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PRAYER & FASTING
PRAYER

Jesus showed us how he prayed and how his daily life was bound to prayer―when his mission from God is revealed; before he calls the Apostles; when he went to the desert to pray; when he gave blessings over meals, as at the multiplication of the loaves; when he is transfigured on the mountain; when he heals the deaf-mute; when he raises Lazarus; when he teaches his Apostles to pray; and when he blesses the children.

We know that he joined in public prayers when he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and when he prayed in the temple which he called the house of prayer.

He also prayed in private. The Gospels tell us, he rose early in the morning to pray and that he spent his night in prayer, ‘remaining until the fourth watch’. He also sang the psalms with his Apostles.

We also know that he prayed towards the end of his life―at the Last Supper, during his agony in the garden, and on the cross. 
‘During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.’ Hebrews 5:7 
As Jesus prayed, he also asks us to pray. He often said, ‘pray’, ‘ask’, ‘seek’, ‘in my name’. He gave us the Lord’s Prayer to teach us how to pray. The Apostles gave us many prayers, especially of praise and thanksgiving. Prayer expresses the spirit of the Church. Praying together, as a community has a special dignity as Jesus said: ‘Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them’ (Matthew 18:20). 

In our Melkite Church, it is significant that we commence the Divine Liturgy with a prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” In prayer we do not start with repentance or ask God for something, but we begin with thanks. 

The same, in our, private prayers, after the opening invocation “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” we continue with words of thanksgiving “Glory to You, O God, glory to You.” 

Jesus told us ‘About the need to pray continually and never lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). The Catholic Church has faithfully observed this by celebrating the Eucharist but especially so through the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office. 

Our Melkite Church particularly honours the Liturgy of the Hours. We begin with Vespers (Evening prayer), we follow the old Hebrew understanding of time―the day does not start at midnight or dawn but in the evening―in accordance with the account of Creation, “and there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5). 

The other Divine Offices are Compline (Final prayer, before going to bed), Mesonyktikon, Orthros (Morning prayer), and the Little hours―First hour (6:00am), Third hour (9:00am), Sixth hour (midday) and Ninth hour (3:00pm).

The Liturgy of the Hours offers faith, hope, love, devotion, and a spirit of sacrifice.

Another significant Melkite personal prayer is the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." As Melkites we believe that the power of God is present in the name of Jesus. The Jesus Prayer has been an integral tradition of personal prayer for Eastern Christians for centuries.

For many there comes a time when the Jesus Prayer, enters the heart, so that it is no longer recited by effort, but recites itself spontaneously.


FASTING

Why do we fast?" first, in honour of the example set by Jesus. Fasting was used by Jesus during the time of his spiritual struggle, after his Baptism in the Jordan River, he withdrew to the desert where he fasted for 40 days. During this time, he considered his call to public ministry, the bringing together of his Apostles, thereby initiating his journey to Jerusalem and the inevitability of his arrest, passion, death, and resurrection.

Second, it is part of our Melkite tradition. This tradition is the source of our faith which includes the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Mysteries, the Creed and Councils, the teachings of the Fathers. Our traditions continue the community of the faithful formed by Jesus. If we respect our faith and our traditions then, we must include the practice of fasting.
 
Fasting, for Melkites or indeed for all Christians, is a part of our spiritual life. We fast to gain self-control, simplify our lifestyle and to identify with the poor and hungry all over the world. It is also an opportunity to express our solidarity and communion with Christians all over the world.

For Melkites and the Eastern Churches, our principal fasting days are every Wednesday in remembrance of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and every Friday to remember Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. 

These remembrances make every week a little Holy Week, with every Sunday as a little Easter on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by joining in the Divine Liturgy. 

The other four main fast periods in our ecclesiastical year are:
  1. THE GREAT FAST (LENT) ―beginning on a Monday seven weeks before Easter.
     
  2. FAST OF THE APOSTLES ―varying in length from 1 to 6 weeks; it begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on 28 June―the eve of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
     
  3. FAST OF THE REPOSE OF THE VIRGIN MARY ―1 to 14 August.
     
  4. CHRISTMAS FAST ―lasting 40 days, from 15 November to 24 December.

Fasting also partners with prayer, almsgiving and confession, preparing our body, mind, and soul, for an upcoming feast. For this reason, during fasting periods, no marriages  take place.

Fasting for Melkites and all Eastern Christians means no consumption of solid food from midnight until noon. On most days during the Great Fast and Holy Week, not only is meat forbidden, but also fish and all animal products―lard, eggs, butter, milk, cheese―together with wine and oil.

In practice, however, many Melkites (and Eastern and Western Christians)—particularly in the diaspora—find that modern life no longer makes it practical to precisely follow the traditional rules, and so dispensations are given. Nonetheless the Great Fast—especially the first week of Lent and Holy Week—remains, a devout time for Melkites.

If a person has health issues, or responsibilities that cannot be fulfilled because of fasting, then it is perfectly permissible not to fast.
 
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