“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’”
When I served as a prison chaplain, the men that had become Orthodox (or were on that journey) wanted to begin using the Jesus Prayer with their prayer rope. I explained that for each knot, they should pray the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer would help them to learn how to pray without ceasing. With most of them, I would instruct them to begin by doing one rope (100 knot) in the morning and one rope at night. I always explained to them that they should not do any more or less for the time being.
After a few days, many of them said they could do many more every day. I would always respond that for now, they needed to only do one rope in the morning and one rope in the evening…no more, no less. In another week or so, some of them would proudly proclaim that they were now up to 5,000 or even 10,000 a day. Their zeal got the better of them.
Without exception, those who jumped ahead too quickly were soon doing zero Jesus Prayers. They burned out within a few weeks. “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Thankfully, most all of them learned from their mistake and were willing to be obedient to the one rope morning and night. With that foundation, they were able to increase their number over time and maintain it.
The fasting times within the Orthodox faith are so very similar for many people. We get excited and want to jump into the disciplines with great zeal. We set goals for ourselves that will burn us out if we haven’t grown into them. “I plan to read the Holy Scriptures for 4 hours each day!” “I plan to eat just a little cabbage each day and nothing more!” “I plan to pray all the Orthodox prayer services each day.”
These may sound like very noble and pious goals. But if you normally read the daily Bible readings which take 5 minutes, and if you have struggled to keep the Wednesday/Friday fasts let alone a 40 day fast, and if your prayer rule normally lasts 15 minutes…perhaps it is time to “sit down and count the cost, whether you have enough to complete it.”
It is also a good time to seek the guidance of your priest. He will help you get started with goals that you can attain and grow from. May it be blessed!!