From Khouria Frederica:
These are the "big three" in the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus says, "when you pray...", "when you fast...", "when you give alms...", and so clearly expects that we will do these things. I am so grateful to be at home in Orthodoxy, where I don't have to figure out for myself what these instructions mean and to what extent they're to be done. I just join in the community.
You must pray, and not just when you are in church. The Didache (a Christian text written about the same time as the Gospels) says that you should say the Our Father three times a day. Do that, at least. I found that my spiritual life really took off when I began to observe several brief prayer times in the day, rather than just one "devotional time" alone.
And sometime long ago I heard it suggested that a good time to have that devotional time is in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions and you don't feel rushed. I have been getting up to pray since I was pregnant with Megan, over 31 years. It is wonderful. (I go back to bed again afterwards! When I was interviewed for a Christianity Today video and mentioned this, they had the idea that I got up at 3:00 am to pray and just *stayed up*).
I sprinkle the other elements of my prayer regimen around the day. At the midnight rising I say the midnight / morning prayers, the Nicene Creed, Psalm 50, and 100 Jesus Prayers. In the morning, I pray in our icon corner, and do my intercessory lists and read the synaxarion. At sunset 3 days a week I'm at vespers, and the other days I am trying to form the habit of Trisagion prayers and the church prayer list. At bedtime, I say the evening prayers and try to go to sleep while praying in depth for someone; I have a 300-knot prayer rope, and do 100 each for 3 different people, if I last that long without falling asleep. My spiritual father, Fr George Calciu, had told me to spend a half hour daily "thinking good things about someone" and I have never found a way to implement that; this is the latest attempt.
"Acts of mercy" includes the tithe (10% of gross income to the church), almsgiving (some other amount to charities and the poor), and in general showing kindness. Charity is the Latin word caritas, love; in Greek it's agape. Love is the test of whether your other spiritual disciplines are working. If your prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy are being done "right", you will find that you feel more love toward others.
"Fasting" is the one I feel like I still don't get. I can do it--as long as I know what the "rules" are, I can meet them. I don't cheat on the fast (but with my hypoglycemia the dietician said I should take some milk and yogurt daily, and I don't fast strictly when I travel). But I sure don't feel like I get any benefit from fasting. It's like any other chore--you do it, and then it's over. I have the impression that most other people get something from it--a sense of self-mastery or victory perhaps. For me, its just trudging along. So I sure can't teach anyone else about fasting, because I don't really understand it myself. But I trust the Church, which is wiser than I am, so I do it.
The Forty Maxims
- 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
- 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
- 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
- 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
- 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
- 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
- 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
- 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
- 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
- 10. Be faithful in little things.
- 11. Do your work, then forget it.
- 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
- 13. Face reality.
- 14. Be grateful.
- 15. Be cheerful.
- 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
- 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
- 18. Listen when people talk to you.
- 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
- 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
- 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
- 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
- 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
- 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
- 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
- 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
- 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
- 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
- 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
- 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
- 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
- 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
- 33. Be strict with yourself.
- 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
- 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
- 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
- 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
- 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
- 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
- 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.