Archive for the ‘Fasting’ Category

The Rich get sick more because of self-indulgence. Saint John Chrysostom understands medicine!

Saturday, October 1st, 2011


The Rich get sick more because of self-indulgence.

Saint John Chrysostom understands medicine!

 

St John Chrysostom http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/john-chrysostom-03.jpgSt John Chrysostom many times in his sermons remonstrated against the indulgences of the rich. In the following passage, he shows great medical understanding also. In our day, with diabetes and obesity at epidemic levels, and all sorts of cancers and other maladies that are diet related, reputable doctors would certainly agree with him.

 

Regarding the rich man who indulges himself and is beggarly concerning the poor he says:

 

And his enjoyment of the earth is no more than yours; for sure he fills not ten stomachs, and thou only one. 'But he partakes of costlier meats?' Truly, this is no mighty superiority; howbeit, even here, we shall find you to have the advantage. For this costliness is therefore thought by you a matter of envy because the pleasure with it is greater. Yet this is greater in the poor man's case; yet not pleasure only, but health also; and in this alone is the advantage with the rich, that he makes his constitution feebler and collects more abundant fountains of disease. For the poor man's diet is all ordered according to nature, but his through its excess results in corruption and disease. (St John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Second Corinthians)

 

The lesson here is that self-indulgence kills. It absolutely kills the spirit, and even in this life will usually kills the body, by degrees.

 

Thank God that we have a remedy for self-indulgence, which leads to so many ills! We have temperate fasting, which, if practiced with dedication, is healthy for the body and the soul.

 

I encourage you to fast, even if it is only a little. Any departure from unbridled self-indulgence is good for the soul.

 

If you normally eat meat every day, or whatever is at hand, develop the custom of abstaining from it on Wednesday and Friday, or even, if you feel this is too onerous, eat only chicken or fish on that day. Do everything with the guidance of your confessor. There is a general fasting rule, and it is beneficial to follow, but, as in almost everything, if we are weak we will benefit by approaching our goal by degrees.

 

Try to fast a little better, and be sure to add a little more prayer on those days. Your spirit and your body will become healthier. Do not do this alone. Talk to your confessor. May God bless you.

 

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-10-01-the-rich-get-sick-more-saint-john-chrysostom-understands-medicine.html

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-10-01-the-rich-get-sick-more-saint-john-chrysostom-understands-medicine.doc

 

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The Significance of Fasting in the Struggle against Fallen Spirits. By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

The Significance of Fasting in the Struggle against Fallen Spirits

By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

 

Saint Ignaty Briachaninov http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/ignaty-briachaninov-03.jpgThe Lord said to His Apostles about the evil spirits, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark. 9:29).

 

Here is a new aspect of fasting!

 

Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of mercy; fasting prepares a reward in heaven when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory; fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue – prayer.

 

How does it work? It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil, and conquers them.

 

How can fasting, which is actually a bodily podvig [ascetical labor], work or cooperate with prayer in a war against spirits? Why do the bodiless spirits submit to the power that fasting has over them?

 

The reason fasting works against the evil spirits lies in its powerful influence upon our own spirits.

 

When the body is tamed by fasting, it brings freedom, strength, sobriety, purity, and refinement to the human soul. Our spirit can withstand its unseen enemies only when it is in such a state.

 

But as for me”, said the God-inspired David,When they (the demons) troubled me, I put on sackcloth. And I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer shall return to my bosom” (Psalm 34:13).

 

Fasting gives the mind sobriety, while prayer is the weapon the mind uses to drive away the invisible adversary. Fasting humbles the soul, and frees it from the callousness and inflatedness brought on by satiety; while the prayer of one who fasts becomes especially strong. Such prayer is not just external, but comes from the very soul, from the depths of the heart. Fasting directs and carries prayer to God.

 

The dark and evil spirits committed two serious crimes:[1] the first crime caused their expulsion from the hosts of holy angels; the second crime was the cause of their irrevocable banishment. They lifted their heels against God in heaven. Their chief, blinded by conceit, wanted to become equal to God. For their crime they were cast out of heaven to the earth below, and there they began to envy the blessedness of newly-created man.

 

Then they committed a new crime: seducing man, and luring him into his fall. This latter crime of the fallen angels finally decided their lot – they impressed themselves into evil by it; God’s grace entirely departed from them because of it; they were given over to their own selves, to their own evil, and to their own sin that they had conceived and borne in themselves, and which they allowed to penetrate their nature.

 

Now, a good thought or feeling will never come to an outcast angel. He is entirely submerged in evil, desires evil, and invents evil. Scorched with an unquenchable thirst for evil, he seeks to be sated with evil, but cannot. All the evil he does or can perform seems to him little next to the evil that he imagines and which his insufferable thirst for evil seeks. Created as a light-bearing angel, he was cast down lower than all the beasts of the earth for his crimes. "Because thou hast done this murder of a man, said God in His wrath to Satan when He caught him at the scene of the crime in paradise, near the man and woman whom he had caused to fall, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life (Gen. 3:14).

 

A bodiless spirit is condemned to thoughts and feelings that are only earthly and passionate; his life and treasure is in them. A spirit, he has lost the ability to do anything spiritual – he is completely engrossed in fleshly works. A spirit who lives a mental life is demoted from the hosts of spirits to a fleshly state, and he takes a place lower in rank than all cattle and beasts of the earth. Cattle and beasts act according to the laws of their nature, while the fallen spirit, who is mingled into the nature of cattle and beasts, is mingled into a nature that is foreign to his own, and humiliating. He neither wants nor is able to act correctly in this nature – he continually abuses this nature.

 

This sinful materiality of the fallen angel makes him subject to the effect of fasting, which frees our spirit from the flesh’s reign.

 

When the fallen angel approaches a person who is fasting,

he does not see the material domination that he needs and desires;

he cannot stir up the blood that has been beneficently cooled by fasting;

he cannot arouse the flesh that is not inclined to play, for it has been restrained by fasting;

the mind and heart are not obedient to him, for they have felt an especial spiritual vigor due to fasting.

 

Seeing this resistance, the proud, fallen spirit departs, because he cannot endure being resisted or contradicted. He loves unhesitating agreement and submission. Despite the fact that he crawls upon his belly, despite the fact that he eats only dust, the thought of being like God has not left him, and he looks for people to worship him.

 

He audaciously showed the Son of God all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and promised to give him all power over them and the glory of them, demanding to be worshipped in return (Luke 4:5-7). Even now, he does not cease to present to those who follow the Son of God all the beauty of the world, painting it in their dreams with the most tempting features and colors in order to extract worship of himself by whatever trick. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, said the Apostle James (James. 4:7); and another Apostle said, Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked (Ephesians. 6:16).

 

Let us raise our eyes to eternity through the power of faith, to the unspeakable blessedness that awaits the righteous in eternity; likewise let us observe the equally unspeakable torments that await the serpent’s unrepentant and stubborn followers. We can have such contemplation when the body is put in order and maintained within the order of fasting; when with the pure prayer that is only obtainable through fasting, we cleave to the Lord, and become of one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17) with Him.

 

“The serpent crawls continually upon the ground as he was sentenced to do from on High,” says St. John Chrysostom. “If you wish be to safe from his poisonous bite, let your mind and heart be always above the earth.”[2] Then you will be able to resist him, and that proud serpent who cannot endure resistance will flee from you.

 

Where are the people who are possessed by evil spirits? Where are those people whom he would tear and torment, like he tore and tormented the youth mentioned today in the Gospels? Apparently there aren’t any, or they are very rare – thus reasons the person who sees everything superficially, and brings his life as a sacrifice to distractions and sinful pleasures.

 

But the holy fathers saw things differently. They say, “From the moment they caused man to be exiled from paradise and separated from God through disobedience, the devil and the demons received the freedom to mentally stir any person’s rational nature, both day and night.”[3]

 

Very similar to those torments and tearing of the Gospel youth’s body by the evil spirit are the sufferings of the soul that willfully submits itself to the influence of the evil spirit, and who accepts as truth that murderous lie which the devil ceaselessly shows to us in order to make us perish, hiding it behind a façade of truth to more easily deceive us, and to succeed in his wickedness. Be sober, be vigilant, the Apostle Peter warns us, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8–9).

 

What does the fallen angel use against us? Mostly sinful thoughts and fantasies.

 

He runs from those who resist him, but he sways, torments, and destroys those who do not recognize him, who enter into conversation with him, and entrust themselves to him. He himself crawls on his belly and is incapable of spiritual thought. He vividly depicts this transitory world with all its allurements and pleasures; meanwhile he enters into conversation with the soul about how it can make its pipe dreams come true. He offers us earthly glory, he offers us riches, he offers us satiety, and delight in fleshly impurities. As St. Basil the Great expresses it, the devil not only received a feeling for fleshly impurities, but since he was created as a bodiless spirit, he gave birth to them.[4]

 

He presents all this as a fantasy, but he also provides illicit ways to realize these illicit dreams. He casts us into sorrow, depression, and despair. In a word – he tirelessly works to obtain our destruction in seemingly decent as well as indecent ways: by obvious sin, by sin hidden behind a good façade, and by waiving the bait of pleasure in front of us.

 

This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, says St. John the Theologian (1 John 5:4). Faith is our weapon of victory over the world; it is also our weapon of victory over the fallen angels.

 

Who has looked with the eye of faith to the eternity proclaimed by God’s Word and not cooled to the world’s quickly-passing beauty?

 

What true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ will want to trample upon His all-holy commandments for the sake of sinful pleasure, which seems alluring before it is tasted, but is vile and murderous after tasting?

 

What power over the disciple of Christ has the enchanting picture of earthly benefits and pleasures, or even the horrifying picture of earthly calamities, which the evil spirits draw in order to bring the viewer to depression and despair, when magnificent pictures of eternity are impressed upon his soul through the power of God’s Word, before which all earthly scenes are pale and insignificant?

 

When St. John the Theologian proclaims that the victory that overcometh the world is our faith, he salutes the true children of Christ who have overcome the world on their victory over the fallen angel and his minions: I write unto you, young men, he says, because ye have overcome the wicked one (1 John. 2:13). Here “young men” is what he calls Christians who are renewed by Divine grace.

 

When a servant of Christ shows courage and constancy in his struggle against the evil spirits as he should, then Divine grace descends into his soul and grants him victory, and his youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s (Ps. 102:5) – youth which never ages, with which he was adorned by the Creator when he was created, and which he exchanged for incurable agedness at his voluntary fall. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John. 2:15–17).

 

Beloved brethren! Why shouldn’t we also be victors over the world and over its prince?

 

People like us have overcome them, people clothed in flesh and human weakness. Not only valiant men have been victorious over them, but also frail elders, weak women, and little children; they won, and left us no excuse for losing if we give ourselves up to them. The same world with all its allurements was before them, the same invisible serpents crawled around them, applying every effort to taunt out their souls and make them to live in the dust. The hearts and thoughts of the conquerors were raised up!

 

Guarding their bodies with fasting, they tamed them and stopped the impulse for earthly pleasures in them!

 

Through fasting, they gave their spirit the opportunity to abide in ceaseless sobriety and vigilance, and the opportunity to unsleepingly heed and watch out for the multifarious snares of the devil!

 

By lightening their bodies – and even their very spirits – with fasting, they gave the spirit the opportunity to cleave to the Lord with pure and constant prayer, to receive Divine aide, to enliven their faith from hearing (cf. Rom. 10:17), from hearing to make their faith substance (cf. Heb. 11:1) and spiritual strength – and by this strength to obtain decisive victory over the world and the evil spirits.

 

St. John the Theologian calls such faith the confidence that we have in God, and he teaches us from his own holy experience that it is attained through prayer that is heard [by God].[5]  The righteous as if see the invisible God through such faith, as the Apostle Paul said.[6] Naturally, the world hides from view at the sight of God! The transitory world becomes as if non-existent, and the prince of the world has no support in his warfare.

 

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8–9), taking the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) – faith that is active, living, grace-filled.

 

Only the ascetical laborer of Christ is capable of such faith. He has prepared himself for warfare with the evil spirits by forgiving his neighbors’ sins – that is, through mercy and humility – and has entered the fight bearing the weapon of fasting and prayer. Amen.

 

 

 

This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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This homily is at:

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http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-04_2011+the-significance-of-fasting-in-the-struggle-against-fallen-spirits+by-st-ignatius-brianchaninov.doc

 

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[1] St. John Cassian, Discourses 8, 9, 10.

 

[2] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 8, on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans.”

 

[3] St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Philokalia, Part 2. See the Homily of Nicephorus the Monk.

 

[4] From the Kanonik, (Canon Book), the first prayer against defilement.

 

[5] See 1 John 5:13–15

 

[6] See Hebrews 11:27

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NB: Just one resolution for Great Lent. Fasting and prayer

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Many people make some sort of resolution when they enter Great Lent. Usually it is something we have not done before, or perhaps done poorly. The one who has fasted poorly in the past may decide to keep the fast better – to not eat any meat or animal products, and some may even be zealous to keep the fast from oil and wine and fish. The one who keeps the fasts may be zealous to not eat anything at all for the first three days of Great Lent, or eat only one meal a day, which, according to the strict typikon, is “after the ninth hour” (about 3 in the afternoon).

In my pastoral experience, most people make some sort of fasting related resolution. I applaud their intentions, but sometimes their emphasis on fasting obscures for them the real purpose of the fast (it is not fasting!), and trying something that is beyond their spiritual and physical capabilities sets them up for failure, and sometimes, despair. Even if they succeed in their fasting goal, they miss out on improving themselves in more important ways.  Remember: Nobody is saved because of fasting (but those who are being saved fast).

 

There is only ONE important resolution to make for the Great Fast. It is mentioned (in so many words and images) constantly in our services. We will mention that one in a little bit.

 

It is very important to fast, especially for the one who has rarely fasted, but there are more pressing things. It would be better if a person prayed the Prayer of St Ephrem [1] with attention in the morning and the evening. How many think about fasting, and even buy cool new vegan food from the local yuppie grocery, and do not increase their prayer? This is more important. We need to become more regular at prayer, and pray with more attention. The prayer of St Ephrem is a great place to start.

 

Also, there are extra services in any serious parish during the fast [2], especially in Clean week and Holy week. If you are not in the habit of going to church except on Sunday, or sometimes on Saturday too, it would be better for your soul if you made the effort to change your habits and attend at least one of the extra services each week regularly. This is much more meaningful (and difficult!) for those who are not in the habit of so much “church prayer” than “not eating till 3”, or “trying to not use oil” during the week.

 

Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act. We are trying to get less selfish.

 

Many people rarely or inconsistently pray for others. This is the perfect time to decide to give our supplications to God for our loved ones (and especially our not loved ones!), our family, friends, and our pastor. Praying for others is demanded in the scriptures. We must do it; we need to get very good at it. Our prayer will not be fruitless, even though it may be distracted and not seem to us to be very effectual. We are in training to not think of ourselves, and to love, truly love, others. Prayer with attention is the greatest expression of love.

 

How do we go about this is we are undisciplined in prayer? We must have two things – real honest desire (which will be shown by our effort) and a little planning and organization.

 

Get a notecard and write a few important names on it. You can also use the prayer list we publish and change frequently- it is here: http://docs.google.com/View?id=dzgvjb6_16f2pcdrhn.  

 

Do not try to be eloquent or lengthy. All you need do is pray “Lord have mercy” for (N)”; do this for each person. You may also pray the Jesus prayer for each person. This blog has written at length about intercessory prayer for others: here: “ Christian Life Skills: Praying for others. Praying for enemies. The Jesus Prayer. [3]

 

Of course, we should plan to fast from various foods, but in comparison to our prayer, it certainly must take second place. In fact, the scripture teaches that fasting is in order to increase our prayer [4], so merely fasting without making other changes is nonsensical from a spiritual point of view.

 

The Most important Resolution.

 

Above, it was said that “Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act.” This should be our “resolution” during the Great Fast. If we need to have an actual resolution, let us have the one St Herman of Alaska [5] has taught us:

 

"For our good, for our happiness," … "at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!"

 

 

“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well”  that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.

Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2010-02-18-just-one-resolution-for-great-lent-fasting-and-prayer.doc

And on our BLOG

 

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Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 



[2] There are RARE exceptions, when a pastor is unable to support himself without a very inflexible job, and cannot serve services during the week, but for the most part, when you see a church with just weekend services, and even only Sunday services, you would be better off finding another one.

 

[4]  “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” 1 Corinthians 7:5

 

“But I, when they troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting: and my prayer shall return to my own bosom.” (Psalm 34 , Brenton Septuagint)

 

“And I set my face toward the Lord God, to seek him diligently by prayer and supplications, with fastings and sackcloth. “(Daniel 9:3  , Brenton Septuagint)

 

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Gleanings from the Fathers, history, fasting guidelines and stories on the start of the Apostle’s Fast.

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Saints Peter and PaulFrom a Parishioner's Facebook Page (Reader David Hawthorne: (Today) is the beginning of the celebration of the Apostles' Fast. After the celebration of Pentecost, the Apostles began a fast to prepare themselves for taking the Gospel to the whole world. Let us imitate their spiritual struggle so we also may become more fruitful witnesses of Christ to the world!

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." St. John Chrysostom
 
And, since this year, the Apostles Fast is particularly long, a word of encouragement from Blessed Augustine: "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."

More gleanings:

"The Apostles almost always fasted." Saint John Chrysostom (Sermon 57 on the Gospel of Matthew)

"After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit … Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.''
St. Leo the Great (†461)

People have to answer greatly for not keeping the rules of the Church with respect to the fasts. People justify themselves by saying that they never considered it a sin to eat dairy products during the fasts. They repent and consider themselves sinners in every other respect, but they do not think to repent about not keeping the fasts. Meanwhile, they are transgressing the commandment of our holy Mother, the Church, and according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, they are as the heathen and publicans because of their disobedience. St. Ambrose of Optina (+1891)

Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — -holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, "Counsels from the Holy Mountain"

A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one's cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity. Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (of Blessed Memory)

Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself." The Desert Fathers

Abba John the Dwarf said, "If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh; if a man goes about fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Many more Gleanings from the Holy Fathers on Fasting   here.


 

"Ahh, another month of fasting".Shawn Lazar :)

 


A little story. When I was considering whether I should come down to Dallas to be the rector of a small community that was holding reader's services, as asked by my bishop. I asked my spiritual father for advice. He told me to say the akathist to Jesus for forty days with fasting. We were near the end of Great Lent. He told me to wait until after Bright week to begin the forty days fast, which my wife and I did. We were to say the akathist every day. and fast. We missed a couple days of the akathist, so the fast was prolonged a few days. Immediately after we finished, the Apostle's fast began!  Ahh…


Apostles Fast Fasting Guidelines.

From our weekly newsletter: http://docs.google.com/View?id=d926dxr_26ct6kqwnw

The apostles' fast begins this week, and extends until the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on Monday, June 29/July 12th. During this fast, we fast from meat, fish, dairy, eggs, wine and oil, with the following exceptions:

  • Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturday and Sunday
  • Wine and oil are allowed on Tuesday and Thursday
  • There are also particular relaxations in honor of certain saints. This week,
    • Fish is allowed on Tuesday in honor of St. Dmitry Donskoy
    • Wine & oil are allowed on Wednesday in honor of St. Alexis of Moscow
    • Fish is allowed on Thursday in honor of Sts. Constantine and Helen

A History of the Apostle's Fast, from a pretty good blog :"Mystagogy"

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NB: Just one resolution for Great Lent. Fasting and prayer

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Many people make some sort of resolution when they enter Great Lent. Usually it is something we have not done before, or perhaps done poorly. The one who has fasted poorly in the past may decide to keep the fast better – to not eat any meat or animal products, and some may even be zealous to keep the fast from oil and wine and fish. The one who keeps the fasts may be zealous to not eat anything at all for the first three days of Great Lent, or eat only one meal a day, which, according to the strict typikon, is “after the ninth hour” (about 3 in the afternoon).

In my pastoral experience, most people make some sort of fasting related resolution. I applaud their intentions, but sometimes their emphasis on fasting obscures for them the real purpose of the fast (it is not fasting!), and trying something that is beyond their spiritual and physical capabilities sets them up for failure, and sometimes, despair. Even if they succeed in their fasting goal, they miss out on improving themselves in more important ways.  Remember: Nobody is saved because of fasting (but those who are being saved fast).

 

There is only ONE important resolution to make for the Great Fast. It is mentioned (in so many words and images) constantly in our services. We will mention that one in a little bit.

 

It is very important to fast, especially for the one who has rarely fasted, but there are more pressing things. It would be better if a person prayed the Prayer of St Ephrem [1] with attention in the morning and the evening. How many think about fasting, and even buy cool new vegan food from the local yuppie grocery, and do not increase their prayer? This is more important. We need to become more regular at prayer, and pray with more attention. The prayer of St Ephrem is a great place to start.

 

Also, there are extra services in any serious parish during the fast [2], especially in Clean week and Holy week. If you are not in the habit of going to church except on Sunday, or sometimes on Saturday too, it would be better for your soul if you made the effort to change your habits and attend at least one of the extra services each week regularly. This is much more meaningful (and difficult!) for those who are not in the habit of so much “church prayer” than “not eating till 3”, or “trying to not use oil” during the week.

 

Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act. We are trying to get less selfish.

 

Many people rarely or inconsistently pray for others. This is the perfect time to decide to give our supplications to God for our loved ones (and especially our not loved ones!), our family, friends, and our pastor. Praying for others is demanded in the scriptures. We must do it; we need to get very good at it. Our prayer will not be fruitless, even though it may be distracted and not seem to us to be very effectual. We are in training to not think of ourselves, and to love, truly love, others. Prayer with attention is the greatest expression of love.

 

How do we go about this is we are undisciplined in prayer? We must have two things – real honest desire (which will be shown by our effort) and a little planning and organization.

 

Get a notecard and write a few important names on it. You can also use the prayer list we publish and change frequently- it is here: http://docs.google.com/View?id=dzgvjb6_16f2pcdrhn.  

 

Do not try to be eloquent or lengthy. All you need do is pray “Lord have mercy” for (N)”; do this for each person. You may also pray the Jesus prayer for each person. This blog has written at length about intercessory prayer for others: here: “ Christian Life Skills: Praying for others. Praying for enemies. The Jesus Prayer. [3]

 

Of course, we should plan to fast from various foods, but in comparison to our prayer, it certainly must take second place. In fact, the scripture teaches that fasting is in order to increase our prayer [4], so merely fasting without making other changes is nonsensical from a spiritual point of view.

 

The Most important Resolution.

 

Above, it was said that “Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act.” This should be our “resolution” during the Great Fast. If we need to have an actual resolution, let us have the one St Herman of Alaska [5] has taught us:

 

"For our good, for our happiness," … "at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!"

 

 

 

“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well”  that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.

Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2010-02-18-just-one-resolution-for-great-lent-fasting-and-prayer.doc

And on our BLOG

 

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Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 



[2] There are RARE exceptions, when a pastor is unable to support himself without a very inflexible job, and cannot serve services during the week, but for the most part, when you see a church with just weekend services, and even only Sunday services, you would be better off finding another one.

 

[4]  “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” 1 Corinthians 7:5

 

“But I, when they troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting: and my prayer shall return to my own bosom.” (Psalm 34 , Brenton Septuagint)

 

“And I set my face toward the Lord God, to seek him diligently by prayer and supplications, with fastings and sackcloth. “(Daniel 9:3  , Brenton Septuagint)

 

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Come Receive the Light interview with Matushka Marina, Diaconissa Genevieve

Friday, February 5th, 2010

See "Come Receive the Light" for the following:

"On this very special episode of Come Receive the Light, guest host Kevin Allen speaks with NFL superstar Troy Polamalu and his wife Theodora Polamalu about their work with FOCUS North America. Tune in to hear them talk about their work to fight poverty in North America and to find out how you can help.

[Certainly the above sounds interesting, but excuse me for the following catching my eye a little more! FS]

Also with us are Matushka Marina Holland and Diaconissa Genevieve Park from St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in McKinney, TX. They’re here to give families some tips on fasting and to tell us about their wonderful online recipe archive. (RSS FEED)


Listen Now (Real Audio) or Click Here for Direct File Link or go to the Come Receive the Light "Fighting poverty in North America" articleor click below to listen

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The Connection between abstinence and understanding. 4th Week of Great Lent – TUESDAY

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Illumined in our souls through abstinence, let us venerate the saving cross upon which Christ was nailed, and let us cry aloud to it: Hail the delight and sure help of those that fast; Hail, destroyer of the passions, adversary of the devils; Hail blessed wood! (Matins Sessional Hymn, Tone 8, from the Triodion, Tuesday in the 4th week of Great Lent)

 

Why do we fast? If a person fasts because it is a rule, he does not understand, is not “illumined”. We fast precisely because of the human condition, which needs fasting in order to be “illumined”. This is a biological/spiritual “law”, as binding upon the human body and soul as, for instance, the law that if one drinks a liter of alcohol they will not be able to reason well, or if more calories are ingested than are used in activity, a person will become fat.

 

There is a connection between the body and soul; each affects the other. We do not understand how this interaction occurs, but we know from experience various ways that each affects the other.

 

Our Lord told us that “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Mat 17:21). He was using the occasion of the exorcism He had just performed to compare our passions to demons and teach us a principle weapon we must use to expel them. This understanding has been present in the church from the beginning but one will not find it understood well outside of Orthodoxy, or even by most in the church.

 

Since fasting for too many is a “rule”, and they do not understand its purpose, like most rules that are not understood, it is not well followed and loses its power to effect change. People foolishly argue whether strict fasting is for monks or not, and all kinds of minutia, when they should be pursuing abstinence in order to gain understanding.

 

Adam and Eve fell from understanding because they were not abstinent. All kinds of gluttony – for food, drink, pleasure, power, prestige, money, entertainments and everything else – darkens our understanding. The things we desire are not (usually) forbidden in principle, but our desiring them in excess measure is a type of impurity, and only the pure can know God, because they have become like him.

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Beatitudes)

 

Why do you fast? If it is for any other reason than to illumine the dark parts of your soul, you fast weakly, without power and proper purpose.

 

If you do not understand this connection between fasting and understanding, you must explore it first with faith, and you will learn. “Come and see” said Philip to Nathaniel, and this advice applies equally well to all spiritual and ascetic endeavors.

 

Half hearted measures are unlikely to help you. Neither is sometimes fasting and sometimes not, or making up your own rules about fasting. Do not do this alone. Your confessor should know about your fasting. If your confessor does not fast[1], or belittles fasting, then find a new confessor! A confessor will help a person to fast according to their abilities. A person who does not follow the letter of the fasting “rules” but tries to follow them in spirit will spiritually ascend.

 

Abstinence is hard. It is directly opposed to our self-centeredness, our wayward desires. This is precisely why it is so powerful and so necessary.

 

Some time ago I read an article that made me very sad. A person who was new to Orthodox had trouble with fasting. particularly irritability and an obsession with and confusion about the rules. Not receiving sound counsel, this person, in the darkness of his understanding reasoned that “over emphasizing” fasting was the cause of his problems, and finding a church that was more “relaxed” (his words) about fasting. he thought he found a better way. The only thing that we ALWAYS “over-emphasize” is our own desires, and this ALWAYS darkens our understanding.

 

The only solution for indulgence is abstinence, with proper measure and resolute purpose. In so doing, with God’s great help, we will be “Illumined in our souls through abstinence.”

 

 

Post Script.

 

This simple hymn, sung only ONE day in the entire church year, is illustrative of the vast wealth that is on our services. If one listens carefully, all of our theology, and with it, our practices and the reason for them, are fully explained. Theology is beautiful, precise and pristine. When it is sung, it penetrates the soul. It is good to read service texts, but even better to stand in long services and listen to them. Even if in a three hour service there is only enough attention and lucidity to understand, even for a brief moment, one of our hymns, the time is well spent. Attempting to stand in the services and pray is a kind of abstinence too, and it bestows rich rewards upon the expectant hearer. As in all things, spiritual, this must be experienced to be understood.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

The most important reference on fasting for an Orthodox Christian is a confessor who fasts.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

http://www.orthodox.net/dailylent/great-lent-week-04-tuesday_2009-03-24+abstinence-and-understanding.html

http://www.orthodox.net/dailylent/great-lent-week-04-tuesday_2009-03-24+abstinence-and-understanding.doc

 

New commentaries are posted on our BLOG: http://www/.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings: http://www.orthodox.net/dailylent

 

Compendium of materials about Great Lent:

http://www.orthodox.net/greatlent

 

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!

 



[1] Of course, there are proper reasons to eat “non-fasting” food during a fast season, but they only involve the needs of the body, and should not involve the gluttony of the soul. A person may eat non-fasting food for medical reasons, but in every case, the “spirit of the fast” can be followed, and the person is then “fasting”. A confessor who does not understand and practice fasting is incompetent and spiritually dangerous.

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St John Chrysostom on true fasting. WORTHY TO BE READ during a fast free week!

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This is a long quotation, but very profitable to read. It explains the purpose of fasting, the proper attitude towards it, its effects on our spiritual state, and how fasting not done in the right spirit is actually injurious to us.

 

We also see from St John’s words the reason we have a fast free week following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. He does not reference this custom, but his explanation is the reason it exists. The homily from which this quotation was taken has many other profitable things about fasting.

 

It is very fruitful to think about the true purpose of fasting during a fast-free week!

TO MY FLOCK:It would also be very fruitful to discuss this in church this weekend. Please read this carefully, so we can discuss it. 

St John Chrysostom, Letters; Homilies on the Statutes, Homily III, (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf109.xix.v.htm)

 Bold face and headings inserted.

 

 

Fasting is a help to us; we should approach fasts with expectation of spiritual improvement.

 

7. Let us not then despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears! We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession.

 

Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveler boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest.

 

So too, when the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickle; and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travelers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and a sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveler.

 

Hence St. Paul saith, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole amour of God.” Eph. vi. 12.

 

Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed! How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly business, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual amour, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with the spiritual amour, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow.

 

Cultivate thy soul.

Cut away the thorns.

Sow the word of godliness.

Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of divine wisdom, and thou hast become a husbandman.

 

And Paul will say to thee, “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” 2 Tim. ii. 6. He too himself practiced this art. Therefore writing to the Corinthians, he said, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” 1 Cor. iii. 6.

 

Spiritual and physical effects of Fasting.


Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on.

 

And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance.

 

Keep down the waves of inordinate desires.

Repel the tempest of evil thoughts.

Preserve the boat; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot.

But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things.

 

Real Fasting: from meat and sins.

 

8. I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting ; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. “For the wrestler,” it is said, “is not crowned unless he strive lawfully.” 2 Tim. ii. 5.

 

Why do we fast after the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee?

 

To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted,  Luke xviii. 12. but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.

 

The Ninevites fasted, and won the favor of God. Jonah iii. 10. The Jews, fasted too, and profited nothing, nay, they departed with blame. Isa. lviii. 3, 7; 1 Cor. ix. 26.

 

Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not “run uncertainly,” nor “beat the air,” nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow.

 

Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskilfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named. Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.

 

 

Admonition – Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!.

 

11. I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.

 

Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!

 

Is it said by what kind of works?

If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!

If thou seest in enemy, be reconciled to him!

If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!

If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!

 

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.

Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.

Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.

 

Fasting for all the senses explained

 

For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.

 

Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says.

 

12. Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what doth it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eateth the flesh of his brother, and biteth the body of his neighbor.

 

Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. v. 15. Thou hast not fixed thy teeth in the flesh, but thou hast fixed the slander in the soul, and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; thou hast harmed, in a thousand ways, thyself and him, and many others, for in slandering a neighbor thou hast made him who listens to the slander worse…

 

This document is at:

 

 

 

 

 

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Fasting cannibals

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I just came across the term "fasting cannibals" and it is so descriptive that I could not resist mentioning it, although it is still more than a month before Great Lent begins. The context is not really that important – just some arguing about prospective candidates for Patriarch in Russia. For some, this is a full contact sport. Of those who are "fasting cannibals" is was said that that "although they themselves lead ascetic lives, they
show unrestrained pitilessness toward those under them". In other words, they may be ascetic, but they do not act like Christians,

This reminds me of a saying I heard attributed to Archbishop John (of Chicago, OCA) years ago. In referring to the imminent start of Great Lent, He said "This is the time when we stop eating meat, and start eating each other".

Brethren, we should not be "fasting cannibals". Fasting starts with the heart. May God preserve us from outward acts of piety and inward acts of hatred, malice, judgment and other depravities.

 

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Gleanings from the Holy Fathers: On Fasting

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — -holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”

A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one’s cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity. Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (of Blessed Memory)

Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself.” The Desert Fathers

According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needful and sufficient for normal nourishment., Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk. 6:25). St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

Almsgiving heals the soul’s incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul. St. Maximos the Confessor (First Century on Love no. 79)

Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. ‘Loose the bands of wickedness.’ For give your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not ‘fast for strife and debate.’ You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are ‘drunken, but not with wine.’ Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine. St. Basil, in his homilies on the Holy Spirit

Suppose you have ordered yourself not to eat fish; you will find that the enemy continually makes you long to eat it. You are filled with an uncontrollable desire for the thing that is forbidden. In this way you can see how Adam’s fall typifies what happens to all of us. Because he was told not to eat from a particular tree, he felt irresistibly attracted to the one thing that was forbidden him. St. John of Karpathos “The Philokalia: the Complete Text” (volume I), by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. By G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and (Bishop) Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 298 – 309

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