What are these drills?
Since the fasting period is a sacred spiritual, during which one aims
to develop spiritually, it is proper that one should place before him,
some spiritual drills to convert these spiritual desires into a
practical mode of living. So, what are these drills?
Spiritual drills vary from one person to another according to their
requirements. These drills may include things like resisting some weak
facets in the life of a fasting person, gaining certain virtues that
such a person lacks, or spiritual longings pervading his heart.
Thus, they differ in the same person in accordance with his needs.
A person’s needs will differ from time to time in accordance with his struggles on the one hand and his degree of development on the other hand.
What is important is set up spiritual drills so that the person who fasts may feel that he has before him a certain target against which he will examine himself and which he will pursues to accomplish clear result in addition to the general virtues of fasting that are of benefit to him.
What we are going to discuss now is by way of example.
Every person should set whatever exercises are appropriate to him in his fast provided that this is done, as much as possible, under the supervision of his Confession Father.
1. Drills pertaining to fasting:
The purpose of these drills is to pursue a sound and developing fast.
Some of these drills pertain to self-control.
They may include stopping oneself from eating certain kinds of food that one covets. This may mean a total stop throughout the fasting period, a partial stop during a limited period or on a certain day, a reduction of the quantity of the food, or abstinence from a certain item of food.
Self-control drills may include the length of abstinence, its conditions and self-development during such a period. Some people resort to a system of gradual progression even within one fast. Lent for example, covers eight weeks during which one may gradually advance in degree of his asceticism and abstention from food.
Self-control also includes eating in moderation before beginning of a fast and on feast days. Eating on these days should not be gluttonous and uncontrolled. Self-control also includes the element of hunger.
Drills may embrace virtues accompanying fasting.
In this way they include the spiritual aspects of fasting such as self-control in areas outside the scope of eating such as control of the body, abstention from bodily lusts and all sensuous luxuries, spiritual vigils and keeping away from luxuries.
There are also drills that pertain to what fasting including humiliation and penitence before God and gradual growth in asceticism.
2. Drills pertaining to repentance:
Since fasting is a period of repentance, and repentance drills are numerous, let me mention the following:
(a) Concentration on a point of weakness or a favourite sin:
Each person knows perfectly well which sin he easily falls into and which sin he repeatedly commits and repeatedly referred to in his confessions. Try to discard on of these sins while fasting. In this way, your fast indeed becomes sacred.
(b) Train yourself to quit a certain habit while fasting.
An example of this is a smoker who trains himself while fasting to quit smoking. Likewise he who is addicted to drinking coffee or tea and cannot rid himself of this habit. Likewise the person who is addicted by to watching television, wasting his time, discharging himself of his responsibilities.
The period of fasting is an opportunity for to all of them to quit their habits.
(c)Fasting could be a period of quitting a sin of anger or judgement of others.
Many people fall into this well-known sin. Drills may deal with eliminating a number of verbal sins that one may have become accustomed to saying. In fasting, he may train himself in elimination them one by one.
(d) How easy it is for man to condemn his sinful actions by using verses from the bible:
For instance, if he slips into the sin of anger, he reminds himself of the Bible verse: For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20). He should repeat this verse often every day especially in situations where anger wars upon him. He should rebuke himself saying: What benefit is my fast if I anger and do not do the will of God?
If he slips into any of the spoken sins, he puts the following words of the Bible before his eyes: Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. (Matt 12:36). He then says to himself in reproach: To what benefit is my fast in self-control but can not control my tongue saying to my brother: You fool thus deserving of hell fire? (Matt 5:22).
(e)Whenever you feel hungry and covet food, rebuke yourself:
Say to yourself: When you give up this sin, I shall allow you to eat, for the Bible says: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. (2 Thess 3:10), and you have not repented in a way befitting the fast or befitting a heart that is the residence of God.
Rebuke yourself, and say to it: What is the use of me shunning food if I have not yet given up the sin that separates me from God and that makes all my fast of no avail?
(f) Take your point of weakness and make it the topic of your prayers and the target of your efforts during your fast.
Concentrate fully to be careful and exacting and in resisting it.
Pour yourself before God, and say to Him: Save me, O Lord, from this sin. I admit my weakness in this particular case and will not conquer it without Your help. Have mercy, O Lord, on my weakness and helplessness. I do not want to conclude this fast before this sin is eradicated from my life.
Collect Bible verses that deal with this sin. Place them before you so that you may read them constantly.
Let fasting be a period of struggle with God so that he may grant you fortitude to conquer your sins. Train yourself while fasting in this kind of struggle, and say: Since, according to the Lord’s words, fasting exorcises the evil ones, may it exorcise the devils that wars within me with the sins with which I am weak. May it exorcise my sins as it exorcised devils when coupled with prayer.
3. Solitude and silence drills
The Bible states: Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly. (Joel 1:14). Place this verse before you and train yourself in solitude.
What is meant by solitude is being in seclusion with God, for there are those who isolate themselves at home doing in no spiritual work and concentrate on the radio, television, or magazines, or delve into conversation with others at home! Or they may indulge in sinful thoughts!
Seclusion should actually be indulgence in spiritual work that you do with your bedroom door closed between you and God.
You seclude yourself with the Bible, with the biographies of saints, with prostration, and with prayer.
If you have a spiritual agenda you will love seclusion.
If you benefit by your seclusion in a spiritual way, you will pursue it and feel that it is a blessing from God.
Therefore, set a schedule, devote yourself to implement it. Try to free yourself during this period from your friends and recreations, for God will become your true friend in this period, and train yourself to do without useless talk and idle chatter. You will then be able to seclude yourself and labour with God.
If you cannot be in seclusion throughout the fast, then try the following:
Use the drill of Some closed days.
This means that you specify certain days during which you do not leave home. You should organise your business, concerns and visits in such a way as to enable you to seclude yourself on these closed days. You may begin with one day a week, then two, then more.
However, what should you do if you cannot seclude yourself with God?
If you cannot close your doors during a fast, then at least secure your mouth against sinful words.
How easy it is for our conversation with people to hamper our discourse with God. As one of the Fathers said: He who talks much is empty from the inside and is void of neither prayer, contemplation, nor spiritual recitations or spiritual work inside the heart.
Training in seclusion and retreat helps you remain silent, and silence rids you of the spoken mistakes and gives you the opportunity for internal growth which is the work of the soul.
Nevertheless, what full seclusion is not possible, what then?
There is another drill, which is:
4. Avoiding lost time:
There are one who wastes time. To him, time is trivial, wasted without benefit. This is his primary sin. He thus, neither prays, reads, nor has any spiritual contemplation. Consequently, spiritual laxity, and perhaps slipping into sin may ensue.
Such a person may say to himself: While fasting, I want to train myself to resist wasting my time and to make use of it. How can this be done?
Salvage the time lost in talking with people, in meetings, visitations, in useless discussions and in reading magazines and newspapers and expressing your view on their contents. The time wasted in listening in to the radio, watching television, and doing other dispensable and recreational things, should be used to do spiritual work for God.
We all know how we waste time, and therefore can best determine how best to save it as an integral part of his life. Let this then train ourselves on this point while we fast, God willing.
This drill helps us another way in fasting of the tongue.
Saint Isaac said that to fast the tongue is better than to fast the mouth. If you realise this, you will train yourself to remain silent as long as you can. If you are unable to do so, then use the following three exercises:
(a)Do not initiate a conversation except when necessary.
Give short answers.
Occupy your mind with some spiritual thought that will help you keep silent.
5. Penitence and self-abasement drills:
Fasting days are ones of penitence and self-abasement before God. Therefore, train yourself in them until you humble yourself down to the level of dust and ashes. This can be accomplished through the following exercises:
(a)Shun the love of praise, boastful talk, and self praise.
(b)Use penitent words in your prayers. For instance, repeat the words of the Psalm: O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. (Ps 6:1).
(c)If you feel hungry or sit down to eat, say to yourself: I do not deserve this food because of my sins, because I have done so and so. I do not fast out of holiness but out of my internal humility. He who attains penitence feels no desire for food no matter how appetising it is when laid before him. If hunger presses on him, he says to himself: Repent first, then eat. If he still finds himself fallen into sin, he scolds himself, saying: Is this a fast acceptable to God? Does this sanctify my fast?
Days of fasting are a good opportunity for confession and self-reproach inside oneself before God and before your Father confessor. It is a period to be honest with oneself, holding yourself accountable and for rebuke and discipline. Remember not to justify yourself by finding excuses however trivial these may be.
Train yourself in labour of humility which are numerous and about which we shall write a book for you, God willing.
6. Memorisation drills:
You may also take the period of fasting as a time for biblical verse memorisation of Psalms, chapters from the Bible, and church melodies and hymns.
(a)Take for instance the memorisation of the 111 verses of the Sermon on Mount. If you memorise three verses a day, you will finish with them in 37 days.
(B) Memorise for example, the passages of the prayers of the Agbia hours that are 36 in number. If you memorise one passage a day you will complete them in 36 days.
(c)Memorise the 8 hourly absolutions, as well as the common prayers like the Introductory prayer, thanksgiving prayer, psalm 50 and concluding prayer, as well as some passages that are unique in the morning or the evening prayers.
Memorise as many of the hourly psalms as you can, beginning with the short ones. (e)Memorise selected Bible verses, preferably with their references. If you memorise three verses a day, you will have managed to memorise 150 new verses every year during Lent alone.
You can memorise verses that begin with the letters of the alphabet. You may also memorise verses that carry certain meanings, or refer to the Church Sacraments or to certain parts of the creed, or those relating to every virtue.
During a fast, you may memorise well known chapter of the Holy Bible such as (1 Cor 13), which is devoted to love; (Rom 12), which is a set of golden verses referring to several virtues; (1 Thess 5:12-23); (Eph 6:10-18) which are devoted to spiritual warfare and struggle (Phil 3:7-14), and the like from selected Bible chapters.
Use the verses you memorised for spiritual meditation and nourishment during your fast and use them for practical application.
Always recite the prayers and Psalms you have memorised in order to add them to your daily prayers.
In the same way, set yourself a schedule for the memorisation of Church melodies and hymns.
Setting up a spiritual schedule, will make you realise the importance and value of this time of fasting, and will therefore treasure for use to your benefit.
7. Prayer drills:
Make it your aim throughout the days of fasting to increase your prayer. Do not fall short in your Agbia or your normal prayers. We place before you, the following drills which your should try to perform to the best of your ability.
(1) Prayer drill while travelling:
While on your way, use the psalms, short or special prayers to occupy and lift up your heart to God. You may say:
Forgive me my God and do not take my sins into account. Have mercy on me, You the all merciful God. Save me, O Lord, from my weaknesses and strengthen me. Bless O Lord these sacred days, and bless these days of fasting. Allow me, O Lord, to spend a period of time with Your. Unite my heart to You, O Lord and fill me with love. Grant me your blessings, O Lord and assist me. Bestow upon me a blessed and a pure heart. Wash me, and make me whiter than snow. Purify me and save me O Lord. Protect me from all evil. Partake in this work with me. Let it be according to Your mercy and not according to my sins.
Train yourself in these and other similar types of prayers while on the road travelling. What is important is to keep your heart occupied always with God.
(2) Train yourself to pray in the midst of others:
Whether you are in a meeting, with friends or relations, or in the midst of people anywhere, lift up your heart in silence to God. In this way, you keep quiet while your heart is busy conversing with the Holy Spirit. For a silent person is a store of God’s secrets. As the Spiritual man says, Silence your tongue so that your heart may speak.
(3) Learn to pray while working:
Manual labour can easily be intermingled with prayer. It was thus with our forefathers, but may be different to the work performed by people living in the world. Even if your work requires mental concentration, try to lift up your heart to God from time to time with a very short prayer, saying: I long for You, O Lord. I do not want to stay for long away from You. Make me work be dedicated for You. Bless all that I do. I love You, O Lord from all my heart and I long for You. I praise Your Holy Name while I work. Your Name is sweet and blessed in the mouths of Your saints. I thank You, O Lord, from all my heart. Be with me. Collaborate with me in my work. Do not let work detach me from my fellowship with You. Nothing takes me away from loving Jesus Christ.
(4) Train yourself in contemplation during prayer:
Take for example, the prayers of the psalms and the hourly Agbia prayers as a mean for spiritual contemplation. When you pray in this way by reciting them, you do so profoundly. Do the same with the Mass prayers and the church hymns so that they may influence your heart when you hear them.
(5) Train yourself to remain in pray:
Train yourself to prolong your prayer whenever you find that prayer is about to come to an end, even for two minutes longer. It is important is that you do not hasten to conclude it and leave the presence of God. Resist and continue even for a very short time. Then take your permission from God and end your prayer.
(6) Practice purity and spirituality in prayer:
These drills are numerous. They include prayers performed with understanding, depth, warmth, humility, and penitence as well as without folly and distraction. If you are unable, then carry out the following drill.
(7) Train your self to pray for the sake of praying:
Saint Isaac was asked: How do we learn to pray? and he answered: By praying.
There is no doubt that prayer, like any spiritual activity, comes down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17). Seek it as did the disciples who said: Lord, teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1).
Say to Him: Allow me, O Lord, to pray, and the sweet seclusion to be with You. Give me the words that I should say and grant me the desire to pray. Grant me love with which to love You and which makes me pray. Grant me warmth in prayer, tears and submission. I do not know how to pray, O Lord, so teach me how. Grant me the appropriate feelings for prayer. Speak to me, O Lord, that I may speak with You.
(8) Train yourself to pray for others:
Do not only pray for yourself when you fast, but also pray for others. How many people have asked you to pray for them and you did not? Try to remember during your fast, those whom you feel are in need of prayer because of a problem, hardship, sickness or in need of it for their spiritual life. Pray for them as well as for those who have departed.
Pray for the Church, for the safety of the country, for the general welfare, for those who do not know God, for the heretics, the reckless, and the infidels, and for God’s Kingdom on earth.
It is a good opportunity that you pray for others, especially for the following:
(9) Pray for your offenders:
This is more of a divine order than instructions. Thus, the Lord says: Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt 5:44). It is an opportunity for you to train yourself in carrying out this commandment while you fast.
Pray that God may forgive your offenders and save them. Pray for their love to you and your love for them so that your heart may not change towards them because of their offence. Wish them well and pray to God to have Him spare you from condemning them in thought or before others.
It is natural that you pray for those whom you love but it is much more pleasant to pray for those who have offend you.
Say to Him: O Lord protect, rescue and forgive them. Grant me a blessing in their eyes. Make me to love them as much as I love those who are dear to me. Make my heart pure towards them.
(10) Other drills for prayer:
(a)Train yourself to pray early in the morning and to have God as the first one to talk, even for a short prayer every day saying to him, Thank You, O Lord and bless this day. And grant me a sacred day that I may please You.
Train yourself in repeating prayers of saints. Look for them and use them in praying. (The prayers of Prophets are found in the bible and in the Church book of the Joyous Holy Saturday). (c)Read spiritual books that bear spiritual warmth that help you pray in earnest.
Pray before doing any work, and before every visit and every meeting.
Other spiritual drills:
a. Train yourself in spiritual readings:
Religious readings are numerous and limitless. However, sacred fasting days, should not be used to read books that increase your knowledge as much as the ones of worship. Concentrate on spiritual books that inflame your heart with God’s love, stimulate you, leading you to prayer, and urge you to repent and lead a life of purity. Such should be your reading material to stimulate you in a spiritual way. As for other religious books, I do not forbid you to use them. However, they come second in a fast, while spiritual books and biographies of saints take priority.
b. Train yourself in church hymns and melodies:
This is especially so in hymns and melodies that have the spirit of prayer, in which you feel you are communicating with God, which you recite from the heart and the soul, and which touch your emotions and affect your heart.
Try to memorise the hymns that move you and repeat them often.
c. Train yourself also in prostration:
If you neglect it at other times, be careful to observe it while fasting.
Drills in certain virtues:
It is possible to benefit by profound spiritual feelings that you may experiences while fasting. This may allow a person to gain any virtue that his heart longs for. This may include tolerance, forbearance, calmness, meekness, being cautious, respect for others, generosity, honesty in work, righteousness, discipline, etc.
If you came out of every fast well versed in one virtue, it would be of great spiritual gain for you.