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Some Thoughts On Fasting

Source: Conciliar Press

(From an Orthodox Pastor, From the Fall 2008 issue of The Handmaiden Journal – Vol. 12)

Fr. Seraphim serves a moleben to St. Panteleimon in the monastery church.

   

   Fasting is not optional for Christians. Neither are prayer and almsgiving. Our Lord did not say “if you fast,” but rather “when you fast.” He Himself fasted. Those to whom He personally directed His words and teachings maintained a tradition of fasting. Perfecting that tradition by coupling it with prayer and almsgiving, our Lord revealed that the very heart of our lives as Christians is rooted in these ascetic traditions.

  However, our Lord was also clear in chastising those who observed the fast, who prayed, and who gave alms for the purpose of being observed and applauded by others or as a means to fulfill the law. Indeed, the Pharisees received their reward: “My,” they delighted in hearing, “aren’t they spiritual, aren’t they righteous, aren’t they generous, and aren’t they worthy of emulation?” But their actions were to no avail, and brought with them no heavenly blessing. Hence, we are taught to fast “in secret,” to pray “in secret,” to give alms “in secret,” not allowing our left hand to know what our right hand is doing, so that our heavenly Father will reward us openly.

Fasting as Preparation for True Celebration

  Our Lord fasted for forty days before beginning His public ministry. This indicates that one aspect of fasting is preparation. The Church’s fasting seasons prepare us to celebrate, to feast, and to focus our attention on that which we anticipate celebrating, rather than on the mundane things that all too often compete for, or dominate, our attention.

  While food is an essential element of any celebration—as we are reminded on Pascha, as our festal food is blessed, or as we bless fruit on the Great Feast of Transfiguration—it can also be a preoccupation, something that can dominate our time and attention to the detriment of more important aspects of our earthly existence. Sadly, before major celebrations we tend to spend inordinate amounts of time planning menus, testing new recipes, and the like, all with the hope that our celebration will be memorable, enjoyable, and tasty. In the process, the very thing we gather to celebrate is often obscured, misplaced, and lost.

  This is especially so in the days—or, to be more specific, the months—leading to the celebration of Christmas, during which we are tempted to focus our preparations on foods, decorations, gifts, and the like, rather than on the glorious mystery of the Incarnation, which is at the very heart of our faith as Christians. The Nativity Fast (like all the fasting seasons) is meant to remind us to prepare ourselves spiritually, to bring under control those things, including food, that are well within our control, but that we have allowed to control us, and to apply the self-control that fasting teaches us to other areas of our lives.

Fasting from Passions, not from “Prohibited Foods”

  During the first week of Great Lent we are reminded that, while fasting from food, we must fast from our passions—anger, gossip, jealousy—while intensifying our vigilance, our prayer lives, and our ministry to others, especially the least among us. Hence, fasting as a preparation is quite the opposite of the worldly preparations that all too often focus our celebration on ourselves, rather than on our Lord and the joyous mysteries He so lovingly shares with us and engages us in celebrating.

  Of course, fasting from food is at the very heart of the ascetic life. Food can be a passion, a preoccupation that can easily dominate our lives. We fret over what to eat and what not to eat. We agonize over trans fats, cholesterol, carbs, and calories. We drink Ensure to gain weight, and then sign up at a weight loss clinic to lose it. In fact, we have an entire TV network devoted to food! All too often, we have ceased “eating to live” and instead “live to eat.”

  If fasting is ever to become a real solution to this preoccupation with food, we need to recognize that fasting does not mean merely avoiding certain “prohibited” foods while partaking of others that are “approved.” Years ago, I was given a Lenten cookbook that, in the preface, offered an extremely detailed explanation of the Church’s fasting tradition. As was to be expected, it noted that one should refrain from eating meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, wine, and oil. And also, as was to be expected, it noted that eating shellfish—lobster tail, crab legs, scallops, prawns and shrimp, clams, and the like—does not violate the fast. But, curiously, this preface offered a warning, in bold underlined letters, that when eating shellfish, one should not use drawn butter, but melted margarine, since butter is a dairy product! How ridiculous, I thought. Emptying ourselves of our passion for food involves reducing not only how much and what we eat, but also how much time we spend thinking about food, preparing food, reading about food, discussing food, and manipulating food to fit the fasting tradition of the Church.

  The same cookbook offered a recipe for a Lenten chocolate cake, at the end of which was written, “Your family will enjoy this delicious cake so much that you’ll want to serve it all year ’round!” Consider this: One could devise a Lenten weekly menu that, while fully avoiding meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, wine, and oil, would be anything but ascetic—lobster tail on Monday, grilled prawns on Tuesday, Alaskan king crab legs on Wednesday, lemon-drenched shrimp on Thursday, and scallops on Friday, all with melted margarine so as to avoid butter, of course! Legally, this indeed fulfills the fasting laws, but it completely misses the spirit of fasting, as does the yummy Lenten chocolate cake or the tofu Italian “sausage” or “chicken wings” guaranteed to “taste like the real thing.”

  It’s only my opinion, but approaching fasting in this manner—”this is permitted, but that isn’t”—not only misses the mark of fasting, but can become a spiritually dangerous temptation, the same temptation to which the Pharisees succumbed by adhering meticulously to the externals of the law while remaining clueless as to its internal spirit. This approach can easily lead to spiritual pride and delusion and the self-satisfaction that comes in assuring oneself that “while I’m delighting in this tasty cake, I’m relieved to know that it meets all Lenten requirements since there’s not a drop of half-and-half in it.” This, it seems to me, is neither fasting, nor ascetical, nor a desire to free oneself from a preoccupation with food. In fact, it reflects the opposite, as more time is spent figuring out how to make tofu taste like sausage than it would take to simply and mindlessly fry a link of real sausage.

Putting the Time Saved and Money Saved to Work

  Taking things one step further, this legalistic approach to fasting is utterly detached from prayer and almsgiving. The time saved by not worrying about what we’ll eat or how we’ll prepare it, much less adapting recipes to fit Lenten rules, could be more wisely spent in prayer, in worship, in meditation and the reading of Scripture or the Holy Fathers. To the degree we rely on very simple and basic foods and spend little time in food preparation during the fast, we’ll have time to reflect on the countless other things (our anger, our jealousy, our self-centeredness, our sloth, our despair, our lust for power, our idle talk) that are surely within our control, but that we so often have allowed to control us.

  And, to take all of this one step further, might not the money saved by purchasing simple food be stewarded more wisely by giving it to those who have less, or nothing? By quietly and anonymously giving it to an agency that assists those who are out of work or homeless or abused? Might we not devote a portion of our time to volunteering at one of those agencies, feeding those in need with the loving and personal human contact that reveals God’s presence in this world?

Preparation for the Heavenly Banquet 

  Fasting is not optional. Neither are repentance, prayer, almsgiving, preparation, asceticism, ministering to the least among us, wisely managing our time and talents and treasures, struggling to overcome our passions, and so on. They’re all related, interconnected, essential. So fast we must—to the extent that we can—without comparing ourselves to others. Still less should we engage in endless and spiritually dangerous public discussions on what we’ve given up this Lent or how weary we’ve become by fasting from those things (including but hardly limited to food) that we’ve allowed to control us even though we have the ability, with God’s help, to control them.

  Fast we must, in the Holy Spirit rather than in the spirit of the Pharisees, and in secret, without fanfare or discussion. And fast we must, delighting not in our ability to transform chocolate cake into a Lenten delight, but in allowing our Lord to transform us as we delight in tasting and seeing how good He, the “Bread which came down from heaven,” truly is. Such fasting not only prepares us for the celebration of His Incarnation or Resurrection, but prepares us for the eternal heavenly banquet, to which He invites us, in His Kingdom.

(The author, a priest of thirty-four years, is rector of a parish of the Diocese of the Midwest of the Orthodox Church in America). 

Feast day: July 2 (June 19 on the Julian calendar)

From the Sermons of Saint John at:

More about the life of St John

Pastoral Letters of Archbishop John

 

The Monastery of St John of San Francisco

 

A documentary on the life of St. John: 

 

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Saint John’ glorification, San Francisco, CA, 1994

 

Holy John, pray to our Lord Jesus Christ for us, Amen! 

 

 

 

 

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.

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:

On the worries of life: Sunday of Matthew 6:22-33, with St. Gregory Thaumaturgus and Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

Spiritual Not Religious

 

 

Please also see: Lessons from the Fathers on Fasting

Fast and freedom

by: Hieromonk Savatie

   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 

 

Sts Peter and Paul
With what Crowns of Praise?

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Audio links: Ft Hopko – Feast of St Peter and Paul

Keys to the Kingdom – St. Peter

Chosen Instrument of Mine – St. Paul

 

And a Sermon By His Grace Bishop Joseph of Arianzos

With what crowns of praise Shall we crown Peter and Paul?… The former as the leader of the Apostles the latter as the one who toiled more than the others.

June is always marked by the festive commemoration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul which is observed by our Church on the 29th day, and indeed after fasting in honour of the chief Apostles.

The 29th of June, certainly is not the day they suffered martyrdom. Rather it is the day that in 258 AD, Pope Sixtus II transferred their very sacred relics to the catacomb of St. Sebastian in Rome. Since then, this day, as a day of common honour for both Apostles, overshadowed the day of their individual martyrdom and so from ancient times the Church honours Peter and Paul together. Not only with a common feast day but also with a common fasting period for both. Indeed the fasting period -to note as a parenthesis- during which eating fish is also permitted on Saturday and Sunday [according to a stricter tradition] or on all the days of the week except Wednesday and Friday [according to a more lenient tradition], starts on Monday after the Sunday of All Saints and ends on the 28th of June. But if Easter falls on the 3rd of May or later then there is no fast for the feast of the Apostles).

Our Church also honours them with Icons which depict the two together, either embracing themselves in a brotherly love in Christ or holding in their hands the Church in the form of a small Byzantine church so emphasising the unity of the faith and the unity of the Church mainly consisting of two different elements: The old Israel (the Jews) to whom, in the main, the missionary work of Peter was directed at, and the Gentiles (the Pagans) who correspondingly were the objects of Paul’s missionary work. Also they are honoured with common churches named after both of them. And with common hymns like the one of the vespers of their feast which we have placed as the beginning of these humble lines.

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With what crowns of praise shall we crown Peter and Paul? What worthy words can one find to laud the chiefs of the Apostles? What forms and ornaments of speech can one employ? What kind of poetic blossom would he gather to dedicate to them?

What can be worthy for Peter, who, when he declared that our Lord is ‘Christ the Son of the Living God” (Matthew l6:16), revealed the unshakeable stone onto which is founded and based the true faith of those who are saved and thus he himself at the same time became the first stone of the spiritual edifice of the Church?

What can stand worthy to praise “the imprisonment in various cities and the af-flictions” of Paul “the hard work and toil, the sleeplessness the sufferings of hunger and thirst, the cold and nakedness, the bas-ket, the beatings with a stick, the stoning, the journeying, the death of the sea, the shipwreck” that he endured “so that he would win people for Christ Jesus his Lord” as the muse of St. Andrew, Archbishop of Crete is wondering?

How can you praise the “Mouth of the Apostles” who “lifted up his voice and said to them” (Acts 2:14) in front of the crowd on the day of Pentecost and as many as heard this first holy divine voiced sermon of his “were pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2:41) and were baptised “and the same day these were added three thousand souls” to the Church? (Acts 2:41).

How can you praise the God-called “Teacher of the Churches who ” made all things to all men that he might by all means save them”? (1 Corinthians 9:22).

What can you first bring to memory about Peter and laud him? The enthusiasm? The humility? The saving and redeeming tears of repentance after that third “I do not know this man”? (Matthew 26:75) After this denial his complete dedication to the Godman and his triple confession of love to Him for which he heard from His mouth “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep”? (John 21:15-17). His God-wise teaching which is contained in his two General Epistles or his all holy martyrdom for Christ in the “Eternal City” where he irrigated with his scarlet blood the newly grown tree of the Church of Rome?

What can you first call to mind about Paul and praise him? His godly zeal with which he repeatedly travelled round the Mediterranean with infinite dangers, hardships and problems in order to evangelise to its people the salvation in Christ? His patience to the “thorn in the flesh” which God granted to him to buffet him for life? (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10). His courage in front of the rulers of this world?

His politeness which made him respect even the high priest of the Judeans who transgressed the law? (Acts 23:5). The bottomless depth of his humility by reason of which, when he remembers the time that he was an enemy of the Church, he calls him-self “as one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8) and “least of the Apostles” and he comes to say “I am not great to be called an Apostle because I persecuted the Church of God? (1 Corinthians 15:9). His care and the unquenchable interest and fatherly anxiety for the spiritual development of the faithful and the support of the churches at different places as it is so characteristically evident from “by the space of these years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20:31) and from the most affectionate “my little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19) and the so responsible “that which comes upon me daily, the care of all churches” (2 Corinthians 21:28). His perfect love which compelled him to say that unrepeated “who is weak and I am not weak? Who is offended and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians 21:29). His laboriousness and the refinement of his soul which made him, despite the burden of the Apostolic duties to also pursue the humble craft of the tent maker in order to procure himself “food and clothing” so that he could preach without expense the Gospel “and not to be burden to anybody. His not loving money which made him say with modesty “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold or apparel (Acts 20:33). Which of his virtues and which of his graces would you first bring to your memory? Only you stop at his last sacrifice, the culmination of all his unrending, unceasing throughout his life sacrifices for Christ, the sacrifice of his blood under the sword of Nero and you stop going any further by respecting the greatness of the all holy man.

With such facts on the one hand and the writer of this not having the necessary prerequisites to attempt to say words worthy of the “holy luminaries of the world” on the other, it naturally follows that the say should be given to the holy hymnographer of the Church, who expresses the voice and the conscience of her holy Body, to conclude these poor and unworthy lines with the idiomelo of Psalm 50 of the Orthros of the feast of the Apostles:

“Peter, the leader of the glorious Apostles the rock of the faith and Paul divine of the holy Church the orator and luminary who stand beside the divine throne, Intercede for us”.

from The Orthodox Messenger, v. 8(7-8)

 

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But it your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!”

(Matthew 6:22-23)  

The single eye is the love unfeigned; for when the body is enlightened by it, it sets forth through the medium of the outer members only things which are perfectly correspondent with the inner thoughts. But the evil eye is the pretended love, which is also called hypocrisy, by which the whole body of the man is made darkness. We have to consider that deeds meet only for darkness may be within the man, while through the outer members he may produce words that seem to be of the light: for there are those who are in reality wolves, though they may be covered with sheep’s clothing. Such are they who wash only the outside of the cup and platter, and do not understand that, unless the inside of these things is cleansed, the outside itself cannot be made pure. Wherefore, in manifest confutation of such persons, the Saviour says: If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness! That is to say, if the love which seems to you to be light is really a work meet for darkness, by reason of some hypocrisy concealed in you, what must be your patent transgressions!                                                      

(St. Gregory Thaumaturgus)

 

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”   

  Matthew 6:24-33

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Too Many Worries Make People Forget God

An Excerpt from “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man”
by Elder Paisios of
Mount Athos (Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologion”, 2006)

– Geronda (spiritual elder in Greek), does worrying about too many things take us away from God?

– Look, let me try to explain. When a little child is playing and is all absorbed with his toys, he s not aware that his father may be next to him caressing him. If he interrupts his play a bit, then he will become aware of his father’s caresses. Similarly, when we are preoccupied with too many activities and are anxiously concerned about them, when we worry too much about worldly matters, we cannot become aware of God’s love. God gives but we do not sense it. Be careful not to waste your precious energy on redundant worries and vanities, which will turn to dust one day. When you do this, you not only tire your body, but you also scatter your mind aimlessly, offering God only your fatigue and yawns at the time of prayer – much like the sacrifice offered by Cain. It follows that your inner state will be like that of Cain’s, you will be full of anxiety and sighs provoked by the devil standing by your side.

You must not waste aimlessly the fruit, the inner cure of our power and then leave the shells for God. The many cares of life sap the marrow of our heart and leave nothing for Christ. If you notice that your mind constantly wanders off to various chores that you have to do, you must realize that you are not doing well spiritually, and this should alarm you because you have distanced yourself from God. You must realize that you are closer to material things than you are to God, closer to creation than to Creator. (…)

We must learn to care about things in the right way

If we seek above all the Kingdom of Heaven and that’s all we care for, the rest will be given to us (Cf. Mt 6:33, Lk 12:13). If we become forgetful, then not only do we waste our time but we waste our own self. When we remain mindful and prepare for the next life, than this life too will become meaningful. When we start thinking of the next life, nothing is the same anymore. But if all we think about is how to make this a comfortable life, then not only are we miserable, but we end up weary and condemned.

Do not be overwhelmed with anxiety and be possessed by the thought that, “Now we must do this, next we must do that and so on,” because this way Armageddon (Rev 16:16). Will come and you will still be hard at work. Even doing things with anxiety is demonic. Tune in to Christ! Otherwise, you will appear to be living near Him but inside you will still carry the mindset of this world, and you might and up, I’m afraid like the foolish virgins (Cf. Mt 25:1-13).

The wise virgins did not only had kindness, they also had the right kind of mindfulness, unlike the foolish virgins that were careless, they were on guard and vigilant. This is why the Lord gave them the solemn warning, Be awake and watchful (Mt 25:13).  They were virgins but foolish. If someone is born a fool, it is a blessing from God. She enters directly into the next life without having to pass any examinations. But if she is gifted with an intelligent mind and yet lives a foolish life, she will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment.

Can you see in the case of Martha and Mary, mentioned in the Gospel (Cf. Lk 10:38-42), how mindless care for things caused Martha to behave somewhat impudently? It seems that in the beginning Mary was actually helping her, but when she realized that Martha was nowhere near completing her preparations, she went her and went to listen to Jesus. She thought to herself, “Am I to lose time with my Christ for the sake of Martha’s salads and sweets?” As if Christ had come to their home to taste Martha’s salads and foods! It was then that Martha became annoyed and said, Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? (Lk 10:40).

Let us be careful, then, not to behave like Martha. Let us pray that we will become good “Marys”.  

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A Sermon by Saint John Maximovich, bishop of Shanghai & San Francisco

Among the Church’s feasts, there are three in honor of God’s saint which in their significance stand out from the others devoted to the saints and are numbered among the great feasts of the Church of Christ. These feasts glorify the economy of God for our salvation.

These three feasts are the Nativity of St. John the Forerunner, his Beheading, and the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

The apparition of the holy Archangel Gabriel to the priest Zacharias in the Temple, with the announcement of the birth to him and the righteous Elizabeth, of a son who would prepare the way for the Lord, the Savior of the world, and the subsequent fulfillment of this premise, are the first of the events related by the Evangelists.

The announcement of the holy Archangel Gabriel to Zacharias in the Temple begins the New Testament Gospel. The announcement of the same Archangel Gabriel six months later in Nazareth to the Virgin Mary concerning the birth from Her of the Son of God, Who was to become incarnate, is a continuation of the revelation of the Pre-eternal Counsel concerning the salvation of the human race.

 Three months after, the Annunciation, St. John the Forerunner was born “in a city of Judah,” and six months after him Christ Himself was born in Bethlehem. These events are closely bound together. “The glorious conception of the Forerunner proclaimeth beforehand the King Who is to be born of a Virgin” (Exapostilarion, Sept. 23, Feast of the Conception of John the Baptist). The announcement of the Archangel Gabriel in the Temple, announced later to all living nearby by Zacharias, in the magnificent hymn, which he sang after the birth of the child, John and the restoration to him of the gift of speech (Luke 1:67-79), is the forerunner of the angelic hymn: “Glory to God in the highest;” which was sung in Bethlehem by the angels when they announced to the shepherds the Nativity of Christ.

The Nativity of John the Baptist is the first joy sent down by God to the human race, the beginning of its deliverance from the power of the devil, sin and eternal death.

It is true that even before the Forerunner, the Most Holy Virgin Mary was born, and angels announced Her birth to Her parents. However, at that time, only Her parents knew of the exalted lot that was prepared for the Virgin Who was born, and they themselves were not fully aware of what had been announced to them beforehand. Therefore, it was only they, who celebrated at the birth of their Daughter, while the rest of the world only later understood the joy that had been announced (to it), by this birth.

For this reason, the feasts of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and Her Entrance into the Temple were established in the Church and began to be solemnly celebrated significantly later than the other great feasts, whereas the Nativity of John the Forerunner is one of the most ancient and most venerated of Christian feasts. Sermons on this feast have been preserved from the first centuries.

From the day of the Nativity of John the Forerunner, the preparation of the human race begins for meeting the Son of God on earth. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people . . . And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways (Luke 1:68, 76). These God-inspired words of the priest Zacharias, after he had regained the gift of speech, were made known in all the land of Judea, causing disturbance to all living there, who asked each other in astonishment: What manner of child shall this be? (Luke 1:66).

 Involuntarily the thought arose: Is this not the Messiah Himself? Judea was in an especially tense state of expectation of the Savior. Thus, the child John prepared the way for the Lord by his very birth; and even while he was still in the womb of His mother, by his leaping (Luke 1:41) he announced the coming birth of the Child Jesus, as if crying out: “Christ is born, give ye glory. Christ comes from heaven, meet ye Him” (Irmos, Canticle One of the Canon, Feast of the Nativity of Christ).

Being born exactly half a year before Christ, John the Forerunner by the exact time of his birth depicted his mission of preparing the way for the Lord. He was born at the time of the year (June 24) when the day begins to grow shorter after the summer solstice, whereas the Nativity of Christ occurs (December 25) when the day begins to grow longer after the winter solstice. These facts are an embodiment of the words spoken later, by the Forerunner, after the beginning of Christ’s preaching: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). “The herald of the Sun, the Forerunner” was John the Baptist, who was like the morning star that announces the rising of the Sun of Righteousness in the East.

Just as the very event of the Nativity of John the Baptist was the antechamber of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so also the feast of the Nativity of John the Forerunner is also the antechamber of the feast of the Nativity of Christ. “The star of stars, the Forerunner, is born on earth today, from a barren womb, John the beloved of God, and manifests the dawning of Christ, the Orient from on high” (Glory at Lauds, of the Feast, June 24). “The whole creation rejoiceth at thy divine nativity: for thou wast shown forth as an earthly angel, O Forerunner and a heavenly man, proclaiming to us, the God of heaven incarnate” (Cantile Five of the Canon). “O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we who venerate thee with love, are in perplexity how worthily to praise thee; for the barrenness of her who bore thee and the dumbness of thy father are loosed by thy glorious and precious nativity, and the incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the world” (Troparion of the Feast).

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Troparion – Tone 4

Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ,
although we cannot praise you worthily,
we honor you in love at your nativity,
for by it you ended your father’s silence and your mother’s barrenness,
proclaiming to the world the incarnation of the Son of God!

Kontakion – Tone 3

Today the formerly barren woman gives birth to Christ¹s Forerunner,
who is the fulfillment of every prophecy;
for in the Jordan,
when he laid his hand on the One foretold by the prophets,
he was revealed as Prophet, Herald, and Forerunner of God the Word.

 

Fast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

(June 15 – June 28)

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The Podvig of the Apostles’ Fast is less strict than during Great Lent: We abstain from eating meat and dairy products throughout the Fast. The Church ustav also provides that, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the Apostles’ Fast, we abstain from consuming fish, wine and oil; on the other days of the week, Tuesday and Thursday, we abstain from eating fish. Eating fish is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays, on days commemorating certain great Saints, and on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (7 July).


Teachings of St. Seraphim of Sarov on Fasting

Fasting consists not just of eating rarely, but also of eating little. And not just in eating only one meal, but in not eating much. Foolish is the faster, who waits for a specific time [to eat a meal], but then at the time of the meal is completely consumed, body and mind, with insatiable eating.

In proportion to how the body of the faster becomes thin and light, so the spiritual life attains perfection and reveals itself in wonderful ways. Then the soul acts as if in an incorporeal body. Carnal feelings are shut off, and the spirit, released from the world, ascends to heaven and completely immerses itself in contemplation of the spiritual world.

Every day one should partake of just enough food to permit the body, being fortified, to be a friend and helper to the soul in performing the virtues. Otherwise, with the body exhausted, the soul may also weaken.


Lessons from the Fathers. Fasting

There is both a physical and a spiritual fast. In the physical fast the body abstains from food and drink. In the spiritual fast, the faster abstains from evil intentions, words and deeds. One who truly fasts abstains from anger, rage, malice, and vengeance. One who truly fasts abstains from idle and foul talk, empty rhetoric, slander, condemnation, flattery, lying and all manner of spiteful talk. In a word, a real faster is one who withdraws from all evil.

As much as you subtract from the body, so much will you add to the strength of the soul. 

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By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.

 

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True fasting lies is rejecting evil, holding one’s tongue, suppressing one’s hatred, and banishing one’s lust, evil words, lying, and betrayal of vows.  (Holy Hierarch Basil the Great)

Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.

Fasting of the body is food for the soul.

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It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine his conscience, to put his mind to the test and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourself in the present week. This is true fasting.

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As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul; imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life.

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The point is not only that we should come to church each day, that we should continually listen to one and the same thing, and that we should fast for the whole Forty Days. No! If we, from continually coming here and listening to the teaching, do not acquire anything and do not derive any good for our soul from the time of the fast ­ all this does not procure for us any benefit, but rather serves for our greater condemnation, when despite such concern for us by the Church we remain just the same as before.  

Do not say to me that I fasted for so many days, that I did not eat this or that, that I did not drink wine, that I endured want; but show me if thou from an angry man hast become gentle, if thou from a cruel man hast become benevolent. If thou art filled with anger, why oppress thy flesh? If hatred and avarice are within thee, of what benefit is it that thou drinkest water? Do not show forth a useless fast: for fasting alone does not ascend to heaven. 

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Fasting is wonderful, because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower. (Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom)

Whosoever rejects the fasts, deprives himself and others of weapons against his own much-suffering flesh and against the devil, who have power over us especially as the result of our intemperance. 

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We are told: It is no big deal to eat non-Lenten food during Lent. It is no big deal if you wear expensive beautiful outfits, go to the theater, to parties, to masquerade balls, use beautiful expensive china, furniture, expensive carriages and dashing steeds, amass and hoard things, etc. Yet what is it that turns our heart away from God, away from the Fountain of Life? Because of what do we lose eternal life? Is it not because of gluttony, of expensive clothing like that of the rich man of the Gospel story, is it not because of theaters and masquerades? What turns us hard-hearted toward the poor and even toward our relatives? Is it not our passion for sweets, for satisfying the belly in general, for clothing, for expensive dishes, furniture, carriages, for money and other things? Is it possible to serve God and mammon, to be a friend to the world and a friend to God, to serve Christ and Belial? That is impossible.  

Why did Adam and Eve lose paradise, why did they fall into sin and death? Was it not because of one evil? Let us attentively consider why we do not care about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dearly. Why do we compound sin upon sin, fall endlessly into opposing to God, into a life of vanity? Is it not because of a passion for earthly things and especially for earthly pleasures? What makes our hearts become crude? Why do we become flesh and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not because of a passion for food, drink, and other earthly comforts? How after this can one say that it does not matter whether you eat non-Lenten food during Lent? The fact that we talk this way is in fact pride, idle thought, disobedience, refusal to submit to God, and separation from Him.  (Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt)

The greatest of the virtues is prayer, while their foundation is fasting. 

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The reason that fasting has an effect on the spirits of evil rests in its powerful effect on our own spirit. A body subdued by fasting brings the human spirit freedom, strength, sobriety, purity, and keen discernment. (Holy Hierarch Ignaty Brianchaninov)

If thou, O man, dost not forgive everyone who has sinned against thee, then do not trouble thyself with fasting. If thou dost not forgive the debt of thy brother, with whom thou art angry for some reason, then thou dost fast in vain ­ God will not accept thee. Fasting will not help thee, until thou wilt become accomplished in love and in the hope of faith. Whoever fasts and becomes angry, and harbors enmity in his heart, such a one hates God and salvation is far from him. (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian)  

A excellent faster is he who restrains himself from every impurity, who imposes abstinence on his tongue and restrains it from idle talk, foul language, slander, condemnation, flattery and all manner of evil­speaking, who abstains from anger, rage, malice and vengeance and withdraws from every evil.

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Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine eyes fast from bad sights: turn away thine eyes that thou mayest not see vanity; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and from stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds: Turn away from evil, and do good.  (Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

 

  Seest thou what fasting does: it heals illnesses, drives out demons, removes wicked thoughts, makes the heart pure. If someone has even been seized by an impure spirit, let him know that this kind, according to the word of the Lord, “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). (Saint Athanasius the Great)

 

The strictness of the Quadragesima [the Forty Days] mortifies the passions, extinguishes anger and rage, cools and calms every agitation springing up from gluttony. And just as in the summer, when the burning heat of the sun spreads over the earth, the northern wind renders a benefaction to those who are scorched, by dispersing the sultriness with a tender coolness: so fasting also provides the same, by driving out of bodies the burning which is the result of overeating. (Saint Asterius of Amasia) 

Fasting is the mother of health; the friend of chastity; the partner of humblemindedness (illnesses are frequently born in many from a disorderly and irregular diet). (Venerable Simeon, the New Theologian)

Give the body as much food as it needs, and thou shalt receive no harm, even if thou shouldest eat three times a day. If a man eats but once a day, but undiscerningly, what benefit is there to him from that. The warfare of fornication follows excess in eating – and after this the enemy weighs down the body with sleep in order to defile it. (Saints Barsanuphius and John)

As a flame of fire in dry wood, so too is a body with a full belly.(Venerable Isaac the Syrian)

Always establish one and the same hour for taking food, and take it for fortifying the body and not for enjoyment. (Venerable Anthony the Great)

Do not neglect the Forty Days; it constitutes an imitation of Christ’s way of life.  (Saint Ignatius the God­bearer)  

The holy fasters did not approach strict fasting suddenly, but little by little they became capable of being satisfied by the most meagre food. Despite all this they did not know weakness, but were always hale and ready for action. Among them sickness was rare, and their life was extraordinarily lengthy.  To the extent that the flesh of the faster becomes thin and light, spiritual life arrives at perfection and reveals itself through wondrous manifestations, and the spirit performs its actions as if in a bodiless body. External feelings are shut off, and the mind that renounces the earth is raised up to heaven and is wholly immersed in the contemplation of the spiritual world.  (Venerable Seraphim of Sarov)  

The more days of fasting there are, the better the healing is; the longer the period of abstinence, the more abundant the gain of salvation is. (Blessed Augustine)

 

Fasts do not shorten a man’s life. Venerable Symeon the Stylite lived for 103 years, Saint Cyril the Anchorite lived 108 years, Saint Alypius the Stylite ­ 118, Venerable John the Silent ­ 104 years, Anthony and Theodosius the Great ­ for 105 years, Venerable Paul of Thebes ­ 113, Paul of Komel ­ 112, Venerable Macarius of Alexandria ­ 100, Venerable Sergius of Radonezh ­ 78, Venerable Cyril Belozersky ­ 90, Macarius Zheltovodsky ­ 95.

 

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