Today marks the beginning of the Dormition Fast. Annually, our Church becomes somber, as the Early Church must have grown somber when the Theotokos approached the end of her time here on Earth.
In addition to the tone fasting sets for the Dormition, we also fast because we are an ascetical Church. In a culture ruled by narcissism, the individual derives value not only from him or herself but more importantly from the way he or she is perceived by others. This is why our culture cares nothing for guilt, which is internal, but focuses a great deal on shame (which is external). We are taught to define ourselves by our desires, and more importantly the reactions our desires can cause in others. Asceticism destroys that narcissism. Through asceticism, we die to ourselves, and those who are dead and live in Christ, those who have forgone their own lives to be dead before they die and live in His life, are truly free.
The narcissist wants to form the world, the Church, and even God in his image. The ascetic strives to conform himself to God. Sometimes when we hear of ascetics, we think of the most extreme examples, holy men and women of God dwelling in the desert or on pillars (or both), abstaining from food, from water, from the company of others. But the Church has given us all an ascetical standard for our lives, and though all may not be called to the extremes of some of the saints, we must always ask ourselves who we live for. Is it for ourselves, or for Christ?
Asceticism is the antidote to narcissism, and the Dormition Fast, along with the other fasts throughout the year, reminds us that our lives are not our own.