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by St. John Chrysoston
(The following selected passages are from St John Chrysostom’s final homily on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans).
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 16:24)
See how we should begin and end everything? For with this St Paul laid the foundation of his Epistle, and with this he puts on the roof, at once praying for the mother of all good things for the Romans, and calling the whole of his loving-kindness to their mind. For this is the best proof of a generous teacher, to benefit his learners not by word only, but likewise by prayer, which is why it has been said,
“Let us give ourselves continually to prayers, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Who is there then to pray over us, since Paul has departed?
Those who are the imitators of Paul. Only let us show ourselves worthy of such intercession, that it may not be that we hear Paul’s voice here only, but that hereafter, when we are departed, we may be counted worthy to see that great wrestler of Christ. Or rather, if we hear him here, we shall certainly see him hereafter, if not as standing near him, yet see him we certainly shall, glistening near the Throne of the King.
Where the Cherubim sing the glory, where the Seraphim are flying, there shall we see Paul, with Peter, and as a chief and leader of the choir of the Saints, and shall enjoy his generous love. For if when here he loved men so, that when he had the choice of departing and being with Christ, he chose to be here, much more will he there display a warmer affection.
I love Rome for this, although indeed one has other reasons for praising it, both for its greatness, and its antiquity, and its beauty, and its populousness, and for its power, and its wealth, and for its successes in war. But I let all this pass, and esteem it blessed on this account, that both in his lifetime Paul wrote to the Romans, and loved them so, and talked with them while he was with us, and brought his life to a close there. Wherefore the city is more notable for this reason, than for all other reasons combined. And as a body great and strong, it has as two glistening eyes the bodies of these Saints.
Not so bright is the heaven, when the sun sends forth his rays, as is the city of Rome, sending out these two lights into all parts of the world. From there will Paul be caught up to the heavens, and from there will Peter. Just imagine, and shudder at the thought of what a sight Rome will see, when Paul arises suddenly from the ground, together with Peter, and is lifted up to meet the Lord (1 Thess 4:17). What a rose will Rome send up to Christ! (Isaiah 35:1) What two crowns will the city have about it! What golden chains will she be girded with! What fountains possess!
Therefore I admire the city, not for the much gold, not for the columns, not for the other display there, but for these pillars of the Church (1 Cor 15:38).
Would that it were now given me to throw myself round the body of Paul, and be riveted to the tomb, and to see the dust of that body that filled up that which was lacking after Christ (Col 1:24), that bore the marks of Christ (Gal 6:17), that sowed the Gospel everywhere – yes, the dust of that body in which he ran to and fro everywhere! The dust of that body through which Christ spoke, and the Light shone forth more brilliant than any lightning, and the voice spoke out, more awful than any thunder to the devils! Through which he uttered that blessed voice, saying,
“I could wish that myself were accursed, for my brethren” (Rom 9:3),
through which he spoke before kings, and was not ashamed! (Ps 119:46), through which we come to know not only Paul but also Paul’s Master! Not so awful to us is the thunder, as was that voice to the demons! For if they shuddered at his clothes (Acts 19:12), much more did they at his voice.
This led them away captive, this cleansed out the world, this put a stop to diseases, cast out vice, lifted the truth on high, had Christ riding upon it, and everywhere went about with Him; and what the Cherubim were, this was Paul’s voice, for as He was seated upon those Powers, so was He upon Paul’s tongue. For it had become worthy of receiving Christ, by speaking those things only which were acceptable to Christ, and flying as the Seraphim to height unspeakable! For what is more lofty than that voice which says,
“For I am persuaded that neither Angels, nor Principalities, nor Powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus”? (Rom 8:38-39)
…This is the mouth, the dust of which I so desire to see, through which Christ spoke the great and secret things, and greater than in His own person, …through which the Spirit gave those wondrous sayings to the world! For what good thing did not that mouth effect? It drove out devils, it loosed sins it, it muzzled tyrants, stopped philosophers’ mouths, brought the world over to God, persuaded savages to learn wisdom, altered the whole order of the earth.
…Nor is it that mouth only, but the heart’s dust I also long to see, which a man would not do wrong to call the heart of the world, and a fountain of countless blessings… For the spirit of life was furnished out of it all, and was distributed through the members of Christ, not as being sent forth by arteries, but by a free choice of good deeds. This heart was so large, as to take in entire cities, and peoples, and nations.
“For my heart,” he says, “is enlarged” (2 Cor 6:11).
Yet the love for others that enlarged his heart was at times a source of pain and anguish for it!
For he says,
“I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Cor 2:4).
I long to see, even after its dissolution, that heart which burned for each person lost, …which saw God,
(for “the pure in heart,” says the Lord himself, “shall see God”) (Mt 5:8);
which became a Sacrifice,
(for “a contrite heart is a sacrifice to God”) (Ps 51:17);
which was loftier than the heavens, which was wider than the world, which was brighter than the sun’s beam, which was warmer than fire, which was stronger than adamant, which sent forth rivers,
(for Scripture says that “rivers of living water shall flow out of the believer’s belly”) (John 7:38);
in which a fountain sprang up, watering not the face of the earth but the souls of men; from which fountains of tears poured forth day and night. His heart lived the new life, not this life which we now live, for he says,
“I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” Gal 2:20);
so Paul’s heart was Christ’s heart, and a tablet of the Holy Spirit, and a book of grace.
…I long to see the dust of those hands that were in chains: those hand through which the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon others; through which the divine writings were written.
…I long to see the dust of those eyes which were blinded by glory, which recovered their sight again for the salvation of the world; which even in the body were counted worthy to see Christ, … which saw the things which are not seen, which saw not sleep, which were watchful at midnight.
I long to see as well the dust of those feet, which ran through the world and were not weary; which were bound in the stocks when the prison shook, which went through parts habitable or uninhabited, which walked on so many journeys.
But why speak of individual parts? I long to see the tomb where the armor of righteousness is laid up, the armor of light, the limbs which… were crucified to the world, which were Christ’s members, which were clothed in Christ, a temple of the Spirit, a holy building, bound in the Spirit, riveted to the fear of God, which had the marks of Christ. This body is a wall to that City [of Rome] which is safer than all its towers, and than thousands of battlements.
And with his body is Peter’s own. For he honored Peter while alive, and went up [to Jerusalem] to see him, (Gal 1:18) and therefore even when departed this life, grace deigned to give them both the resting place.
Let us then, taking all this to heart, stand nobly; for Paul was a man, partaking of the same nature with us, and having everything else in common with us. But because he showed such great love toward Christ, he went up above the Heavens, and stood with the Angels. And so if we too would rouse ourselves up a little, and kindle in ourselves that fire, we shall be able to emulate that holy man. For were this impossible, he himself would never have said,
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Let us then not only admire him, or be struck with him, but imitate him, that we too, when we depart from here, may be counted worthy to see him, and to share the unutterable glory unutterable, which God grant that we may all attain to by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom, and with Whom, be glory to the Father, with the Holy Ghost, now and evermore. Amen.
Taken from: The Preachers Institute – The Orthodox Christian Homiletics Resource.
And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt: 8:29)
Taken from “To serve Christ means suffering”
Because the demon is a fallen angel, it is very difficult to be overcome by means of our intelligence and even by our (weak) faith and repentance. A demon possesses “intelligence” over us and greater power (to deceive) as it understands and sees things more clearly than us.
Prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have received from our Savior Jesus Christ, a weapon which the devil flees from. The prayer of St Basil (the Great) was so powerful that when the saint began to pray, all demons fled. God granted St. Basil this extraordinary power which, He can also entrust to us – ordinary believers. Strive towards a deeper prayer, perhaps not one that would move “mountains”, but at least one that will clean us from sins and keep demons away. The way of fasting is also the way of purifying the flesh making it more transparent, for a gluttonous body is impenetrable to the (Holy) Spirit. The Spirit of God does not abide in a satisfied (fatty) flesh. For the fast that thins the flesh will make it hungry for the Word of God and, we’ll better understand His commandments and receive power to overcome the devil. However, the devil is not (always) defeated by everyone.
I have my own experience with this. Some years ago I had encountered a young (American) man possessed by an evil spirit. He was not acting evil; meaning by throwing himself down or by other frightful acts, but he had a total distrust in people. He feared God and the church but he was in much distress. When I was reading the prayers (exorcisms) of St. Basil over him, he was seized by a great tremor (fear). Perhaps – in those moments – his thoughts were in so much distress that he was responding by such inhuman/weird sounds. The demon (inside him) never attacked me; the man didn’t try to hit me or to escape from under the Epitrachelion. But he passed through these “states” (crises) which were from the demon that dwelt in him, and until he opened his soul to confession, he was not freed. When he falls again in temptation, he returns to me, and I pray over him these prayers (of St Basil). If the devil takes possession over his heart, he manifests in the (weird) way I’d mentioned above, but if not, then he’s only overcome by evil thoughts.
With time, the prayers began to work, but many temptations also aroused: he fights all sorts of images, distrustful thoughts that God had no power over him and that the prayers I read have not the same power as those of St Basil, al sorts of doubts to further distance him from the influence of prayer. But if you have a powerful prayer and have also fasted, know that the devil flees.
Our Lord Jesus Christ works in those who believe and received God’s grace through the sacrament of the priesthood, regardless of their virtues or sinfulness. Some are attracted to the intellect of the priest, others by the power of his prayers, while others by his counsel. There is always something that draws you to the priest and through this God grants him power. This is the Grace that was given to him by the “laying of hands” by which he can “bound all that can be bound on earth and absolve all that can be absolved” according to the Gospel. Amen.
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain on “Common prayers”
Today unfortunately, the European courtesy has come in and they try to show themselves as being nice. They wish to show superiority and finally they end up worshipping the two horned devil. “One religion, they tell you, should exist” and they level out everything. Some also come to me and tell me “All of us who believe in Christ should create one religion”. “Now it is as if you are telling me, I told them, about gold and copper, so many carats gold and that much copper, that was separated, to gather them and make them one again. Is it correct to mix them again? Ask a jeweler. Is it proper to mix trash with gold? So much struggle was waged to distil the dogma”. The Holy Fathers must have known something for prohibiting the relationships with the heretics. Today they say: “we should pray together not only with a heretics but also with the Buddhist and with the fire worshipper and the demon worshipper.
Indeed see: ” The World \”Council\” of Churches “
The Orthodox must also be present in common prayers and in their conferences. It is a presence”. What presence? They resolve everything with logic and justify the unjustifiable. The European mind believes that also the spiritual matters can also come into the Common Market. Some of the Orthodox who are shallow and wish to make a promotion, “a mission”, they arrange conferences with the heterodox to cause a sensation, believing this way that they promote Orthodoxy, by becoming so to speak “Hungarian goulash” with the false believers. Then the super-zealots take hold of the other end; they also blaspheme against the Mysteries of the New-Calendarists etc and deeply scandalize the souls who have piety and Orthodox sensitivity. On the other hand, the heterodox come to conferences, act like teachers, take whatever good spiritual thing they find from the Orthodox, they process it, they give it their own colour and mark and they present it as a prototype. And the strange contemporary world becomes touched by such strange things and is spiritually destroyed. The Lord though at the appropriate time will present the Marks, the Eugenikos and the Gregorys Palamas who will assemble all our deeply scandalized brothers, to confess the Orthodox faith and strengthen the traditions of the Church and give great joy to our Mother, the Church”.
(Elder Paisios in: “With anguish and love for the contemporary man”)
Groundless and dangerous are the theological dialogues
Letter by: Mr. Paul Savvidis, Theologian
To the obvious and unrepentant ones, apart from the unnecessary and foolish continuous theological and ecclesiastic dialogues, a clear argument is made of the Papist and Orthodox views below and in fact manifested, the bare faced effort to impose the papist falsehoods.
I believe that the whole process starts not from one simple false theological ecclesiastic basis but from a groundless rationale of an ecclesiastic nature. It is an undeniable truth that the papist theologians never begin the theological dealings with sincere intentions for a complete agreement of compliance on the pure, indissoluble, inseparable and non negotiable positions of the mutual faith of the first eight centuries, of the seven ecumenical Synods until the unlucky day of the 20th July 1054.
All the subsequent convulsive actions of the papists aim at the creation or rather the duel to impress that they wish and are interested in the “union” which they themselves infringed upon and did everything towards the non-union since the omnipotence of a worldly and sole leader ensured fully the essentials for life to the obedient- ‘ferro iniqe” always to the disadvantage of the Orthodox people. The unpleasant historical reference to early and contemporary events cry aloud about the word of truth.
We now come to the essence of our topic. Our holy bishops, the presbyters, theologians and all those who take part- to whom were sent reasonable questions on past roaring improprieties- they know very well, or even faintly, that the Church comes together and is present during the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. And in return, the Divine Eucharist accordingly unites her members to her Lifegiving Head, Lord Jesus Christ in such a way that to each of us the mystery of the Church is realized, that which Saint Chrysostom so characteristically notes, “We and Christ are one”. Heading this Eucharistic Congregation “of the immortals”, of the people of God, the head of the local Church, is the Bishop (where there is a Bishop, there is the Church) according to the Godbearing and apostolic Father Ignatios, but in his place also the Presbyter, namely the Priest.
The question that is directed to all those involved in the theological dialogue, who willingly or unwillingly missed the mark but who also co-traded with improper papist positions (Balamand agreement, Ravenna etc) can they assure us in an Orthodox and patristic way that the same Mystery of the Divine Eucharist exists and is officiated in Papism and is wholly valid? Even if we accept with impunity the answer YES, then naively and a lot more fruitlessly we “run and fail” to convince the Orthodox and the heterodox to unite since we are exactly of the same Holy Chalice which is also the sign of Union. To what purpose all this continuous theological and ecclesiastic upheaval of so many centuries? It is finally time to hasten with “jubilant feet and burning heart” to exchange the most desired embrace of love! Proper their priesthood, therefore proper also their mysteries…..
Here however we arrived at the Lydian rock of the problem and of our intense Orthodox puzzlement. We the Orthodox, clerics and lay people, believe, confess and declare in all directions “Urbi et Orbi” the ageless words of Saint Cyprianos “outside the Church, there is no salvation”! For in the Church belong the mysteries, the action of the divine Grace, the asceticism and theosis.
But oh nave papists since you do not have a church; you do not have priesthood or valid mysteries (since for you the divine Eucharist is a carrier ……. of germs and you do not offer it to your faithful!) towards what purpose all your eagerness for conferences, dialogues and sensational battles? Is it not enough that you have the visible representative (Vicar) of Christ, in the monstrosity – the Nation of the Vatican?!
Is it not a least indication of lack of fear of God and impudence to maintain that you are a “Church” and at the same time refer to us, the Orthodox, as “deceived brothers” when you cannot show us one saint, martyr or miracle worker, after your unilateral and deliberate departure from the fold of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? You who did not hesitate to downgrade to the point of degrading our magnificent and mutual saints such as Saint George, Saint Barbara and so many other just because they were easterners? I do not wish to be swept away to your slippery slope….
Do you have any blessed Elders with foresight and clear sighted you could point to us, such as the Paisioses, Jameses, Porphyrioses or other speculative souls hidden in the mountains and caves and “cavities of the earth” who have become poles of attraction and admired by so many deteriorated, aching and wounded souls?
Oh papists and all you Orthodox who take part in the conferences, you all well know that we have an amazing inter communion of only Orthodox holy churches in many same faith lands? Thus, Saint Nektarios of Egina travels to Russia and performs the mysteries (!), while Saint Seraphim of Sarov brings together thousands of faithful in Attica, Saint Luke the Physician, Archbishop of Crimea, performs moving miracles in our Country! Truly does the proud Rome, the nation of the Vatican, have to day something corresponding to offer us? Where and who are your saints “corrupted” or not who are miracle workers that the Orthodox may venerate them? Or perhaps is it without reason the three full bodied saints of the Ionion and the Lady Faneromeni are present there, as guarding sentries and protectors from the “western crest” and from the papist absolutism? Could you call your “priest” to make the holy water without salt- and remain unaffected from the corruption of time, or to cite exorcisms on a demoniac and him asking for an Orthodox priest because only he has the Grace of the mystery of Priesthood? The questions must seem to you overly na¨ve but they nevertheless remain unanswered? And about the Holy Light what is your position? And why does it only happens with the Orthodox?
Is the truth not crystal clear that you use an ambiguous language at the theological dialogues that reminds more of tough negotiations for the achievement of more diplomatic objectives and positions? How could you convince us of your sincere and untainted love when on the occasion of the illumined Elder Paisios was asked about the visit of the blessed Patriarch Demetrios to the Vatican with the familiar compliments and common prayers, replied “He was deceived”! How many more testimonies do we need? This is how you acted and will always continue to act.
One other question is directed to those responsible for the selection of the persons for the Orthodox representation. We believe that many occasions not only they do not uphold the word of truth but also sign articles which cry aloud that they contravene pure Orthodox patristic positions. They are neither better nor more qualified. A manifested ecumenical intention, an unprocurable Christianity, an unstable tendency at balancing of the truth and one similar division of the truth in all its twists and turns and selected parts. And at the end of all the deliberations naturally the “god pouring grace did not breathe” but they agreed “to an agreement badly agreed upon”!
On the lips of the pious people of God, the defender of the Orthodox dogma that under no occasion they can be – according to the ever memorable and champion struggler of Orthodoxy professor Mouratodis- “one irresolute, pathetic and externally propelled mass” exists the bitter and often the most bitter complaint, why at those conferences that are called, no matter how they are called, there do not take part people of theological, patristic and of fighting stature from the venerable Hierarchy of Greece? The mention of certain names will clash with their mediocrity. In the garden of our Most Holy Mary could it be possible that there do not exist holy and illumined personalities whose account and testimony of the theological truth is a fruit of purely painful and intense prayers and repentance? Could it be possible that our schools are lacking personalities of Teachers in action and worth who teach and transfuse the pure patristic spirit and the deposition of the greatly honourable Truth, which is the guarantee of the unchanging orthodox teaching? And finally the Orthodox Hierapostolic Brotherhoods do they not have eminent theological personalities whose both oral and especially written word is the guarantee of Orthodoxy and together the heavy artillery of our Church against all sorts of heretical teachings?
Unfortunately most of those who participate are called “Legionaires” namely those who are resident abroad, who are deeply indoctrinated or better grafted by the intense worldly spirit of the West and that is why their theological armor is nowhere to be found, with no backbone and mostly “graceless” and not seldom with negotiated heretical solutions- positions. The testimony and the submission of their written articles, cry for the word of truth! Not few times in their worldly circles what counts for them is not the ascetic spirituality of Orthodoxy, but the “appearance” or rather their civil image, the exterior picture which is backed by titles and civil and philanthropic works!
They are masters of dialogue, inexcusable luxury and much more wasted time for us to try through this type of meetings to convince the inconvincible papists about the treasures of our Church and the correctness of our dogmas. The Union, may I immediately correct, namely the return of the heretics to the Orthodox Church, can happen through contrition, with sincere tears of repentance and confession and above all by the traditional, pure and as such valid Baptism. Everything else is from the evil one…..
The last and most compassionate word is directed with great respect as much to the venerable head as to the Hierarchy of our Most Holy and Martyric Cyprus. Why, honourable fathers so much preparation, so much zeal for one more ecumenical conference- dialogue on your sanctified island? Could it be that the present Attila did not have as ancestor the other “civilized” Frankish Attila that not only did he oppress your island but unblushingly devasted and “sacrificed” with his inhuman bestialities – ferociously and with unabated appetite? Perhaps you should be reminded of the truth when the thirteen holy martyrs of Kantara of Nicosia (Lefkosia) rise from their tombs?
Truly you know of the many steps of the papists towards all of the international organizations with intense protests and balloting resolutions for the invasion of Attila, and what about their results? When did the “Christian” west exert influence on the old and sinful Albion to avert the hangings of the fighters of EOKA? I fear that perhaps like the pope who had sent a disgusting congratulatory telegraph to Kemal Ataturk on the slaughter of the Orthodox population of Smyrna, perhaps again their guilty silence secretly or openly, God knows, contributes to the freeze of the presently existing situation?
And the final word. The Dialogues are rather cosmetic and social meetings- according to the lay expression in other words “to love each other” with the corresponding excessive compliments, the competing bids for the most expensive gifts and the luxurious dinners, the hotel comforts. Truly, perhaps the hospitality of an austere Monastery at least for the Orthodox representatives with some “frugal abundance” would have been the prudent place? And in the present economic crisis how many open wounds could have been patched up if this fruitless and provocative extravagance was invested on families that live at the limits of morbid starvation?
To be sincere and honest with ourselves, the great losers will be the Orthodox who in knowledge or ignorance bargain or compromise positions-eternal truths and imperishable. Having won,the papists who with their known time wasting evasions and tricks, try to convince and pass their obvious anti-ecclesiasticism for “ecclesiology”.
In this chaotic impasse and religious syncretism which is the consequence but also the continuation of an immoral morality which completely nibbles all the spiritual vitality of the land and creates an atrocious hell, sometime sooner or later, like charmingly Elder Paisios used to repeat “The Spiritual Laws shall also work”. Namely, all the entangled parts and the interlaced self interests “will pay the price” painfully on a personal or even social level for all those mostly provocative, ecumenistic fiestas.
Nothing has been lost yet. Glory be to God, there is still adequate time to reverse things through repentance. The Orthodox Church always lived and lives the miracle of the return of the “deceived” and their re-gathering into her Fold.
But all our own who participate in the theological conferences let them know “full well” that the “last word” of all the decisions of a theological mixing of Orthodox and papist “belongs to the people of God” which is again ready but also mature to respond with the timeless word of Joseph Bryenios, “we shall not deny you our friend Orthodoxy”.
Let the papists also hear these.
The present article is also part of the signing of the
Teacher of Theology, 5th Gymnasium of Veria
THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER AND BAPTIZER OF THE LORD
Six months before his appearance in Nazareth to the All-holy Virgin Mary, the great archangel of God, Gabriel appeared to Zacharias the high priest in the Temple at Jerusalem. Before he announced the miraculous conception to the unwed virgin [Mary], the archangel announced the miraculous conception to the childless old woman [Elizabeth]. Zacharias did not immediately believe the words of the herald of God and this is why his tongue was tied with dumbness and remained as such until eight days after the birth of John. On that day, the relatives of Zacharias and Elizabeth gathered for the young child’s circumcision and for the sake of giving him a name. When they asked the father what name he wishes to give to his son and being dumb, he wrote on a tablet: “John.” At that moment his tongue became loosed and he began to speak. The home of Zacharias was on the heights between Bethlehem and Hebron. The news of the appearance of the angel of God to Zacharias was spread throughout all of Israel, as well as of his dumbness and the loosening of his tongue at thee moment when he wrote the name “John.” The news concerning this even reached Herod. Therefore, when Herod sent soldiers to slay the children throughout Bethlehem, he directed men to the hilly dwelling place of the family of Zacharias to kill John also. However, Elizabeth promptly hid the child. Enraged, at this King Herod sent his executioners to Zacharias in the Temple to slay him (for it happened that it was Zacharias’ turn again to serve in the Temple of Jerusalem). Zacharias was slain between the court and the temple and his blood coagulated and petrified on the stone pavers and remained a perpetual witness against Herod. Elizabeth hid with the child in a cave where she died soon after. The young child John remained in the wilderness alone under the care of God and God’s angels.
HYMN OF PRAISE to SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
By God’s miracle, John entered the world,
As once did Sarah’s and Abraham’s Isaac,
By God’s miracle, remained alive
From Herod’s bloody knife.
The knife, the young child John missed,
But John’s father, it did not miss;
By God’s miracle, John in the desert
For thirty years, he sustained himself,
To the servant of God angels are shepherds
To the poor angels are guardians!
John grew loveable lamb,
The Lamb of God to serve,
To proclaim the bright day, before the sun,
The Unknown, recognized and glorified.
Of the great prophets, the last
And of God’s apostles, the beginning.
As Elijah, with God he speaks
And as an apostle, loves and rebukes,
Of the high priest, wondrous son,
Of the martyr of God, the first-born brother.
(written by St Nikolaj Velimirovic in “Proolog from Ohrid”)
See Also: The Church of the Nativity of St. John
Theology is the word of God, which is apprehended by pure, humble and spiritually regenerated souls, and not the beautiful words of the mind, which are crafted with literary art and expressed by the legal or worldly spirit.
Just as a beautiful statue cannot talk, manufactured words are unable to speak to the soul of a man, except if the listeners are very worldly, and pleased simply by charming conversation.
Theology that is taught like a science usually examines things historically and, consequently, things are understood externally. Since patristic ascesis and inner experience are absent, this kind of theology is full of uncertainty and questions. For, with the mind one cannot grasp the Divine Energies if he does not first practice ascesis and live the Divine Energies, that the Grace of God might be energized within him.
Whoever thinks that he can come to know the mysteries of God through external scientific theory, resembles the fool who wants to see Paradise with a telescope.
Those who struggle patristically become empirical theologians through the visitation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. All those who have an external education, in addition to the internal enlightenment of the soul, may describe the divine mysteries and interpret them correctly, as did many Holy Fathers.
If, however, one does not become spiritually related to the Holy Fathers and wants to take up translating or writing, he will wrong both the Holy Fathers and himself, as well as the people, with his spiritual cloudiness.
Neither is it right for someone to theologize using someone else’s theology, because he will resemble an impotent man who adopts others’ children, presents them as his own and pretends to be the father of a large family. The Holy Fathers took the divine word or personal experiences from their hearts; they were the result of spiritual battles against evil and the fire of temptations, which they confessed humbly or, out of love, wrote down in order to help us. They never kept this love for themselves, acknowledging, likewise, that humility and all the divine gifts are of God.
Those who present the gifts of God as their own are the most insolent and most unjust of the world, for they wrong God and, even more, their own selves. In this way they cause themselves to be deprived of Divine Grace so that they won’t be judged as being more ungrateful and so they won’t be destroyed due to their great vainglory.
Those who are grateful towards God for everything and constantly attend to themselves humbly and look after God’s creatures and creation with kindness, theologize and thus become the most faithful theologians, even if illiterate. They are like the illiterate shepherds who observe the weather in the countryside, day and night, and become good meteorologists.
Those who live simply, with kindness and good thoughts, and have acquired inner simplicity and purity, regard the supernatural very simply, as natural, for everything is simple to God. He does not use greater power for the supernatural and less for the natural, but the same power for everything. He Himself is very simple and His Son revealed it to us on earth with His holy simplicity.
When purity comes to man and simplicity with its fervent faith and devotion arrives as well, then the Holy Trinity takes up His abode within us. With this divine enlightenment one easily finds the keys to divine meanings, so as to interpret the Spirit of God in a very simple and natural way, without causing an intellectual headache.
Depending on the purity or guile that one possesses, analogous interpretations are made, and one is benefited or harmed accordingly. Oftentimes, one may cause harm due to his inexperience, even if acting with good intentions. For example, a person does not know that white wine also exists apart from red, and pours red paint into it to seemingly make it better, and, in this way, poisons people. But even if he is not inexperienced or deceitful, but works only from human justice and logic, he will once again wrong the Spirit of God, and, as a result, harm himself and others.
With human logic and justice we also hear the complaints of the labourers of the first and third hour in the Gospel60, who believed that they were unjustly treated. God, however, the beholder of the hearts of men, with the subtlety of His divine justice, also rewarded the labourers of the eleventh hour for the anguish they suffered before finding work. God would have even given to the labourers of the eleventh hour a greater reward, out of His divine righteousness, full of mercy and love, because the poor ones suffered greatly in soul and were more fatigued than those, who, for more hours, were exhausted physically. But we, wretched people that we are, cannot fit God’s divine justice into our limited mind, just as His infinite kindness cannot fit inside our limited love. Therefore, God’s love was limited to giving everyone the same agreed reward, so as not to scandalize more those who loved their self more than their fellowmen. If He told them: “I am not doing you wrong; we agreed on this amount…”. He meant that: “I am a boss with noble love and divine justice which you cannot understand” and not: “I am boss and 1 take no one into consideration”. For God is our Father and we are His children, and all people know of His fatherly love; He was crucified in order to redeem and restore us to Paradise.
If we could go out of our self (the love for our self), we would also escape from the gravity of the earth and see everything in reality, with a divine eye, clearly and profoundly. That is why it is necessary for one to leave the world for the desert, struggle with humility, repentance and prayer, be deserted by his passions, remove his spiritual “rusts” and turn into a good conductor in order to receive the Divine Grace and become a true theologian.
If we don’t remove the rust from our spiritual cables, we will constantly be short circuited, full of worldly theories, doubts and questions. Then we cease theologize, being found in a condition of worldliness, but will speak historically, or examine things legally and mathematically. Namely, we will examine how many nails were used to crucify Christ and how many soldiers were present when He was crucified without proceeding to the essence of things: that Christ was crucified for our own sins, in order to redeem us, and suffered more than all of the Holy Martyrs put together. Although He helped the Martyrs with His divine power, He did not employ His divine power for Himself at all and suffered terrible pains out of love, having both of His two hands and His two legs pierced with nails. Whether they crucified His two legs with one or two nails has no importance, inasmuch as both were nailed and He suffered the pain and drank the vinegar, that He might sweeten us again in Paradise, eternally close to Him, as our Loving Father.
(Taken from the Epistles of Elder Paisios)
(By Father George Calciu)
The Christian faith is not a conditioned, intrigued attitude. The centurion had submitted his servants’ relationship to God: Lord if I’ll say to one of them “Go!” and he goes, if I say (to another) “Do this!” then, he does it. (cf. Mt. 8: 5-13) So even more he entrusted that, when the Lord commended the (evil) spirit to: “Free” (the man)! the spirit will free him, or if Christ will say: “Do not enter this man again!” the spirit will no longer enter.
The centurion had great faith before any miracle was been fulfilled.
Quite often we are guided by facts. We hear, (for instance), that an image of the Mother of God had appeared somewhere in the sky. We go there to see it, and may be we’ll believe. And we do not know what our faith is about….
I was in Chicago (some years ago) to see a weeping icon of the Holy Mother of God. It was in 1987. We were three (Romanian) priests and served the Divine Liturgy for the Romanian nation. During the Liturgy, the Holy Mother of God shed three times tears from her icon. Her garment was soaked in tears. I saw people who came there to see that. And we also saw. Then we forgot. For the faith that rests only on miracles, is weak.
If God strikes you now, for certain you’ll cry out, “Lord!”
If some earthquake or a war will occur now, you’ll cry: “God, save me!” But after the earthquake passes, you’ll forget (God) again.
Apart from this is the faith based on a close spiritual relationship with Christ when you know that you’re nothing without Him and that everything lays in His hands; that He can lay you down or lift you up; He can heal you or else let you perish, He can free you from tragedy or let you be pounded by it.
The teaching is this: do not establish or base your faith on wonders (miracles)! Many times, our Savior appealed to His word, and the sick was healed. The centurion did not need our Lord to first commit a miracle in order that he may believe. Indeed, he only needed Christ to confirm that his servant will be healed. He came to Christ as to One Who he knew will cure his servant, to someone Whom he truly believed in, although he was not a Jew, but a novel Samaritan, a roman.
When you’re longing for a miracle to happen, you might be saying: “Lord, if You exist, perform this miracle!” And God does not hear you. Or perhaps He will, if your soul really needs it. More so, believe in God before any miracle is to occur! Do not expect miracles, the deepest relationship with Christ is spiritual. Pray to the Lord and be in His presence, have Him abide in you! And God will answer you with His unseen wonders, through the strength of your spirit, rousing your greater understanding of His judgments. Not as we (tend to) understand historically and rationally, but in a deeper spiritual sense, when you see the hand of God in every thing.
There are many Great Fathers who have lived a highly elevated spiritual life and God rewarded them with great gifts. They were performing many wonders, but when someone would come to thank them for the miracle, they answered: “It is not me, but Christ Who made it happened. Give thanks to the Lord.”
And Christ was elevating them in His light: either by a halo around their heads, (as Father Benedict Ghius from Cernica had) (a great elder from Cernica Monastery now with the Lord – translator note) or that they would (be able) fly, or move with great speed from one place to another: they were in one place, and within minutes they were many kilometers away. All these were miracles that Christ performed through them and for them, because they had with Christ a (personal) relationship of deep spirituality.
It is that filial relationship when you offer your soul to Christ and He sends you the Holy Spirit, Which works within you. This is beyond any earthly reward. What does it mean when your car brakes down and God sends someone to help you? There are small things … and so your spiritual relationship with Christ, Who deeply dwells in the Christian soul, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart? Thy makes you gentle, forgiving, to neither bring anger against your neighbor, but nor to hold it within you; to be a beacon of light for all, even if you’re small, all these are true miracles which Christ calls us to.
Preserve your relationship with Christ as did the centurion and you’ll receive Godly rewards. Think rightness, and do not allow the evil spirit to win over you. Do not tempt God, neither you say, “Oh Lord, come and abide in my heart”, while you converse with the devil, even you may feel you’re fighting against it. But as the centurion cry out:”Lord, say only with Your word and my heart will be healed.” Amen!
(taken from “To serve Christ means suffering” , translation by EC)
Taken from: Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos – “Spiritual Awakening”
– Geronda (Elder in Greek), Abba Makarios says our God gives us the heavenly gifts, (St. Makarios of Egypt, Spiritual Homilies) and this we believe. Should we believe He will also give us earthly gifts, which are not so important?
– What earthly gifts?
– Whatever we need.
– Yes, you put it well. God loves His creation, His image, and provides the things which man needs.
– Must everyone believe this and not worry?
– If one does not believe this and struggles by himself to acquire these earthly gifts, he will suffer. But even if God does not provide some of these earthly, material things, a person who is leading a spiritual life will not worry about it. If we seek first the Kingdom of God and this is our only concern, all the other things will be given to us, as well. Will God abandon His creation? The manna which God provided for the Israelites in the desert would spoil if they kept it for the next day. (Cf. Ex 16:19-20.) God arranged things this way so that the people would have confidence in His divine providence.
We have not yet understood the words of Jesus “Seek first the Kingdom of God”. (Cf. Mt 6:33).
Either we believe or we don’t. When I went to stay at Mount Sinai, I had nothing. But I didn’t think at all what would become of me in the desert among strangers, what I would eat, how I would live. The ascetic cell of Saint Episteme, where I was to stay, had been abandoned and uninhabitable for years. As I didn’t want to burden the Monastery of Saint Catherine, I didn’t ask for anything. They brought me a little bread from the Monastery, but I returned Why should I be worried, when Christ said, Seek first the Kingdom of God. There was also very little water. I had no trade to work and earn my living. The only tool I had was a pair of scissors. I separated it in two, sharpened the two pieces on a stone, took a piece of wood and began making little carved wooden Icons. I worked and said the Jesus Prayer. Quickly I became experienced. I kept making the same design, and the work that would have taken me five days, I could now do in eleven hours, and not only did I help myself, but I also was able to help the little Bedouin children.
For a long time I worked on this task for many hours each day. Later I had reached a point where I did not want to continue with handicraft, but then I could see the need of the Bedouin children. If you gave them a cup and a pair of sandals, it was a great blessing for them. So the thought came to me, “Did I come here to help the Bedouins or to pray for the whole world?’ Thus, I decided to stop the work in order to be un-distracted and to pray more. And it wasn’t as if I was expecting help from somewhere. The Bedouins did not even have enough to eat for themselves. The Monastery was far away. And in the opposite direction it was all desert. But on the same d.ay when I cut back on the work to devote more time to prayer, someone came and found me at my cell and told me, “Here, take these one hundred liras to help the 3edouins without interrupting your program of prayer!” I could not bear this. I left my visitor alone and went into my cell for about fifteen minutes. The providence and the love of God had created such a spiritual state in me that I could not hold back my tears.
Do you see how God provides when there is good will? How much could I have possibly given them? I could give to one child and another would come to remind me, “You didn’t give me anything, Father.” Then, Yet another would come to say the same thing, “Father, you haven’t given me anything!”
– Geronda, while many times we have felt the omnipotence of God, why is it that we do not also see His divine providence for us?
– This is a trap of the devil. The devil throws ashes in man’s eyes so he won’t see God’s providence. For when man sees the providence of God, his granite heart will soften, become sensitive and burst out in praise of God, and this is not what the devil wants.
Let us Entrust Ourselves to Divine Providence
Whoever observes God’s benevolence learns to rely upon divine providence. He then feels like an infant in a crib, crying when left alone for a little while by its mother until she returns to its side. It is an important matter to entrust yourself to God.
When I first went to the Monastery of Stomion, there was no place for me to stay; the Monastery was completely full of rubble. I found a comer near the wall, made a temporary cover and spent the nights there in a sitting position, because there was no room to lie down. One day a priest-monk I knew came to me and said, “How can you stay here?” “Why not?” I said, “Did people in the world have any more than what we have? When Konstantios Kanaris (Hero of the Greek revolution of 1821, legendary fire-ship captain from the heroic island of Psara. He served as Prime Minister of Greece (1864-1865 and 1877). asked for a loan, they told him, ‘You have no country.’ And he replied, ‘We will acquire a country soon.’ Now, if a man in the world had such faith, should we not have trust in God? Since Panaghia (the Holy Mother of God) provided that I come to this Monastery, will She not also provide for Her Monastery when the time comes?” And indeed, little by little, Panaghia provided.
I remember when they were pouring the cement to make the floors for the cells they had built, the prepared cement was not enough; they still had to work on one of the floor. The builders came and told me, “The cement is running out; we’ll have to thin it out to make it last for the entire floor.” “No,” I said to them, “continue to pour it normally.” It wasn’t possible to bring any more cement at the time, because the animals were away in the valley, The workers would have had to walk two hours to Konitsa, two more hours to the valley and the fields to find the animals. They couldn’t have gone and returned in time. Also the men had other work; they couldn’t come back another day. I noticed they had poured two-thirds of the flooring. I went into the Chapel and said, “Panaghia, what is (going) to happen now? Please help us.” Then I went out…
– What happened, Geronda?
~ The flooring was completed and there was extra cement left over.
– Did the workers realize it?
– How could they not realize it? Sometimes the help of God and Panaghia is very great indeed!
God’s Benefactions Break the Heart
– Geronda, what is it that God wants from us?
– God wants from us our good intentions, our good will, which will be expressed by even our limited but full of philotimo spiritual struggle, and the awareness of our sinfulness. Everything else is given by Him. One doesn’t need muscles in the spiritual life. We must struggle humbly, we must ask for God’s mercy and we must be grateful to Him for everything. He who abandons himself into the hands of God, without any plan of his own, will pass into God’s plan. As long as man is hooked onto himself, he remains behind; he does not progress spiritually because he obstructs God’s mercy. In order to grow spiritually he must place great trust in God.
At all times God caresses the hearts of all the people with His love, but we are not aware of it because our hearts have gathered a crust. When man has cleansed his heart, he is deeply moved and madly excited, because he can then see the benefactions, the blessings of God, Who loves all people in the same way. For those who are suffering, God is pained; for those who are living a spiritual life, He rejoices. When a philotimo-filled soul thinks of God’s blessings, it is enough to send it exploding towards Heaven, even more so if the soul also meditates on its many sins and God’s abundant mercy and compassion~ When man becomes aware of God’s providential care. and the eyes of his soul have been purified, he can experience and live the fullness of divine providence with his cleansed heart, which is then overwhelmed by a profound sense of gratitude and spiritual madness, in the good sense of the term. For God’s blessings, when man is aware of them, create a crack in his heart, and break it. Then, as the hand of God caresses his philotimo-filled heart and touches the crack, man experiences an inner explosion that increases his gratitude toward God. All those who struggle and are aware of their sinfulness and God’s blessings, entrusting themselves to His abundant mercy, elevate their soul to Paradise with great certainty and less bodily effort.
Gratitude to God for Little and for Much
Some people say, “I believe God will help me,” and at the same time they try to make lots of money so that they won’t be deprived of anything. These people mock God, because they do not entrust themselves to God, but to money. If they don’t stop loving money and placing their hope in it, they won’t be able to establish their hope in God. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t put some money aside for a time of need; I’m saying that they shouldn’t set their hopes on money and set their heart on it, because this way they forget God. Whoever makes his own plans, without putting his trust in God, and then says that this is how God wants it, is actually blessing his own work in a demonic way and is constantly tormented. We have not understood the power and goodness of God. We do not allow Him as Lord to govern us, and this is why we are tormented. (…)
(Excerpt form “God’s Providence for Man” by Elder Paisios)
Elder Paisios in “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man”
Secular people say, “How lucky are the wealthy people who live in palaces and have all kinds of conveniences:” In truth, blessed are those who have succeeded in simplifying their lives and freeing themselves from the yoke of worldly progress, of the many conveniences that have become inconveniences, and have consequently rid themselves of the dreadful anxiety that plagues so many, people today. If man does not simplify his life, he will end up tormenting himself. But if he simplifies it, all his anxiety will go away.
A German man at Sinai told a very intelligent Bedouin boy, “You are intelligent, you can become literate.” “And then?” the boy asked. “Well, then you will become a car mechanic.” “And then?” the boy repeated. “Then you’ll open a car shop.” “And then?” the boy asked again. “Then you will grow up and you will hire others to work for you, and you will have your own staff.” “In other words,” the boy said, “I will pile one headache on top of the other. Isn’t it better now that my mind is free of worries?” Most headaches are the result of all these thoughts we have about doing this and doing that … But if our thoughts were spiritual in nature, we would feel divine consolation and be cured of headaches.
These days I stress simplicity to lay people too, because many of the things they do are not necessary and they end up being consumed by anxiety. I speak to them of austerity and asceticism. I constantly scold them, “If you want to get rid of anxiety, simplify your lives!” That is how most divorces start. People have to do too many things, too many obligations and they get dizzy. Both parents work and abandon the children. The result is fatigue and nervousness, which causes small issues to turn into large quarrels and then to automatic divorces; that’s “where they end up. But if they simplified their lives, they would find rest and joy. Stress is catastrophic.
Once I was at a very plush house where they told me in conversation, “We live in Paradise, while other people are in such great need.” “You live in hell,” I replied. “God said to the rich man, Fool, This night your soul is required of you (Lk. 12:20). If Christ were to ask me, ‘Where should I put you in a house like this or in prison?’ I would reply, ‘In the dark prison.’ Because a prison would do me good; it could remind me of Christ, the holy martyrs, the ascetics who lived in the holes of the earth, it would remind me of monastic life. The prison would resemble my cell a bit and I would be happy. But what would this palace of a house remind me of and how would that help me? That is why I find prison cells much more restful than a worldly living room. I even find it more restful than a beautiful monastic cell. I would rather spend one thousand nights in a prison cell, than one day in a plush house.”
Once, when I was staying with a friend in Athens, he asked me to receive a family man who could only see me very early in the morning, at dawn, because that was the only time he had available. He arrived in a cheerful mood praising God in every other word. He was full of humility and simplicity and begged me to pray for his family. This brother, who was about thirty-eight years old, had seven children. At home, they were eleven souls, because his parents lived with him, and they all shared the same room. He spoke with great simplicity, “The room fit us all if we stand up, but if we lie down it is a bit tight. ”Thank God, now we are constructing a shed to use as a kitchen and we are doing fine. Father,” he said “at least we have a roof over our head, while other people live in. the open air.”
The man was an ironer. He lived in Athens and had to leave everyday before dawn to arrive in Peiraeus in time for work in a dry-cleaning shop. He was suffering from varicose veins as a result of having to stand up all that: time and his legs bothered him a lot, but his love for his family made him forget his pain and discomfort. In fact he pitied himself constantly for not having, as he said any love in his heart, because he did not do any acts of Christian charity and praised his wife for being charitable Apparently, besides taking care of her children and her parents in-law, she would wash the clothes of some elderly men in the neighbourhood, tidy up their homes and even cook a little something, like soup, for them. You could see divine Grace depicted on the face of this good family man. He had Christ in his heart and was full of joy, just like his one-room house was filled with heavenly bliss. Compare this man with people who do not have Christ in their heart; they are filled with anxiety. Take two of then and try to fit them in a house large enough for eleven people; they will not find a way to fit.
Even some spiritual people will sometimes not be able to live together, no matter how much space they have available, because they don’t have the fullness of Christ in their heart. If the women of Pharasa could see our luxuries, especially in some Monasteries, they would say, “We have abandoned God and He will send down fire to burn us!”
I remember them performing all their chores in matter of seconds. They had to take the goats out, first in the morning, and then tidy up the house. After that they would go to the Chapels or gather in caves and those who could read would read the Life of the Saints of the day. Next they would do their prostrations and say the Jesus Prayer. And they would work and work without getting tired. Those days, a woman had to know how to mend clothes. And they would mend the clothes by hand; there were a few sewing machines in cities but no sewing machines in the villages and if I remember right, in the whole town of Pharasa there was one, maybe two they used to sew their family’s clothes and they were very comfortable to wear. They would also knit socks by hand. They had a caring taste (meraki) but they also had enough time for all these chores because they did things in a simple way. The people of Pharasa did not pay attention to details. They enjoyed the joy of monastic life. And if, for example, the blanket did not sit right from one side of the bed and you told them, “Straighten out the blanket,” they would respond, “Why, does it prevent you from praying?”
This kind of joyful monastic life is unknown today. Most people believe that they should not go into any trouble, or be deprived of anything. But if they thought in monastic terms and lived with more simplicity, they could find the peace they are seeking. Instead, they are filled with anxiety and despair. They say, “So and so was very successful because he built two apartment buildings, or because he learned five languages and so on. And I do not even own one apartment and I do not even speak one foreign language. Oh, I am good for nothing!” A person with a car thinks, “This man has a better car; I should buy one too.” So he buys the better car, but he feels no joy because someone else has an even better one. He buys even better car but then he learns that others have their own private aeroplanes and he is unhappy again. There is no end to this. But a person who doesn’t have a car rejoices when he praises God. “Thank God,” he says, “even if I do not have a car, I have strong legs and I can walk. How many people are there in the world who do not have legs and cannot take care of their needs and go for walks? I at least have my legs!” And a lame person says, “There are some people who are missing both legs,” and that makes him rejoice.
Ingratitude and greed cause a lot of harm. The person possessed by material things is always possessed by worries and anxiety because he trembles at the thought that he may lose both his belongings and his soul. One suet wealthy man came from Athens and told me, “Father, my children will not listen to me anymore, I have lost them;” “How many children do you have,” I asked him. “Two” he said. “I raised them in luxury. They had everything they wanted. I even bought them a car,” In the course of the conversation, I found out that he and his wife each had their own car. “Dear man,” I said, “instead of solving your problems you made them worse. Now you need a large garage to put all the cars and a mechanic to service them. You will have to pay him fourfold and moreover all four of you are in danger of killing yourselves at any time. On the contrary, if you had simplified your life your family would be united and you would have understanding for each other, and none of the problems you are describing. It’s not your children’s fault. It is your fault for not trying to educate them in other ways.” A family does not need four cars, a garage and a mechanic and so on. Let one of you reach his destination a bit late. All these conveniences beget difficulties.
Another family man arrived at my Kalyvi (monk cell) once. He had family of five. He told me: “Father, we have a car and we are thinking of buying another two. It would help us a lot.” I said “Did you think of how difficult this is going make your life? If you have one car you can easily park it somewhere; where are you going to put three of them? You will need a garage and an extra tank of fuel. And moreover, you will put your life in danger. It’s better to have only one car and limit your outings. You will have time to see your children. You will have peace of mind. Simplifying one’s life is the most important thing.” “I never thought of that,” he replied.
– Geronda (Elder in Greek), a man told us that twice he could not stop his car alarm. The first time it was due to a fly and the second time, he tried to get in the car the wrong way.
– People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things. Most of the conveniences we have cause difficulties. Those who live in the world often suffocate from abundance. They have filled their life with gadgets and devices but this only makes it more difficult to enjoy it. If we don’t simplify things, one convenience will result into numerous difficulties and we will end up miserable.
When we were little, we used to cut off the spool at the end and put a wedge in it, turning it into a nice and enjoyable game for ourselves. Small kids enjoy playing with a toy car much more than their father enjoys his new Mercedes. If one asks a little girl, “What do you want, a doll or an apartment building?” you will see that she will say “a doll”. But in the end, small children too get to know the vanity of the world.
– Geronda, what helps the most when one is trying to grasp the joy of austerity?
– It helps if you can grasp the deeper meaning of life seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt. 6:33). Simplicity begins from there, so does every proper approach of life.
Please also see:
Please also see: Lessons from the Fathers on Fasting
Fast and freedom
What can be more absurd than the fast, in a religion which boasts of having given the man the freedom? How can you name yourself free, when you have to refrain from the things you like, when you must do what you don’t want! The fast is the abstinence not only from the food, but also from the bodily pleasures. How not to see in this an outrage to the noblest instinct that the man has – the freedom?
If the fast is an obligation, than the Gospel is a masterpiece of the absurd’s literature. Understanding this, the Protestants decided to renounce the fast. However, despite the number of quotations brought from the apostle Paul or from the words of the Saviour Himself, the spur to fasting is like a thorn in the flesh of that who at least scarcely knows the Holy Scriptures.
All righteous before Christ fastened. The fast was precursory to the meeting with God or to a revelation. Moses climbed up the mountain after forty days of non-eating and thus spoke with God. The New Testament is not at all different, it begins with a fastener – John the Baptist. Christ Himself had fastened before having begun to preach. Thus, we cannot leave away the fast, departing from some biblical verses, when even those who pronounced them were great fasteners; it seems to me it is more decent to doubt our understanding ability of those verses.
Christ was once asked why his disciples don’t fast (Matthew 9, 14). From this many have understood that the disciples and the Saviour Himself were gluttons (Matthew 11, 19). But this event, actually, discloses us the fact that the disciples and the Saviour were all the time starving. This can be also seen very well from the conflict that they had with the Jews, because the disciples ate some ears on Saturday. The disciples were so busy with the preaching that they used to forget to eat and the fact that they picked ears, shows how hungry they were and that they were wont to eat here and there. The Saviour however did not eat with them, the reproach being only for the disciples; He was the model of fasting.
The fact that the disciples used to eat little, is emerging from the scene of multiplying the bread, where we find out that they had only five loaves of bread and two fish. Although they were far away from the locality, in an impossibility to buy food, they are ready to give this little to the crowd (without knowing that it will be multiplied), which reveal us that they were accustomed with the hunger more than the ordinary men. Hence, the Saviour and the disciples fastened, but they did not count the days as the Pharisees did. To their question though, Christ, tell them “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast” (Luke 5, 34-35). “Those” days when the bridegroom was taken away, are Wednesday, the day of betrayal and Friday, the day of crucifixion. In the year 50, the apostles convoked a synod in Jerusalem, where they established for the believers the fast in these days.
Thus, the Protestants have understood well that the fast is not an obligation. The forced fast, has no motivation as any gratuitous and meaningless thing. This is not, however, a reason to blame the fast. The fast should be understood in all its nobility, as it is the supreme manifestation of the human freedom. In such a way the first Christians understood the fast, a meaning that is lost nowadays. “To eat – writes St. Ephrem the Syrian in the IV century– belongs to the laws of the nature, but to fast belongs to the freedom”. Who can boast that he is eating only because “he wants this”? No, you eat because you need to eat, a results from the natural instinct, not from freedom. Of course there is neither an evil in this, nor a sin, but there is also no virtue. The virtue is only the fruit of the freedom. “Any labour which is not from a perfect freedom – farther Sofronie Saharov (+ 1993) said – can not have an eternal value”. The fasting is the man’s free choice of a nobler life, which has something in it from the realities of eternal life, where there is no corruption anymore.
See also why in the Orthodox Church the two Holy Apostles Peter and Paul are equals and celebrated together at: Why I abandoned Papism