The Three Disciplines—Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
Our Lord Jesus Christ called for a thorough conversion of our heart and mind and a complete turning away from the old man (our fallen nature). The main act that begins this conversion is metanoia, which means “thorough change of mind.” This happens when we become aware that we have sinned and that we are in need of God’s forgiveness, and resolve, with His help, to submit to Him. Sometimes we see a synonymous use of two words: penance and confession. When going to Confession, a priest sometimes gives a penance, which is a spiritual discipline that can aid in our journey to God. We are given guidelines that can lead to spiritual growth and change of heart. These penances are often in the form of disciplines that are meant to help increase the time spent in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three disciplines help us deepen our relationship with Christ and aid in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We may be asked to recite Akathist hymns, in which we seek the aid of saints or the Holy Virgin, as we struggle to go deeper in our spiritual quest. The priest will give certain prayers as penance because the person needs a jump-start to enter into a complete prayer life. When this happens, hinged together as it is with absolution, the medicine becomes a joyful communion with the Most High God. We might be given extra periods of fasting, that in depriving ourselves of food, we are able to see deeper into our hearts, and with God’s help, be ridden of the dirt and grime that reside within us. Other times, we might be asked to perform acts of charity or increase our almsgiving as a way of moving beyond ourselves and focusing on the needs of others. Disciplines that focus on increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, along with immersing ourselves in the Holy Scriptures, help us in our continued quest to live a life in total submission to Christ. These three categories of discipline aid us in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and help us to live our life for Christ. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not ends in themselves but exercises that help in spiritual warfare against the demons who would bring us down. These disciplines are aids that help us in our attempt to repent and to have a thorough change of mind. And this repentance does not mean that we must feel sad but that we strive to put off all pride and selfishness, and replace the ego with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, meekness, and self-control.
With love in Christ, Abbot Tryphon
All-Merciful Saviour Monastery Vashon Island, Washington