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CrossFit as Asceticism

It has been a year now since I first stepped foot into Big Shoulders CrossFit. It was not of my own direction but simply because one evening I received a text message from my coach Ryan, asking if I was interested in checking out what the gym had to offer. 

I always had goals of reaching a certain level of fitness, but was never able to make a lot of progress by myself. When I finished grad-school in 2015 I weighed in at 6'2" and 149 lbs. In laymen's terms borderline malnourished, and I can assure you there was nothing wrong with my appetite. What was wrong with me is that I was not feeding myself properly, nutritionally or physically, and by consequence spiritually as well.

From December 2015 until June 2016 I recognized that I needed to make a change and started on a consistent work-out routine. This was successful for a time, I put on about 8 pounds, I was eating well, I was feeling good, but a problem arose.

After a few months it became too easy to justify skipping the gym. There was no accountability for my actions, this was all on me. Who cares if I choose to go home and go to bed, instead of exercise, nobody will know the difference...

Except me. But I was okay with that. I have been overly skinny my whole life, I put on a few pounds, I inched away from the malnourished cut off, I can stop now... Even though I was still 18 pounds away from the goal I set for myself. It is easy to tell yourself, "Some success is better than non, I can chalk it up to a job done good enough."

After the summer, and starting my new job at St. Demetrios I realized my body was reversing back into the unhealthy state it was in right after graduation. I tried to get back into the work-out routine I had established the previous year, but I found several obstacles that I was not able to overcome. First; I was frustrated with how much strength I had lost, and needed to basically start from square one. Second; I had to adjust from my local city gym to a mega suburban gym, and the culture clash of the two was very off-putting. The "mega gym" culture is almost designed to push away people who are uncomfortable with working out; such that the gym can profit from your membership in hopes that you do not return to utilize the facility.

It becomes lonely, impersonal, and at times very embarrassing. I stopped going after only about 6 weeks, even though I signed up for six months.

Enter February, I was laying in bed on my day off, watching Netflix most likely, and I out of nowhere I get a text from an unfamiliar number asking if I still wanted to reach my fitness goals. This ended up being my coach Ryan who worked at the CrossFit Box literally next to my Church. I was vaguely familiar with CrossFit, the only way that Ryan had my number was because I had previously looked into the gym. I clearly was not that serious at the time, because I had completely forgotten I had done that. It certainly seemed intimidating, but I knew that I needed some sort of kick in the butt.

My weekly routine had become as monotonous as: commute to work, run my programs, commute home, repeat. And it had been this way for nearly three months now, not only did I need to focus on my fitness again, I need to shake up my social routine.

So, on an abnormally warm sixty-five degree day in February, I left the church at lunch time and walked into the gym for my first one-on one with Ryan. Needless to say, I felt completely out of place. It was off hours, there were only a couple hanging around, one was back-squatting nearly 300 pounds, and the other was working on muscle-ups on the gymnastics rings, and I am standing there thinking..."I can do a (1) push-up..."

We ran through the warm-up, and learned some of the movements used in CrossFit programming, at the end of the session, my coach introduced me to my first work out. It was a 12 minute AMRAP (As many rounds as possible) 50 Squats, 40 sit-ups, 30 push-ups, and a 20-calorie row, after you finish one round you start over from the top.

My first reaction was, there is no way I am even going to make it through the push-ups, and in the middle of the work out it definitely seemed that way, Ryan made sure I never stopped moving for too long. For probably about ten and half of the twelve minute workout, the only thing going through my mind was, "Why am I doing this to my self?"

To my own surprise I finished my first round and then continued on to nearly half of the squats back from the top of the work-out. It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment, to look at the numbers and see an impossible mountain to climb, and then promptly prove myself wrong. I do in fact have the ability to reach my goals!

The clock buzzed at 12 minutes, and I fell to the ground in typical CrossFit fashion, desperately trying to regain my breath. Just as I felt I was nearly recovered I promptly vomited all over the bathroom. This was probably my body saying, "Why are you doing this to me?"

I have stuck with it, and I have loved almost every minute of it. As of this February I finally reached my goal set back in December 2015 to put on 26 pounds. A goal that I could not have reached with out the constant support of my fellow members at Big Shoulders, and the guidance and dedication of the coaches that are there.

Your fitness goals are certainly something that can be achieved alone, but being apart of the community like the one I have found at my Box is what really ensures that you meet your goals.

Where am I going with this...?

This past Sunday we began our journey towards the tomb and resurrection of Christ. The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee marks the beginning of the Triodion, the beginning of our preparation period into the 40 day journey towards Jerusalem and Christs tomb. We dedicate the better part of ten weeks all in preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom, to receive the King of all into our hearts to witness the very Resurrection of Christ. The Church has called us to "come and see" what kind of Salvation Christ has to offer us!

Although we are not called to a monastic lifestyle, which we commonly attribute asceticism with, during this time of year, we are called to adopt a more ascetic approach to our lives. We begin fasting, we increase the number of church services in the week, traditionally we receive confession. Even though we know what we are suppose to do as Orthodox Christians, this time of year, when we turn over the calendar and we look at how long we are suppose to abstain from meat and dairy, it becomes easy to say, "It's too hard, I'm just going to keep going to church like normal." We become complacent in our normal routine.

Great Lent is the arena, and if we do not prepare properly we will be devoured when we are faced with our most difficult spiritual struggles. Fasting is hard, getting to all of the church services is hard, praying is hard. And it is possible to do all of these things alone, but we do not have to.

We have an entire ecclesiastical structure so that we can prepare for our Lenten Journey together, as a community.

Last summer I missed 3 weeks at the gym, because I was at Summer Camp, incidentally I ended up receiving a message from the head coach asking why I have not been around in a while.

We do not have to approach Lent as individuals, make a plan, find some one at your church who will hold you accountable and vice-versa.

I found a community who comes together to make sure everyone reaches their fitness goals, just as a monastic community holds its occupants accountable for each other so that they may all reach salvation together. We can build our community at church to lift us up when we are struggling in our Lenten Journey.

Even the Myrrh Bearing Women did not approach the Empty Tomb alone, they went as a group. Neither should we attempt to approach the Empty Tomb alone on Pascha. This year let us push ourselves in our ascetic struggle during Great Lent, and achieve something we have never achieved before. As the Lenten Season draws to a close, we may feel weak and tired, but in reality we are stronger than ever before! Great Lent is not a punishment for us, but rather an opportunity to us to empty ourselves, just has Christ emptied himself for the sake of our sins, and in  return we have opened our hearts for him to dwell in us.

When we finally reach the tomb together on Holy Saturday, what do we find? Not the deceased body of Christ, but instead the proclamation of The Resurrection! Our hard work is paid off with the promise of salvation and a life with God in the Holy Kingdom


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