) It is a choice that is determined to seize a good opportunity as at least a potential tool that leads to spiritual growth.
Combining the “convenient” with our “commitment” within our contemporary social and cultural life is, to some degree, an option. We often don’t allow the Church to “get in the way” of our plans and goals, and that may be hard to avoid in the circumstances and conditions of our present “way of life.” It is hard to prevail in the never-ending “battle of the calendars.” The surrounding social and cultural milieu no longer supports our commitment to Christ and the Church. In fact, it is usually quite indifferent and it may even be hostile toward such a commitment. Though we may hesitate to admit it, we find it very challenging not to conform to the world around us. But it is never impossible to choose our commitment to our Orthodox Christian way of life over what is merely convenient – or simply desired. That may just be one of those “daily crosses” that the Lord spoke of – though it may be a stretch to call that a “cross.” This also entails choices, and we have to assess these choices with honesty as we look at all the factors that make up our lives. In short, it is very difficult – but profoundly rewarding – to practice our Orthodox Christian Faith today!
The heart of a sincere Orthodox Christian desires to choose the hard path of commitment over the easy (and rather boring?) path of convenience. During the Dormition Fast, we now have the God-given opportunity to escape the summer doldrums that drain our spiritual energy. With prayer, almsgiving and fasting, we can renew our tired bodies and souls. We can lift up our “drooping hands” in an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving. The Dormition of the Theotokos has often been called “Pascha in the summer.” It celebrates the victory of life over death—or of death as a translation into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Dormition Fast is our spiritually vigilant preparation leading up to that glorious celebration honoring the Mother of God and contemplate our own entrance into the Kingdom of God. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold; now is the day of salvation!” [2 Corinthians 6:2].