Archive for the ‘Holy Fathers’ Category

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

Purpose of Our Life

Friday, January 25th, 2008

It is easy to forget in the midst of our day-to-day responsibilities that the purpose of our life is not less than union with God. This is what we were created for. Not in the sense of losing our own personalities or being absorbed into the essence of God – God in his essence is beyond our reach, beyond our comprehension. Rather, we are called to union with God’s energies, to participation in that same Uncreated Light that illumined Christ on Mount Tabor, Moses on Sinai, and St. Seraphim in his conversation with Motovilov. We feeble and corruptible ones are called to know and abide with the source of all strength, love, and life.

How is this possible for us weak ones, living as we are in the midst of the world? I just read a chapter by the Elder Cleopa of Romania,* in which he lists four practical, straightforward ways that the Holy Church has given us for attaining union with God:
1. Most importantly, Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Holy Mystery, the spiritual reality of Communion with Christ is clothed in a material form to make it more accessible and comprehensible to us. Glory to God for His Condescension!
2. Prayer – and in particular the prayer of Jesus.
3. Fulfilling the commandments and acquiring the virtues.
4. Reading and hearing the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.

How straightforward this is! The Church gives us everything that we need. The Holy Mystery of Communion is available to us every Sunday. The prayers of the saints teach us how to pray – we only need to read them, understanding more with the passage of time. The Holy Mystery of Confession helps us in our struggle to fulfill the commandments and acquire the virtues. The Holy Scriptures are readily available, and the Church even gives us a list of readings for each day. Moreover, the Church Services give us everything at once: the Holy Mysteries, prayer, instruction in virtue, and abundant exposure to the Word of God! Glory to God for making it so easy to progress along the path toward such a lofty goal! To ascend the mountain, we need only keep walking, one step at a time.

*The Truth of our Faith, Vol II: On the Christian Mysteries

Do you have the will? Then you will find the way!

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

“So come, let us rise up, as many of us as wish to escape this slavery of the passions, and run to Christ, the true Master, so that we may acquire the title of His servants. Let us also strive to become such men as our discourse has just enumerated. Let us not, therefore, hold our salvation in contempt, nor fool ourselves and make excuses for our sins by saying, ‘It is impossible for a man of the present generation ever to become such a person.’ Neither let us philosophize against our own salvation, nor argue against our very souls. Because it is indeed possible, if we will it so, and so much so that free will alone can carry us up to that height. For where, as St. Basil says, there is a ready will, there is nothing to hinder.”

St. Symeon the New Theologian. (From “Spiritual Words”, posted daily by Mark Sadek)

Which one among you makes excuses for your sins and fools yourself by saying “‘It is impossible for a man of the present generation ever to become such a person?” Raise your hands, and I will count (as soon as I get my hand out of the way!). I see! All of you have raised your hands!

The tendency to despondency and from that weakened state to making excuses for sins is part of the human condition, but this is not the Christian way. Let us listen to St Symeon and St Basil, and if that is not enough, to the sublime Paul: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, {2} Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “(Heb 12:1-2)

I have told you many times in sermons that all the God requires is that we DESIRE and that we TRY. If we supply the effort, God will supply the RESULTS. Do you believe this? It is a hard thing to believe, because ofttimes, we allow ourselves to believe what we see, and forget about that which we do not see. The grace of God works invisibly in every man, and produces fruit in a man if he has the will. Cultivate in yourselves that will. If you desire, and because of that desire, make an effort, then you will change. This is the message that St Symeon is telling us today.

p Seraphim