Our family is gradually learning that living a Christ-following life in the Orthodox Church requires a significant change in lifestyle. There are daily rhythms, weekly rhythms as well as extended spiritual seasons that we observe.
For example, our family’s daily rhythm is being restructured around times of prayer, especially morning and evening prayers. When school was in session, Debbie was leading the kids in the morning prayers and usually every night I try to lead the kids in the evening prayers. These include crossing ourselves as well as performing the metania, a bow with the right hand grazing the floor followed by crossing oneself.
Also each week our family is learning to observe fasting with the Church every Wednesday and Friday. During these days, we refrain from any meat (including eggs), any dairy products, wine and olive oil. I didn’t realize how especially tough fasting on Fridays would be. Also, Orthodox Christians observe a total fast from all food and drink and practice silence and contemplation from Saturday night to Sunday morning in preparation to receive the Holy Eucharist. (Since we’re not Orthodox Christians yet and cannot receive the Eucharist, we’re not observing this total fast.)
The entire weekly rhythm in Orthodoxy centers around the Eucharist. At that moment in the Divine Liturgy, the bread and wine actually transfigure into the Body and Blood of Jesus. It’s a moment when heaven and earth absolutely and truly intersect. I like how Frederica Mathewes-Green describes it in her book, “On the Corner of East and Now”:
“In a few hours, heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshippers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, ‘high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple’ (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling ‘Holy’ to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity. If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.”
By receiving the very Body and Blood of Jesus, the Church, Christ’s Body, communes with Christ and takes his presence into itself and then into the world. So this moment is the climax of the Orthodox Christian’s week and therefore, the weekly rhythm of individual and corporate fasting, prayers and other spiritual disciplines sweep the Church up like a wave catches a surfer to the shore.
And there are seasonal rhythms in the Orthodox Church. We were amazed at the journey through Lent and Pascha. And beginning August 1, we enter another season of fasting in anticipation of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This fast lasts two weeks and will be our family’s first extended fast together. We’ve been gradually including our kids in the various fasts so far. We think they’re ready. So beginning on Friday, we will fast together — no meat and eggs, no dairy, no olive oil and no wine.
In many ways, these rhythms are like athletic training. They tone us and strengthen us by teaching us to die to ourselves through small things like food and by teaching us to commune with God through small things like morning and evening prayers. I love this about Orthodoxy. It’s in the small things that we actually grow into Christ. Spiritual formation into Christ’s likeness or theosis is accomplished not by staggering spiritual moments, but by faithfulness and obedience to Christ in daily life. And having daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms provide the framework for this work.