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Finding Light in the Darkness of Good Friday
Awakening to the Resurrection with Easter Eyes
I realized with horror that my last email referenced “Black Friday” not just once, but twice when I meant to say Good Friday. My slip arose from the fact that Good Friday was traditionally observed with a “black fast”—meaning no food or water from midnight the night before until dinner time, or even Easter Vigil, some 48 hours later.
Yet many innocent onlookers have been perplexed by the term ‘Good Friday,’ asking, “What’s so good about it?” After all, the fast commemorates the day when Jesus was brutally tortured and put to death on a Cross after being betrayed and denied by his closest friends.
For many, this is a scandal. But for Christians, it is a challenge to see beyond the very worst that humanity is capable of, to the infinite mercy and eternal life that God bestows on those who trust Him amid life’s hardships. For God, death is no obstacle, and the Cross becomes an opportunity to reveal His full power over the forces of sin and destruction.
As we close out our 40-day challenge and prepare to break our Lenten observance with one last day of fasting, many of us are looking ahead to Easter Sunday with anticipation.
The Resurrection is a historical event that has already occurred, yet we still eagerly await the Risen Christ as a lived experience. While we wait, the Resurrection is brought to life each year with the arrival of Spring and the 50-day Easter season leading up to Pentecost.
One of my favorite theologians, James Alison, says that we can awake this Sunday and see the world with “Easter eyes.” This means we can experience the reality of the resurrection more thoroughly having gone through the trials and afflictions of Good Friday and the penitential period of Lent. Food will taste richer, flowers and blue skies will look brighter, and it will feel natural to loosen our grip on old resentments. A season of fasting mirrors the transformation we aim for in our souls. It's a transformation of our desires and identity away from death-based patterns towards a new life in Christ, who is light and in whom there is no darkness. We see the same pattern in the changing of the seasons, as Winter gives way to Spring and the world comes back to life after a period of dormancy.
Autophagy for the Soul
Much of the modern health craze is still rooted in a fear of death and decay. While we can and should attempt to increase our ‘aliveness’ through practices like prayer and fasting, we should never do these out of fear of dying. Instead, we should be motivated by a desire to live a more robust life of faith—what James Alison calls a "faith beyond resentment.”
If you’re struggling with hunger or feelings of weakness in the final days or hours of your fast, I encourage you to let God speak peace into your heart, as you descend into the minor abyss of your own fears and resentments. Try writing out those negative thoughts, and perhaps sharing them with a trusted friend or confessor. You’ll never know how much they might be weighing you down until you put them in this concrete form. You can think of this as a kind of “autophagy for the soul”—recycling the old junk that’s accumulated into raw material for spiritual transformation.
I recently learned from my Orthodox brother in Christ, Jacob, that they have a practice in the Eastern Church of forgiving each other in a reconciliation service at the beginning of Lent.
Christ calls his followers to repentance (metanoia), which means undergoing a 180° change of direction, turning away from the ways of death and embracing the ways of life. There is something special about the period around a fast that enables a supercharged, even supernatural kind of spiritual growth. I mean real conversion, beyond mere habit change and life hacks.
A full theology of the power of resurrected love is beyond the scope of this series, and since I don’t have a license to practice theology I’ll content myself to give some unsolicited advice on the best way to break an extended fast.
Breaking the Fast
When our bodies are in a fasted state, they slow down the production of digestive enzymes. This reduces the body's workload, allowing it to channel that energy into other processes. However, it takes some time to ramp up enzyme production again. Therefore, it may not be wise to eat a large meal right after fasting, or certain foods that are harder to digest.
If you’ve been abstaining from dairy and meat for all of Lent, you might be excused for joining your community in the Paschal feast that traditionally follows the Easter Vigil.
However, be aware that people often struggle with consuming raw cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy products, eggs, and alcohol. It is also recommended to avoid processed carbohydrates, which can cause a sudden and significant insulin spike.
Dr. Jason Fung, who helps obese and diabetic patients to cure their metabolic syndrome with long-term fasts, recommends including some cooked non-starchy vegetables with poultry or fish for your first meal.
To prepare your stomach for a meal, there are a few things you can do. First, add a tablespoon of psyllium husk (Metamucil) to a cup of water and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before drinking it. Second, drink some lemon water before eating to help trigger natural digestive enzymes. You can also order a digestive enzyme supplement to take before meals, whether you’ve been fasting or not.
Also, eating a small meal about 6 hours before your larger meal can also help prepare your stomach. To start, consider having a cucumber salad with parsley and a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. When it comes to meat, aim for a portion that is approximately the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. Fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables cooked in natural fat such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, or avocado oil. If you're still feeling hungry, finish off with a whole avocado.
Finally, if you’ve been fasting for more than three days, it would be wise to consult with an expert to make sure that you’re not at risk for “refeeding syndrome” – a rare phenomenon, but something to be aware of nonetheless.
What Comes After Easter?
Developing a fasting discipline can help you reach new heights of freedom that you may have never thought possible. Whether or not you have been following along with this challenge, I encourage you to find a comfortable rhythm of fasting. This could be as simple as a 12-hour daily eating window, or a weekly or twice-weekly OMAD fast.
I have found that twice-weekly OMAD fasting, with flexibility on the other days, suits me well.
Some of you may want to explore long-term fasting as a means of promoting healing and vitality. I’ve become partial to the idea of a seasonal, multi-day fast, and will be providing more content on this topic shortly, so please stay tuned.
My parting message is to emphasize that fasting is truly a joy once you become adapted to it. We can "love fasting" as much, if not more, than the feast itself, as St. Benedict challenges us to do.
Lastly, my prayer this Easter is that some of you will be able to see any difficulties you are going through with eyes opened wide by the resurrection. I hope you will see that whatever darkness you are facing, there is a spark of new life hidden within it.
I leave you with an extended quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian, who writes the following:
Let each one of us keep in mind the benefit of fasting… For this healer of our souls is effective, in the case of one to quieten the fevers and impulses of the flesh, in another to assuage bad temper, in yet another to drive away sleep, in another to stir up zeal, and in yet another to restore purity of mind and to set him free from evil thoughts. In one it will control his unbridled tongue and, as it were by a bit, restrain it by the fear of God and prevent it from uttering idle and corrupt words. In another it will invisibly guard his eyes and fix them on high instead of allowing them to roam hither and thither, and thus cause him to look on himself and teach him to be mindful of his own faults and shortcomings.
Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing. Fasting, aided by vigil, penetrates and softens hardness of heart. where once were the vapors of drunkenness it causes fountains of compunction to spring forth.
I beseech you, brethren, let each of us strive that this may happen in us! Once this happens we shall readily, with God’s help, cleave through the whole sea of passions and pass through the waves of the temptations inflicted by the cruel tyrant, and so come to anchor in the port of impassibility.
My brethren, it is not possible for these things to come about in one day or one week! They will take much time, labor, and pain, in accordance with each man’s attitude and willingness, according to the measure of faith and one’s contempt for the objects of sight and thought. In addition, it is also in accordance with the fervor of his ceaseless penitence and its constant working in the secret chamber of his heart that this is accomplished more quickly or more slowly by the gift and grace of God. But without fasting no one was ever able to achieve any of these virtues or any others, for fasting is the beginning and foundation of every spiritual activity.
Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, pub. Paulist Press. pp. 168-169
Stay the course, and have a blessed Easter.