Friday, March 11, 2016

Archdeacon Basil of Canberra sharing news items

Esphigmenou's plight on BBC2... [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Basil YAKIMOV Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 5:01 PM
Dear in Christ!  If I  have offended anyone, whether it was intentional or not, forgive me, a sinner!  A salvic beginning to the Great Lent! 
I ask for your holy prayers.  Sincerely in our Lord Jesus Christ, unworthy protodeacon Basil from Canberra.
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also  forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses,  neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14–15). What a simple and handy means of salvation! Your  trespasses are forgiven under the condition that you forgive  the trespasses of your neighbour against you. This means  that you are in your own hands. Force yourself to pass from  agitated feelings toward your brother to truly peaceful  feelings—and that is all. Forgiveness day—what a great  heavenly day of God this is! If all of us used it as we  ought, this day would make Christian societies into heavenly  societies, and the earth would merge with heaven" (St. Theophan the Recluse, "Thoughts for Each Day of  the Year") 
During the week days of Lent, we say the prayer of St. Ephriam
O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition an idle talking give me not. Prostration
But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Prostration
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen. Prostration
Then the prayer once more in full with one prostration at the end
Fr Deacon Christopher Henderson, from Holy Cross Australian Orthodox Mission in Sydney, Australia,... If you would like to contact Fr Christopher, his email address can be found in any one of the Newsletters below

The Holy Gospel according to: 
Saint Matthew 6:14-21
King James Version (KJV 1611)
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

(When Fr. George read it, he cried, m. Nina.)  Homily on the Eve of the Sunday of the Dread Judgment
          Metropolitan Philaret of Eastern America and New York (+1985) | 23 February 2014
“We Shall Have to Answer for All Before the Absolute Good”              
When  the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with  Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and  before Him  shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from  another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was a-hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me  drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye  clothed Me: I  was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came  unto Me. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee a-hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?
When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed  Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee? And the  King shall  answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as  ye have  done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have  done it unto  Me. Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
  For I was a-hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink. I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not. Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord when saw we Thee a-hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee? Then shall He answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to
  Me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (Matthew 25:31-46).
As  we gradually approach Great Lent, the Church dedicates  tomorrow’s  Sunday to a remembrance of the Dread Judgment of Christ,  about which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke in detail to His disciples  in the  relevant discourse that, God willing, we will hear tomorrow  at the  Liturgy in the Gospel reading.
The prayerful preparation for the fast began two weeks ago. The Church offered us the Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee, showing us how we should pray and should not pray to God. For the fast is the time of prayer par excellence. Then came the next Sunday, of the Prodigal Son, when the Church – calming and encouraging man inhibited by the consciousness of his own sinfulness – indicated this parable, in which we see how merciful the Lord is when His prodigal son comes to Him in repentance. As it says in the Church’s prayers, He accepts him with love, without berating him, without reproaching him for what he had done, but with love and forgiveness only.
But there are souls that are hard as rock, which do not soften and are not tempered by these poignant examples. It is for these that tomorrow the Church offers the Savior’s discourse on the Dread Judgment, in order to make even the hardness of sin-loving man to shudder and tremble.
Today was the so-called “Ancestral Saturday,” on which the Church prayed for the repose of all Orthodox Christians throughout the entire universe who have reposed in all ages. This is only natural: turning our attention to the Dread Judgment of Christ, the Church reminds us of those who will stand before the Dread Judgment, as we will, but who have already departed from this life and its boundaries, abiding already in the mysterious and otherworldly afterlife. When one completes one’s earthly path, the moment of death puts an end to, and terminates, his time for personal repentance. But the Church tells us that if, for example, someone’s soul departed in sins, without bearing repentance, and if this heavy and sinful burden torments it beyond the grave, then it suffers – but not hopelessly, for its fate is far from hopeless. One can no longer pray for oneself there – one’s time of repentance has passed – but the Church does not deprive one of its maternal care and concern, praying for the soul, that the Lord might forgive its sins and grant it the portion of the blessed in eternity.
We know from the Lives of Saints many examples of how the prayer of the Church – the prayer of neighbors and relatives offered in the depths of the Church – has shown doubtless and great help to the  souls of men  who have departed to that afterlife in poor condition, but  without hopelessness. Thus the Church calls upon us to pray for those who will stand before the Dread Judgment and who can no longer change their own portion. Thus does the Church call upon us to offer our prayers for them, for such prayer is acceptable to God.
And what of ourselves? Tomorrow is the Sunday of the Dread Judgment.  How often do we ourselves remember this last accounting?
When a student or pupil needs to take a difficult exam, he labors over it, worrying and fearful, trying to prepare himself as best he can. And here there will be a terrible and final exam, after which there will be no retesting in eternity. However, astonishing are ease and oblivion with  which man  treats this dread and final moment, before this opening into eternity,  time and again giving almost no thought to it. It is not  superfluous here to recall the words of an ascetic: “Trembling  overcomes me at the thought of the final judgment; but I think I will be especially surprised by three conditions: First, that I will not see at  the right  of the Righteous Judge many that I thought I would see  there; I will be  even more surprised when I see many on His left that I never  thought I  would see there; but I will be most surprised if I myself  turn out to be on the right.”  Thus spoke a humble ascetic who saw  his sins, but did  not notice his virtues, for the Lord leads His faithful  servants so  wisely that they see other’s virtues, but not their own. But they do see their own sins, which they feel torturously and painfully.
The Holy Hierarch Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, said in one of his inspiring sermons: “Remember, man, that the Lord reveals to you the  picture of His Last Judgment beforehand, that while it is  not yet too  late, you might run from the left side to the right.” If your conscience
  is sensitive, if it accuses you of sins, then surely you  cannot but  fear this judgment, for you are threatened with the portion  on the left.
  But the Lord does reveal to us what will be, so that you  might come  around and, while it is not too late – while your earthly  life has not  yet been cut short, while you are still its master in this  regard, for  it depends wholly on your freedom how you define yourself in  relation to  eternity – you might use this same path of freedom  to serve God and  move from the left to the right. It is not yet too late! For the Church, indicating this, tells us: It is not yet too late! It is already too late for those of our brethren who have completed this  earthly life, but  for us it is still the time of repentance and correction.
“This is the time for doing,” as St. Gregory the Theologian says. And may it not pass by unfruitful for us, but may the Lord help us to bring good fruit for the Heavenly Kingdom! Amen.
“Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalms 139:7)
The question of the eternal suffering of sinners in the afterlife became one of the liveliest points of discussion in the Protestant world, and the rejection of the concept found fervent defenders in some preachers, as reported in the previous issue of Pravoslavnaya Rus [Orthodox Russia].
Human nature would rather answer this question in the negative; in the history of Christianity, there have long been attempts to see in the words about eternal Gehenna in the word of God only an allegory or with conditional meaning. This viewpoint sometimes even creeps into our midst.
Meanwhile, Meatfare Week is upon us. The Gospel message about the Day of Judgment: “and these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:46), is a terrible reminder in Orthodox churches not only on that Sunday, but for the entire week that follows.
The Savior and the Apostles spoke unambiguously many times of the eternal condemnation of sinners, which is a fate which could befall each and every one of us. The Fifth Ecumenical Council rejected the teaching of the so-called Origenists about the ultimate salvation of all people and even of evil spirits. One must subject our thoughts to the voice of the Word of God with humility and with the knowledge that Divine determination is higher than our reasoning. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,” says the Lord through Prophet Isaiah: “ For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
But man is generous towards himself. He is not inclined to doubt the promised eternal bliss of the righteous, but he doubts the eternal condemnation of sinners, carelessly ignoring the notion that in denying the latter, one must then deny the former: if one sees the words about eternal suffering as conditional, then we must view the promise of eternal blessedness as conditional, too.
Are we to boldly delude ourselves that the Savior is only frightening us with “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41), that it is only a pedagogical tool coming from His lips? Shall we not lead ourselves under His wrath for such a thought, for such self-consolation? The Psalms say: “ Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it” (Psalms 10:13).
Let us then not doubt the truth of God’s word. If we are not able to discover God’s thoughts for ourselves, let us be satisfied that we can ease our approach by wisely accepting God’s determinations.
Human thought makes two main errors on the teaching of eternal sufferings.
The first: how can temporary, even singular, actions lead to eternal damnation?
The other: if condemnation is even just, is not the law of fairness defeated by Divine love?
The first, as we see, touches upon the relationship between the temporal and the eternal. Yes, our actions can be singular, and one might say fleeting: time rushes by, our actions, our words and thoughts are forgotten. But in some deeper sense, nothing in the world disappears forever: all moves into eternity. The impetus created by one thought, one word, one action, leads to further impetuses and movements; it is simply that we do not notice them or take them into account. The planted seed gives root and prepares for a future harvest. Time is like a vessel in the ocean, which is eternity.
Death will come, and we will be immersed in eternity, where the life of the soul continues, though there is no longer the cycle of day and night, there is no onset of fatigue followed by time of rest, there are no clocks, no time; and this life of the soul continues with open and widened eyes directed at ourselves and at all that surrounds us, and also at all the fruits that we cultivated in earthly life, and at the consequences of our actions. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Our future life is a direct consequence of what we do. Planted within time, it is harvested in eternity. Good deeds will not be lost. “ For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41), said the Savior as He sent His disciples to preach. For this cup of water is the participation in the Good News of faith in Christ, even if the giver doesn’t recognize it as such. Evil that is done will likewise not be lost in eternity. “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). An idle word can serve as a temptation and could spur another person to sin and even to a crime.
Here we clearly see the logic of reward and punishment in future life: a person gathers for himself wealth for the Kingdom of God, and prepares for himself reward or punishment. “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant” (Luke 19:22), said the Lord in His parable on the talents. Such is the conclusion of pure fairness, this is the logic of justice. This is how the eternal fate of man is determined after temporary life on earth.
This fate, determined by justice, would be sorrowful for all of us without exception, since we are all impure and sinful, for “shall in no wise enter into [the Kingdom of God] any thing that defileth” (Revelation 21:27); in the Kingdom there is only holiness, there is not a spot of sin; meanwhile, the common state of man is a mix of good and evil. But meeting us halfway is Divine mercy, the love of God.
Herein lies the answer to the second question: on the meeting and concord of the justice of God with the mercy of God.
God’s love came to us with the sacrifice of the Cross of the Son of God, prepared to remove impurity from our soul and to compensate for our lack of personal holiness. The Resurrection of Christ opened for us the Kingdom of the Son of God.
But in order for the forgiving and all-embracing love of Christ to lead us into this Kingdom, we must respond to it, we must come to love our Savior, come to love His brethren, to enter in the spirit and body into His Church, which is His Body, to joyfully commune with Him, to weave ourselves into that prayerful bond, which spread like threads in all directions and bonds the body of the Church, concentrated in the middle in God. Here we find cleansing, purification, justification, sanctification. Here “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalms 85:10). Truth, Christ, appearing on earth, and the truth of justice bows down before it: “Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalms 85:11).
This is the foundation for our hope for future life in the Kingdom of God: only upon the mercy of God. We dare not declare our “rights.” We must not claim the “justice” of reward.
The love of Christ… but what if this love is rejected by mankind? What if the hand offered to us from above is not taken? What if the offer of forgiveness is unheeded? What if the response to this offer is antagonism and proud refusal?
Is the refusal of the Divine call possible? Yes, it is possible, reality demonstrates this. Voltaire expressed this attitude, declaring his hatred for Christianity. Nietzsche likewise—at least until his emotional illness overcame him—sharply despised the teaching of Christianity on humility, patience, mercy, and he created the prideful cult of the superman who rose above the concepts of good and evil. Similar is today’s militant atheism which declared war against all religion, especially the Christian faith. How are we to consider the afterlife of Nero alongside that of the Apostles Peter and Paul? Stalin together with the martyrs of our time? Those killed for the faith, the truth of God and Church and their executioners?
On a smaller scale we see how sin distances us from God. The first sin of Adam led to humanity seeking to hide from God. “Adam… Where art thou?” “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:9-10).The desire to hide from God and the impossibility of doing so is the beginning of suffering for the sinner. “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalms 139:7)
What are the sufferings of Gehenna: fire, worms, sheer darkness in the future age? The Fathers of the Church point out that this is not a place, but a condition of existence. “Sinners,” writes St John the Damascene, “will be given to eternal flame, not the physical fire of earth, but of a kind known only to God.”
Mankind, to the extent that sin grows in him, departs from God and the Divine Kingdom, it becomes alien to him. In the words of Dostoevsky, the sinner “returns the ticket” offered to him. Therefore the sinner scrapes together upon his own head the burning coals, committing himself to life without the rays of Divine light, to sheer darkness, where there is the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Is this the torment of the conscience? Not likely. A conscience that gnaws is the conscience has not yet been extinguished; it is the light of truth that has not yet gone out in the soul. The sufferings of the conscience have a cleansing effect.
Those other sufferings are probably not the same. There, the loss of life in God is combined with an impossibility—as horrifying as it is imagine—an unwillingness to repent. The fall of the devil shows that the love of God does not disarm evil. How are pride, envy, jealousy, wrath, hatred to be replaced with gratitude, meekness, humility and love? What power is able to extinguish spitefulness against one’s condemnation, when the state of enmity might even comprise an excruciating passion of sorts?
“Many foolish people,” writes St John Chrysostom, “wish only to elude Gehenna: but I deem far more torturous than Gehenna to be outside of the glory of the Kingdom of God; and whosoever is deprived of it, I think, should weep not so much from the sufferings of Gehenna, as much as the deprivation of heavenly blessings; for that one thing is the most cruel of all sufferings.” On the eve of Great Lent, the Holy Church reminds us of the Dread Judgment and of the punishment of sinners. But much more often, on a daily basis, she reminds us of the joy of the Kingdom of God, imparting within us the hope for it with the words of the Creed which we read every day: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, amen.” Let us take this reminder of Judgment Day with all our hearts, to bring earnest repentance during Lent and to strengthen in the hope that the Lord does not deprive us, too, of His Heavenly Kingdom.
On fasting
“For this kind is expelled only by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). With these words the Lord Himself indicated to us two kinds of weapons in our combat against our enemy – the dark and evil spirits. At the same time, He indicated to His disciples the need for them to fast at a time “when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them” (Matt. 9:15). The grace of the Holy Spirit is taken away from us through our sins. And its return to us is achieved primarily by means of repentance, assisted by prayer and fasting.
However, if the necessity of prayer for the salvation of the soul is recognized by all Christians, the necessity of fasting is often inadequately realized. And that is one of the cunning traps of the evil spirits into which fall many modern Christians.
In former not too distant times the confession of Christ was tied in with the fulfillment of all Church rules. For this reason, in the daily life of erstwhile Russian families we see a strict observance of Lenten days – Wednesdays and Fridays, and the four fasts established by the Church. The pious lay people of ancient Russia were not far behind the monastics in the sphere of fasting.
The time of fasting is an especially important time for spiritual life, it is “a favorable time, it is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). If the soul of a Christian pines for purity and seeks spiritual health, then it must try to make the best possible use of this time that is so beneficial for the soul. For this reason it has become the custom among genuinely God-fearing people to congratulate each other upon the beginning of a fast.
But what in essence is fasting? And is there not a sense of self-deception among those who feel obligated to follow the fast to the letter, but who do not love it and are burdened by it in their hearts? And can a simple compliance with the rule for eating only Lenten foods on days of fasting be called a fast? Will the fast truly be a fast if, except for some alteration in our food intake, we will think neither of repentance, nor or abstinence, nor of cleansing our hearts through intensified prayers?
We must assume that this will not be a fast, even though all the rules and customs of fast are kept. St. Barsonuphius the Great says: “Physical fasting has no meaning without the spiritual fasting of the inner man, which consists of guarding oneself from passions. Such a fasting of the inner man is pleasing to God and will reward you for the shortcomings of physical fasting” (if you were unable to keep the fast properly).
St. John Chrystostome says the same: “Whoever restricts the fast to a simple abstinence from food, dishonors it terribly. It is not only the lips that should fast – no, let the eyes, and the ears, and the hands, and the feet, and our entire body be engaged in fasting.”
Father Alexander Elchaninov writes: “Fasting does not equate with hunger. The fakir, and the yogi, and the prisoner in his prison, and the simple beggar – all hunger. Nowhere in the services of the Great Lent does it speak about the fast as an isolated event in our usual meaning, i.e. as not eating meat and other foods. Everywhere there is the same appeal: ‘Let us fast, brethren, physically and let us fast spiritually.’ Consequently, fasting only then has religious meaning when it is joined with spiritual labors.”
The fast represents absolute abstinence, in order to restore the lost balance between body and spirit, in order to give back to our spirit its authority over the body and its passions. The Lord Himself showed us an example of Lent by fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, from whence He “returned in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
St. Isaac the Syrian says: “Lent is a weapon prepared by God. If the Lawgiver Himself fasted, how can someone who is obligated to follow the law not fast? Before the fast mankind did not know victory, and the devil never experienced defeat. Our Lord was the commander and prime mover of this victory. And as soon as the devil sees this weapon in the hands of a person, this terrible tormentor immediately becomes afraid, remembering his defeat by the Saviour in the wilderness, and his power is destroyed. Whoever remains fasting is unshakeable in spirit” (Homily 30).
It is quite obvious that the labor of repentance and prayer during fasting should be accompanied by thoughts of one’s sinfulness and, naturally, by abstinence from all amusements – going to the theater and movies, visiting people, engaging in light reading, listening to gay music, watching television, etc. If all of this attracts a Christian’s heart, he should make an effort to tear his heart away from it, at least during the days of Lent. It should be remembered, for example, that on Fridays St. Seraphim not only fasted, but spent the day in absolute silence.
Father Alexander Elchaninov writes: “The fast is a period of spiritual effort. If we are unable to give up our entire life to God, let us at least dedicate to Him utterly the periods of fasting – let us strengthen our prayer, increase our charity, tame our passions, make peace with our enemies.”
Besides expressing repentance and abhorrence of sin, the fast has other aspects, too. The specific days of fasting are not chosen randomly. Wednesday symbolizes the betrayal of the Saviour – the lowest moment of the human soul’s fall and shame, as it goes in the person of Judas to betray the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver. Friday symbolizes the endurance of humiliation, of agonizing suffering, and death on the cross of the Redeemer of mankind. Remembering all of this, how can a Christian not restrict himself by means of abstinence?
The Great Lent is the Son of God’s path towards the sacrifice on Golgotha, etc. The human soul has no right, cannot – if it is Christian – pass indifferently by these majestic days – significant landmarks in time. Afterwards, at the Last Judgment, how will it dare to stand at the right side of the Lord, if it was indifferent to His sorrow, blood and suffering on those days when the Universal Church – both on earth and in heaven – remembers them?
In essence the fast is a spiritual endeavor and is connected with faith and daring. The fast is pleasing to the Lord as an impulse of a soul that is aspiring towards purity, striving to release itself from the fetters of sin, and free the spirit from servitude to the body. The Church considers it to be one of the efficacious resources by means of which one can transmute God’s wrath to mercy or bend God’s will towards the fulfillment of a prayerful entreaty. Thus, the Acts of the Apostles describe how the Christians of Antioch fasted and prayed before sending the holy apostles Paul and Barnabas out to preach (Acts 13:3). Therefore the fast is also practiced in the Church as a means for preparing oneself for some endeavor. When in need of something, individual Christians, monastics, monasteries or churches in general applied themselves to fasting and increased prayer.
Abstinence in food
For physically healthy people the basis of fasting is considered to be abstinence in food. Here one can distinguish 5 levels of physical fasting: (1) the giving up of meat, (2) the giving up of dairy products, (3) the giving up of fish, (4) abstinence from vegetable oil, (5) complete abstinence from food for a certain period of time. Naturally the last levels of fasting can be accomplished only by healthy people. For the sick and the old the first levels of fasting are more appropriate, of which we will speak in more detail below.
The power and efficacy of the fast can be evaluated by the strength of deprivation and sacrifice. And, naturally, it is not only the formal replacement of non-Lenten foods with Lenten foods that makes up the true fast: one can prepare exquisite meals from Lenten foods as well, and thus satisfy to some degree both one’s voluptuousness and one’s gluttony.
We should remember that it is improper for a penitent sorrowing over his sins to eat deliciously and abundantly during the Lent, even though the meals be formally Lenten. It may be said that that is not a fast at all, if a person gets up from a table laden with delicious Lenten foods and feels a satiation of the stomach. This does not equate with sacrifice or deprivation, and without the latter there is no genuine fasting. “Wherefore have we fasted, and Thou seest not?” – calls out the prophet Isaiah, denouncing the Jews who hypocritically observed all the rules, yet in their hearts stood far from God and His commandments (Isaiah 58:3).
In some cases ailing Christians on their own replace the usual fasting in food with a “spiritual” fast. The latter usually means paying stricter attention to oneself: keeping oneself away from sin – abstaining from irritation, the judging of others, quarreling, etc. All of this is good and well, but can a Christian in normal times allow himself to sin, to become irritated, judgmental of others, etc.? It is obvious that a Christian must always be sober and attentive, guarding himself from sin and all that which may offend the Holy Spirit. If, however, he is unable to restrain himself, then the same thing will probably occur both on regular days and during the Lent. In such a case the replacement of fasting in food with a similar “spiritual” fasting is usually a matter of self-deception.
Thus in cases where due to illness or a great shortage of foodstuffs the Christian is unable to keep to the usual norms of fasting, he should do the best he can. For example, he can give up sweets and delicacies, keep fast at least on Wednesdays and Fridays, choose foods in such a manner that delicious foods would only be offered on holidays, etc. If, due to illness, a Christian cannot totally abstain from non-Lenten food, he can at least limit it on days of fasting – for example, abstain from eating meat. In other words, in one way or another he should do his best to take part in fasting.
Some people refuse to fast out of fear of weakening their health, at the same time exhibiting hypochondria and lack of faith, and strive to always feed themselves abundantly with non-Lenten food, in order to attain good health and maintain their bodies in a well-fed state. Yet how often it is these same people who suffer from various illnesses and malfunctioning of internal organs!
The Lord commands us to conceal our fasting from those around us. However, it may not always be possible for a Christian to conceal his fasting from family members. In such a case it may happen that his relatives will be up in arms against the keeper of the fast, and their initially soft arguments may turn into irritation and rebuke. The evil spirit rebels against keepers of the fast through their family members, invokes all sorts of arguments against the fast, and presents all kinds of temptations, just as he once tried to do with the fasting Lord in the wilderness.
Let the Christian foresee all this in advance. Let him also not expect that as soon as he commences fasting, he will straightaway receive the comfort of grace, warmth in the heart, tears of tenderness, and ardor in prayer. This does not come immediately, but must be earned through struggles, labors, and sacrifices. Those who followed the path of rigorous fasting confirmed that sometimes at the beginning of the Lent there was even a weakening of desire for prayer or interest in spiritual reading, etc.
The fast is a treatment, and this latter is often not easy. And just as one can expect health only at the end of a course of treatment, so one cannot expect the fast to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit – peace, joy, etc. – right away.
Discernment in fasting
Just as all virtues, fasting likewise requires discernment.
St. Cassian the Roman writes: “Extremes, as the holy fathers say, are equally harmful on both sides – both an excess of fasting and a satiation of the belly. We know some people who, not having been conquered by gluttony, were vanquished by excessive fasting and fell into the same vice of gluttony as a result of the weakness that occurred from excessive fasting. Moreover, immoderate abstention is more harmful than satiation, because from the latter one can go back to moderation by means of repentance, while from the former it is impossible.
The general rule of moderation in abstention is for each person, in accordance with his physical strength, state of health, and age, to eat only as much food as is necessary to support health, and not as much as one wishes. A monk should conduct the matter of fasting as wisely as though he would be remaining in his body for a hundred years, and restrain his inner passions – forget offenses and disdain sorrows – as one who could die any day.”
At the same time fasting is not a rite, but a mystery of the human soul, which the Lord commanded to conceal from others. The Lord says: “When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you – they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:16-18). For this reason a Christian should conceal both his repentance – his prayers and inner tears – and his fasting and abstinence in food. Here we should fear to reveal our difference from those around us and should know how to conceal from them our labors and sacrifices.
In all cases where the keeper of the fast must eat together with his frailer brethren, he should not, according to the holy fathers, rebuke them by his abstinence. Thus the holy abba Isaiah writes: “If you absolutely wish to abstain more than others, go off into a separate cell and do not distress your frailer brother.”
It is not only for the sake of preserving ourselves from vanity that we should strive not to show off our fasting. If our fast will for some reason embarrass those around us, will bring forth rebukes from them or, perhaps, cause mockery, accusations of hypocrisy, etc. – in such cases we must likewise guard the secret of fasting, according to the words of the Lord: “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).
In general, church rules must not be treated with formality. We should remember the Lord’s injunction that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). At the same time, writes Saint Innocent of Moscow, “it is not wise to transgress the fast without need, so that the one who is able to keep the fast through a choice of food – let him keep it. But the one who does not have the possibility to choose his food, let him use all that God gives him, but without excess; at the same time, you must rigorously keep fast with your soul, your mind, and your thoughts, and then your fast will be as pleasing to God as the fast of the most abstemious observers of Lent.
The goal of the fast is to ease and tame the body, restrain desires and disarm passions. Therefore the Church, asking you about food, does not primarily wish to know what kind of food you are using, but rather the reason for which you are using it.”
Saints Barsonuphius the Great and John say: “What is Lent but punishment of the body, in order to tame the healthy body and make it frail for passions, according to the apostle: ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Cor. 12:10). And illness, more than such punishment, is counted in lieu of the fast and is valued even more greatly. Whoever suffers it patiently, giving gratitude to God, through his patience receives the fruit of his salvation. Instead of the body’s strength being weakened through fasting, it is already weakened by the illness. Therefore, do not be saddened even if you eat several times a day: you will not be judged for it, since you are not doing it to pamper yourself.”
Concerning the correct norm for fasting, St. Barsonuphius the Great gives the following instruction: “In regard to fasting I will say the following: examine your heart to see whether it has not been robbed by vanity, and if it was not robbed, then examine it a second time to see whether this fast has not made you weak in performing your functions, for such weakness should not exist, and if even in this no harm has come to you, then you are fasting properly.”
The desert-dweller Nikiphoros says: “The Lord does not require hunger, but spiritual labor. Spiritual labor is the utmost a person can do on his own, and the rest is obtained through grace. We have little strength now, and so the Lord does not ask any great feats from us. I tried to fast strictly and saw that I could not. I become weak and lose strength to pray properly. I once became so weakened by fasting that I could not even get up to read my prayers.”
This is an example of improper fasting. Bishop Herman writes: “Exhaustion is a sign of improper fasting; it is just as harmful as satiation. Even great elders ate soup with oil during the first week of Great Lent. Ailing flesh should not be crucified, but supported.”
Thus all weakening of health and the ability to work during Lent speaks of its incorrectness and the overstepping of its norm. Best of all is for keepers of the fast to be guided by the instructions of experienced spiritual instructors. For elderly people, for example, it can be difficult to change their usual dietary regimen for the sake of Lent, since this often leads to a loss of working ability. However, those who transgress the fast because of illness or old age should still remember that this can also include a certain amount of lack of faith and incontinence. For this reason, when the spiritual children of Father Alexis Zosimovsky were forced to transgress the fast by a doctor’s prescription, the elder ordered them in such cases to repent and pray thus: “Lord, forgive me for transgressing the holy fast by order of the doctor and my own frailty,” and not to think that this is how it must be.
Lent and children
How early should children begin to keep the fast? According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, a healthy infant does not fast only while he is being nursed by his mother, i.e. approximately until the age of three.
Together with the need to keep the fast to some degree, it is also necessary to ensure that children are prevented from acquiring the habit of satiation or of eating too frequently and at the wrong time. In this regard, the holy hierarch Theophanus the Recluse gives the following advice to parents: “Children must be fed in such a way that, while expanding the body’s growth and making it strong and healthy, the soul should not be incited by bodily indulgence. One should not think of the child as being too small, but from the earliest years one must teach it to restrain the flesh and control it, so that both in infancy, and in youth, and even afterwards the individual could easily and freely cope with this need.”
When children grow up and their natures and inclinations become established, parents should exhibit tactfulness in regard to the degree of their offspring’s fasting. For example, one cannot deprive them of dessert against their will, or reduce the content of food to such an extent on days of fasting that the normal bound of church rules would be overstepped. And for feeble and ailing children a reduction or departure from fasting is naturally allowed.
In the same manner grown children (young men and maidens) cannot be forcibly held to a strict observance of all the rules of fasting if they feel burdened by it. In such a case the fasting will not bring any benefit to the soul, but may even harden it. The Lord said: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). Indeed, the entire meaning of the Lent lies in a voluntary restraint and limiting of oneself. Thus, in order for the usual rules of fasting not to be burdensome for grown children, they should be trained to keep fast from the earliest age.
Lent and television
Physical fasting presupposes the following: (1) abstinence in food; (2) the use of only certain kinds of food; (3) infrequent eating.
Spiritual fasting must also include: (1) abstinence in acceptance of external impressions – the food of the soul, i.e. information, which people have become used to receiving daily in huge amounts; (2) control over this information, i.e. over the quality of the food which the soul receives, and the exclusion of everything that incites the passions; (3) infrequent intake of this food, i.e. periods of solitude, quiet, silence, time spent on one’s own, in order to have the opportunity to realize one’s sins and accomplish the main goal of the Lent, which is repentance…
Our passions are closely tied in with sensual images. Passion arises in the consciousness in the form of a sinful image; and, in turn, a sinful image accepted from the outside incites passion in our heart.
In modern times, the stage on which human passions are continuously demonstrated in all their diversity, effectiveness, and sophistication is the television. It is similar to a source of constant radiation that bombards people’s psyches with lethal strontium.
Television keeps a person in passionate tension, as though the space of its screen comprises a concentration of all possible emotions, passions, lusts, cruelty, crimes. All that in previous ages a person could encounter – and accidentally at that – only a few times throughout his lifetime (for example, the scene of a murder), he now sees every single day.
Television caters to man’s basest passions; even seemingly moral plays include erotic scenes, perhaps out of fear that the viewer will fall asleep from excessive moralizing, and sometimes these scenes constitute the main subject of the entire transmission. In turning on the television, a person voluntarily places himself within the sphere of spiritual filth.
In ancient times the Church barred adulterers from communion for many years, because this particular sin soaks all the pores of the body and soul in poison, and a long time is needed for the person to cleanse himself and sober up, to get back on his feet as though from a grave and protracted illness. An adulterer is spiritually dead until he sincerely repents. After viewing erotic images on television, a person comes to church as one who is dead: his soul is deaf and blind, it cannot feel grace, cannot pray sincerely. Repentance presupposes a resolve not to sin any more, while in this case the person usually returns from church (sometimes even after taking communion) and spends hours watching television. He not only becomes spiritually desolate, but gradually grace itself withers away within him.
Another evil a person receives from television is becoming inured to killing and violence. In ancient Rome the battles of gladiators in the circus, the contests between people and wild animals, and similar “amusements” attracted tens of thousands of viewers. The motto of the Roman crowd was “bread and spectacles,” as though these words comprised their entire life. And the most awesome spectacle for the crowd was the sight of running blood and the throes of death.
Under the influence of television people calmly watch murder scenes. If they had had any human love or compassion left in them, they would have turned away in horror from such a nightmare. Television has made crime and cruelty a routine event. If someone were to say that he was horrified and disgusted at watching scenes of violence and murder, he would be considered a neurotic. If he were to say that he regarded it beneath a Christian’s dignity to watch erotic pictures, he would be called a hypocrite with outdated old-fashioned views.
The soul has three abilities: reason, emotion, and will. From constant communion with television a person’s will becomes weakened, emotion becomes blunted and seeks new stimuli, while reason becomes enslaved by continuously changing images, which cause the person to live in some kind of fantasy world.
The reason has two abilities: visual and verbal thinking. An overabundant and uncontrollable stream of information develops a mechanical memory, but suppresses the creative force and energy. A person who continuously takes in an excessive amount of food becomes a shapeless lump of fat which has a hard time moving and breathing, and which is barely able to move its legs under its own weight. An excessive and uncontrollable amount of information is similar to chronic overeating. The mind becomes feeble and passive and dependent on alien opinions and ideas. The images which the person has seen on television revolve in his subconscious, surface in his memory, flitter in his dreams. Thinking becomes superficial, while the tongue becomes garrulous. The psyche’s defense mechanisms become depleted, being unable to cope with the avalanche of impressions that are received.
Where is there room for silence, for inner prayer? A person does not see himself properly; he appears to be living not in a home, but in a theater with never-ending shows.
The Holy Fathers say that there are three types of mental activity: contemplation, which is born in the silence of prayer, reasoning, and imagination, with imagination being the lowest form of thinking, connected as it is with sensual passions and fantasy. The Holy Fathers enjoin us to remain in a state of prayer, to give place to reasoning whenever necessary in practical life (but at the same time knowing its measure and limitations), and to combat imagination as one’s adversary. Television, on the other hand, promotes the opposite: it develops imagination, suppresses the mind’s creative force, and brings about an abandonment of prayer. A person who spends the time of Lent watching television is similar to a glutton and a drunkard who swallows everything without discrimination, even without chewing the pieces, and at the same time believes he is keeping fast according to all the Church rules.
Observing the fast in conjugal life
Spouses should strictly follow the customs and regulations of the Church in regard to conjugal abstinence on feast days, Sunday, and Lenten days (Wednesdays and Fridays and the four fasts), remembering the words of St. Seraphim and Elder Ambrose that a disregard for these Church regulations may lead to illness of the spouse and children. At the same time, one should bear in mind that the church day begins from 6:00 of the evening before and, therefore, one should abstain from the eve of the feast or Lenten day until the eve of the following day.
But what if one of the spouses does not wish to observe the Lenten day or the feast? Here we come across one of the hazards of a marriage between people of differing opinions and points of view. Such a situation inevitably leads to family drama and deep sorrow. According to St. Paul, a spouse may not be refused, but this will lead to a violation of the sanctity of the feast or the fast.
At this point we come to the conclusion that a prudent choice of spouse is of great importance in ensuring happiness in marriage. The marriage, which in essence constitutes a voluntary obedience, will be easy and happy only when the soul submits to a pious and righteous spouse, and it is impossible to avoid misfortune if the spouse turns out to be in the grip of passion and sin. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul grieves for those who have entered into marriage: “Such shall have trouble in the flesh; but I pity you” (1 Cor. 7:28).
A Christian’s attitude towards fasting is essentially a touchstone for his soul in gauging his attitude towards the Church of Christ and towards Christ Himself. A soul which lives with a lively faith in Christ cannot neglect fasting. Otherwise it will ally itself with those who are indifferent to Christ and religion. In addressing Christians, the New Martyr Priest Valentin Sventitsky writes: “Keep and cherish the fast as one of the greatest sacred church treasures. Each time you abstain from what is forbidden on the days of fasting, – you are one with the entire Church. You are doing with one mind that which the entire Church and all the saints have done from the very first days of the Church’s existence. This will give you power and strength in your spiritual life.”
A certain opponent of Lent once said to the holy Elder Ambrose of Optina: “What does it matter to God what kind of food we eat?” To this the Elder replied: “It is not the food that matters, but the commandment; Adam was expelled from paradise not for gluttony, but for tasting, just tasting what was forbidden. For this reason even now you may eat whatever you want on Tuesday and Thursday, and you are not punished for it, but for Wednesday and Friday you are punished, because meekness is developed through obedience.”
The Jews cried out to God: “Wherefore have we fasted, and Thou seest not?” And the Lord replies to them through the mouth of the prophet: “Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact heavy labors from others… Is it such a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Here is the fast that I have chosen: loose the bands of wickedness, let the oppressed go free, and undo the heavy burdens; share thy bread with the hungry and bring the poor that are cast out into thy house… Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say: ‘Here I am!’” (Isaiah 58:3-9). This marvelous place from the Book of Isaiah denounces those who think to be saved only by following the letter of the fast and forgetting the commandments of charity, loving one’s neighbors, and serving them.
The significance and purpose of genuine fasting in the life of a Christian may be summarized by the following words of St. Isaac the Syrian: “The fast is the guardian of all virtue, the beginning of the struggle, the crown of abstinence, the beauty of virginity, the source of chastity and prudence, the teacher of silence, the forerunner of all good deeds… Fasting and abstinence produce a wondrous fruit in the soul – a knowledge of God’s mysteries.”
Lent as a Divine Establishment and Spiritual Remedy. Lent, in Church songs and the writings of the Holy Fathers, is called a spiritual healer.
And so, what is lent? In accordance with Dal's Tolkovyi slovar' [Explanatory Dictionary], lent ["post" in Russian] is "the abstinence from non-lenten food and vain pleasures." The Church of Christ teaches that lent is religious-moral vigilance and the salvific labor of piety. Truly Christian fasting is not only abstinence of the body from the usual food, but the restraint of the soul from all that is sinful. This latter abstinence must be united with the efforts of heightened prayer of repentance, moral purity, piety and good works. "Fast, brethren, bodily, let us fast spiritually as well," the Church urges us to be increasingly watchful over both our body and our soul.
The history of the development of lent as a religious-moral struggle of man's obedience to God through abstinence from food reaches back to the law given by God even in the Garden of Eden to our ancestor, Adam "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it" (Gen 2:16-17). So lent is as ancient as man himself.
Yet as we read in the book of Genesis, our ancestor Adam violated this law on abstinence given by God through the sin of disobedience, which is called the original sin. Through original sin, the first man introduced corruption into his divine nature, expressed through a tendency towards sin rather than towards good.
We find evidence of the corruption of human nature through Adam's disobedience which led to the fall, evidence of the constant battle within mankind between the flesh and the spirit, and of the psychological duality of our divine-like souls under the influence of good and evil, all of this in Holy Scripture, which depicts this mighty struggle between good and evil within mankind. A corrupt nature is not strong enough to wage this war without the grace-filled help of God. This kind of aid was and can be received only through the labors of faith and piety, of which fasting and prayer assume the primary position. The Holy Fathers depict this as fasting and prayer being the wings of the human spirit which carry the soul to the heavens, far from human cares and vanities, from sin and lawlessness.
In the Old Testament, the holy Prophets of God Moses and Elias both fasted for forty days, thereby becoming worthy to converse with Christ on Mount Tabor (Ex. 34:28; Matth. 17:3). Prophet Daniel ate no food for 3 weeks (Dan. 10:2-3) and Ezra for 7 days (Ezr. 8:21-23). King David prayed and fasted and received through the Prophet Nathan forgiveness for his sins from God (2 Sam. 12:16-20). The pious Judean woman Judith fasted "all the days of her widowhood," except on sabbath eves and sabbaths, new moon eves and new moons, feastdays and holidays (Judith 8:6). Ninevites prayed and fasted "the greatest of them even to the least of them" and turned away God's wrath for their great sins (Jonah 3:5-10). The Israelites fasted by God's will during the terrible desolation from the palmerworm and the locust (Joel 1:14, 2:12-15). In order to please God, the Israelites fasted on the 4th, 5th, 7th and 10th months, as we see from the book of the Prophet Zachariah (Zach. 8:19).
On the cusp of the Old and New Testaments, we see the example of a great fasting ascetic in the person of John the Baptist (Mark 1:6), and the 84-year-old Prophetess Anna: "And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phan'u-el, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (Luke 2:36-37). .
In the New Testament, fasting is established and sanctified by the Head of the Church Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, both through His personal example of fasting, and by His teachings and preaching on fasting.
After being baptized, before His emergence to serve mankind, Jesus Christ spent forty days and nights in the wilderness in a strict fast. Then, during the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke these words: "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:16-18).
Christ equated fasting with prayer as a weapon in the struggle against the temptations of the devils, saying "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21).
Following the example set by the Savior, the holy apostles and other righteous persons of the New Testaments sanctified fasting through their own lives and teachings.
Holy Apostle Paul wrote of his labors, that he was constantly "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (II Corinthians 11:27), and, urging others to fast, said of himself: "[I]n stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings" (II Corinthians 6:5). We read in Acts on the prophets and teachers of the Antiochian Church: Now there were in the church that was at An'ti-och certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyre'ne, and Man'a-en, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3).
The Church instructs those who fast to eat the produce of the earth during lent and forbids the consumption of meat and other foods taken from the animal kingdom.
In this way, the Holy Church during returns those who fast to their original, normal, Paradisic food, which was decreed by God to the first man.
This was food taken from the fruits of plants and grasses. God allowed meat to be eaten by mankind only after the Flood, because of the weakening of the human organism and the sparse offerings of the earth. Meat has the properties of fattening a person, making him heavier, sleepier, overly soft and more sinful.
The Church of Christ set aside special times of the year for the labors of fasting and repentant prayer, and all of the faithful, in obligation to obey the Mother Church, must observe the fasts, holding to the church rule regarding eating and drinking, devoting themselves to repentant prayer, labors of mercy and partaking of the Holy Mysteries.
Despite all the above instructions for fasting and its positive effect on the soul of the believer, not one other teaching and tradition of the Church of Christ is subjected to so many assaults and distortions as the law of the observation of lent.
There are entire religions, such as Protestantism and the various sects and heretical groups that have stemmed from it which reject the fasting established by the Ecumenical Councils. For example, the Catholic Church, while recognizing fasts, does not consider it sinful to ignore them, and violates them with a clear conscience. Both of these deniers and violators of fasts try to soothe the conscience of their flocks by finding in Holy Scripture justification for this sin of resisting the laws of God and His Holy Church. They usually defend their false teaching by referring to the words of Apostle Paul: "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse" (1 Corinthians 8:8).
But these words by the Apostle refer not to fasting, but to food. During the time of the Apostle, there were arguments about clean and unclean food. Holy Apostle Paul clarifies that all that God created is in and of itself clean. "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Romans 14:14). "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient" (1 Corinthians, 6:12). "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs." (Romans 14:20). "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Romans 14:17).
So the texts of Holy Apostle Paul on food teach us that food by itself is neither a condition nor an obstacle for the achievement of the Kingdom of Heaven, for food is either lenten (vegetable) or non-lenten (meat or dairy), not good or evil, it is not the path to the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not within food and drink that exist righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, but in the human heart, in a person's Christian behavior.
Everything depends on how the person uses food and drink—to the glory of God, for the health and salvation of the soul and the flesh, or for sin, towards the temptation of others. Food and drink are sinful when the person abuses them through non-abstinence, gluttony, or the disobedience of the laws of God and the Church.
Among our own Orthodox people who call themselves believers one often hears such words as "Why was lent established, anyway, does God really need our physical fasting?" Of course, God does not need it, just as He does not need anything, but our own soul needs fasting, and our body. Lent is our time to test ourselves, a time to make our account of the wrong we have done, to examine those things for which our conscience does not berate us. The time of fasting is a time of spiritual sorrow over our sins. He who only grieves over purely earthly matters or failures, does he not often refuse food for days at a time, does he not refuse all sorts of amusements, does he not suffer from sleeplessness, despite the fact that his loved ones advise him to tend to his health? That is why fasting has existed always, at all times and among all peoples, beginning with the Jews, the Assyrians, the Hindus, Chinese, Egyptians, ancient Greeks and Romans, and finally among Christians. If by fasting people express their sorrow over earthly misfortune, why do some then reject the voice of the Church which calls upon us to express our sorrow over our sinfulness through fasting?
Indeed, does even the thought of eating non-lenten food occur to someone who is consumed with feelings of repentance? Would pleasures and amusements occupy themind of a person whose mind is consumed by worry over how to earn God's mercy through repentance? Could such a person exist who, being genuinely immersed in repentant prayers in church, hearing the Gospel readings on the Passions of the Lord, venerating the Epitaphion (shroud), then exit the church and attend a ball or go to the theater, and at the same time say to others that he is filled with feelings of repentance? No, truly spiritual sorrow affects our external lives as well.
The enemies of fasting also object, reasoning that lent ostensibly weakens the body--but God does not ask us to cause our own death. Unfortunately, these people either forget or do not know that the Church releases from fasting the sick, those whose bodies suffer from consuming only Lenten food. The 69th Rule of the Apostles states: "If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, or reader, or singer, does not fast the holy Quadragesimal fast of Easter, or the fourth day, or the day of Preparation, let him be deposed, unless he be hindered by some bodily infirmity. If he be a layman, let him be excommunicated." The 19th Canon of the Council of Gangra states: "If any of the ascetics, without bodily necessity disregard the fasts commonly prescribed and observed by the Church, being in perfect understanding in the matter, let him be anathema." St Timothy, Bishop of Alexandria, in his Rule 10 said on this matter: "If a man be sick and from severe illness is weakened, and Holy Pascha approaches, is such a man obliged to fast, or for his severe weakness may the clergyman release from him to eat food and drink what he may, if oil or wine?" responded: "A sick man must be permitted to take food and drink dependent upon what he can bear. For a man completely weakened, by taking oil he does a righteous thing." In the same saint's 8th rule, the following question is put forth: "If a woman is in child-bed before Holy Pascha, on the Great Week, must she fast and not drink of wine, or is she released from fasting and from wine for giving birth?" His response was: "Fasting is established for the humbling of our bodies. And so when the body is humbled and in need, she must then take food and drink if she can and can endure." And in the Syntagma, the following is added: "When it, that is, the body, is weak, it needs not burdens, but succor, to return health and gather its former strength."
Despite their own very great labors, which are prohibitive for us, the holy ascetics had mostly achieved a venerable age. This means that strict fasts and weakening through fasting and labor does not shorten the life span of a person, and so the non-observance of fasting under the pretext of preserving ones health is most often an excuse which conceals the desire to sate ones flesh, and appease ones spiritual laxity.
Some also say the following: "Fasting should be in the quantity, not the quality of the food, since Lenten food is sometimes tastier than meat!" Of course, one can overeat of Lenten food, for example, in this country, where there are so many Lenten food products, and this happens among many who do "observe" lent.
Such fasting is, of course, condemned by the Church, which calls it Pharisee-ism, using the words of the Savior Himself. The inconsistency of such fasting with the teaching of the Church is apparent. The Church divided food into groupings of Lenten and non-Lenten not so that people could overeat of the first, and not so that this food could be used to make gourmet dishes, but so that the measured consumption of this food would remind us that now is the time for reflection upon the soul, and not the body.
Of all the creatures living on earth, only man is granted the ability to subject himself to self-testing and self-correction. Other creatures do not test themselves, since they cannot. Only man can fast in the world, that is, deny himself of one or another thing for a higher goal. In this case, fasting is a very positive educator of human will, which is the steering wheel of our life, setting us onto the path of good or sin.
In conclusion, I will bring the following deeply-edifying words to attest to the health benefits of the labor of fasting: "It is a remarkable thing: no matter how much we bother about our health, what healthful and pleasant foods we eat, what nutritious beverages we drink, no matter how many long walks we take in fresh air, still, in the end, we suffer from sickness and disease. The saints, who despised their flesh, mortifying their bodies with constant abstention, fasting, lying on the bare ground, keeping vigil, have removed death from their souls and their bodies. Our bodies, so well-fed and pampered, give off a stench after death, and sometimes during life, while their bodies are aromatic and they blossom as during life. My brethren! Come to see what you goal is, the aim of your life. We must mortify our many-passioned body through restraint, labor, prayer, and not stimulate it with sweets, temptations and sloth."
And so let us remember that Lenten food serves as a reminder for us on this period of our self-testing, the time of our repentance and the time of our self-correction.
"'While fasting with the body, brethren, let us also fast in spirit! Let us loose every bond of iniquity; Let us undo the knots of every contract made by violence ; Let us tear up all unjust agreements; Let us give bread to the hungry and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover , them, that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God. Amen."  Protopriest Nikolai Dombrowski (+1979)
Homily for the second Sunday of the Great Lent
Today’s Gospel, read during the Divine Liturgy, tells us of the healing of a person sick of the palsy. Upon coming into the city of Capernaum, the Lord Jesus Christ stayed in a certain home. News of this spread throughout the entire city, and the overjoyed inhabitants began to gather to Him in such great droves, that all the people were unable to get inside the house. At this time a man was brought up whose entire body was sick of the palsy. Being unable to squeeze through to Jesus Christ, the people who brought the sick man decided to uncover the roof of the courtyard in which Jesus Christ was sitting and preaching. It should be noted that courtyards in the Palestine were usually covered to protect them from the sun, and it was not too hard to uncover such a roof. Thus, having uncovered the roof, the sick man’s friends let him down on his bed to lie at Jesus’ feet. This action revealed both in them and in the sick man a strong faith in the Saviour’s omnipotence and mercy. Seeing such faith on their part, the Lord said: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” And then He granted health to the man sick of the palsy, saying: “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.”
Especially remarkable in this healing is the fact that the Lord first forgives the sick man’s sins and only afterwards heals his body. In this manner He reminds us that the primary cause of all illness is sin. Thus, in order to be healed of illness, before going to an earthly physician one must consult the Heavenly One. There are many examples where the healing of the body is not always needed as long as the soul is completely healed, since in such cases physical illness often passes without any treatment, even when physicians are unable to help a sick person with medications.
The story of the man sick of the palsy is also instructive in that the Lord pays attention not only to the faith of the sick man himself, but also of those who had brought him, because it says in the Gospel: “when Jesus saw their faith…”. From this we see that when someone is sick, his family members and close friends should appeal for his healing with prayers of faith to the Heavenly Physician. For this purpose the Church has established special prayers for the sick, and also the sacrament of Holy Unction.
It is not by chance that the Church has decreed that the Gospel narrative about the man sick of the palsy be read during the Great Lent. The Church’s intent is to show all of us during these days of fasting and communion the image of the man sick of the palsy as a reflection of our own spiritual state, and in his healing to indicate to us the means of restoring our own spiritual health.
Repentance is one of the foundations of our spiritual life, and it is closely tied in with fasting and abstinence, while fasting in turn is the means to grace-filled inner enlightenment, when a person already begins to enter more deeply into spiritual life and spiritual joy.
The Orthodox teaching that fasting and repentance constitute a means towards grace-filled illumination is especially powerfully revealed by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop and Wonderworker of Thessalonika, who is commemorated this Sunday (his feast day is November 14th). St. Gregory is known as the denouncer of the heresy, or false teaching, of Varlaam, a Calabrian monk who rejected the Orthodox teaching on the grace-filled light which illuminates a person internally (i.e. fills a person with spiritual joy) and is sometimes revealed externally, visibly, such as, for example, on Mount Tabor, on Mount Sinai, or as it happened to St. Seraphim during his conversation with Motovilov. Varlaam and his disciple Akindinus taught that it is impossible to achieve this illumination by means of prayer, fasting, or other spiritual labors of self-sacrifice. This heresy was rejected by a council in A.D. 1341, at which St. Gregory zealously fought for Orthodoxy.
On the first Sunday of the Great Lent the Church commemorated the triumph of Orthodoxy over all the heresies, while on this Sunday it commemorates the triumph of Orthodox ascetic teaching. We thus enter more profoundly into spiritual life than we usually do at other times.
The Church, as a kind and loving mother, leads us gradually into spiritual life, into a spiritual atmosphere.
During the preparatory weeks to the Great Lent the Church led us gradually by means of Gospel narratives, beginning as though with the alphabet of spiritual life. During the Lent itself the Church leads us more deeply into an understanding and perception of spiritual life and offers us examples from life which we should try to follow as best we can. Thus, each Sunday of the Lent we should immerse ourselves more deeply into the mysteries of God’s plan for our salvation, until we hear the deepest and most supreme mystery of all – the words “Christ is risen!” That is the purpose and the joy of our entire faith.
Let us heed the teaching of the Holy Church and cherish it in our hearts, and let us ascend the spiritual ladder until grace-filled light illuminates our souls, giving us the peace of spiritual joy. Amen.  Protopriest Igor Hrebinka
In the Holy Land, in the city of Nazareth, there is a spring of water which is called “the spring of the Mother of God.” According to holy tradition, the young maiden Mary went to this spring for water, as maidens and young women did in those days. And there, at this spring, She heard a voice: “Thou wilt give birth to My Son.” She alone heard this voice, but Her pure soul trembled at the voice of Her Lord and Creator. Trembling and fearful, She returned to Her house, and trying to calm Her agitated soul, took up Her favorite pastime – reading the Holy Scriptures.
And when She began reading, She chanced upon that part of the Book Isaiah which talks about the Saviour of the world being born of a Virgin. But so profound was Her humbleness, that despite the words which She had just heard at the spring, She did not even think of applying the prophecy to Herself, but simply thought: “How glad would I be to become even the lowliest servant of this most blessed Maiden.”
The Annunciation
At this moment, as the Gospel tells us, the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, and She heard his words: “Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou among women.”
The appearance of the angel did not itself frighten the Virgin, because it was not new to Her. Before moving to Nazareth, She lived at the temple where, according to tradition, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her, brought Her food, and conversed with Her. Thus, She would not have been particularly agitated by his coming. But She heard from him an unusual greeting, which no other maiden or woman had ever heard before, and so She was bewildered by the angel’s words and began pondering their meaning. The Archangel continued: “Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found favour with God; Thou shalt bring forth a Son and shalt call His name Jesus; He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
When the Virgin Mary heard the Archangel’s annunciation, She became even more bewildered: how could She become a mother, when She had vowed to remain a virgin? And so She humbly asked the angel: “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?”
But when the Archangel said to Her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee,” and ended his annunciation with the words “for with God nothing shall be impossible,” She understood that this birth would be supernatural and, calming down, She said those divine words which the Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow called “an annunciation from earth to heaven.”
Let us note: the Archangel has seemingly done his job, has told Her everything, has explained everything, – but he is still waiting for something, he is still not leaving, and finally he hears Her answer, about which the Metropolitan Philaret said, that if the angel’s message was an annunciation from heaven to earth, then Her words were an annunciation from earth to heaven: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord – be it unto me according to thy word.”
Excited by all that had transpired, and having learned from the angel of the special event that had occurred in the life of her older relative, the righteous Elizabeth, who, after having lost all hope of ever having children, was now herself an expectant mother, the Theotokos hurried over to her. And great was Her joy when She entered Elizabeth’s house and heard from her the very same words with which She had been greeted in Nazareth by the angel: “Blessed art Thou among women!” And at this point from Her pure heart poured forth the prayer which is so beloved by the Church and which is sung at every matins: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and My spirit hath rejoiced in God My Saviour…” And further She speaks of how the Lord has looked with favor upon Her humility, and that it has become clear to Her how high now is Her lot: “For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call Me blessed, for He that is Mighty hath done to Me great things.” And She adds, glorifying God: “…and holy is His name.”
This entire event clearly showed the basic character traits of the Theotokos: Her amazing humility, because of which She could not at first encompass the thought of becoming the Mother of God, and Her loyalty to God and complete submission to His divine will, in accordance with which She called Herself the handmaiden of God. The Holy Virgin gave us the highest and holiest example of how we must always be primarily concerned with fulfilling the will of God, especially during important moments of our lives, as She Herself fulfilled it on the day of Her Annunciation.
“Much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet Him, and cried: Hosanna! blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord! And Jesus, when He had found a young ass, sat thereon, as it is written: fear not, daughter of Sion! behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” (John 12:12-15).
Palm Sunday
We celebrate, dear brethren, the triumphant entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. His procession was quite extraordinary: He entered on a young ass who had never worn a yoke, attended by a great multitude of people, who walked in front and behind and cried: Hosanna! blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord! The people greeted the Lord triumphantly and joyously for His having resurrected His friend Lazarus – already a decomposing dead man – from the dead with solely His word. This great and fearful miracle was performed by the Lord as an example and portent of the universal resurrection of the dead that is to take place in its own time, also by the mighty word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that He came to Jerusalem, in order to suffer and die, and – as Life-giver and God – to vanquish by His death and overcome the universal death of mankind, to arise from the dead by His own power, and to grant universal resurrection. Thus, remember that Jesus Christ entered into Jerusalem in order to suffer for the sins of all mankind, including mine and yours, in order to vanquish our death, and turn it into a mirage, and resurrect all humanity from the dead, and after the universal judgment grant all believers and all genuinely repenting sinners an eternal life of rapture.
Do not forget at what terrible and immensely great cost did the Lord gain victory over this horror of mankind – death, and with what suffering was lifted from us God’s just condemnation for man’s damning, incongruous, and pernicious sin, and was granted blissful immortality and a rapturous life in the celestial dwelling, in the incorruptible homeland. This victory was gained through the Son of God’s unimaginable anguish, terrible suffering, and tormenting death on the cross in His human nature.
Many of those who do not believe in this righteous, wise, and loving design of God for salvation express the following query: why and for what reason was needed such a terrible sacrifice of His Son on the part of God the Father? Why this voluntary, horrific passion of the Son of God, His humbleness, descent, humiliation, His surrender into the hands of His enemies, and the allowance of such horrible accountability on the part of His disciple Judas and all Jesus’ enemies: the high priests, the Jewish elders, the people, the scribes and the Pharisees, Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and all the participants in the Son of God’s unjust condemnation and suffering? One must be quite nearsighted and dim-witted to ask such questions and not see the connection between mankind’s infinite guilt before God because of its innumerable and heavy sins, its boundless accountability and liability for punishment on the part of God’s truth, and sinful mankind’s inaccessibility to the wrathful God without the intercession of the Mediator between God and men, Who, solely out of love and compassion for perishing souls, took upon Himself, as the sole and greatest Righteous One, this endlessly great responsibility before God’s judgment, and through His absolute truth, His suffering for the sake of atonement, and His death redeemed guilty mankind from righteous wrath, damnation, and eternal condemnation for its sins.
God, being all-just, could not absolve sinful mankind without the offering of a sacrifice of truth for it, otherwise He would not have been God, for what communion is there between truth and iniquity? What commonality between light and darkness? (2 Cor.6:14). It was impossible not to justly punish the sins of mankind in the person of the greatest Righteous One, Jesus Christ, Who voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of the entire world, so that He could justly acquire power from the Father to forgive the sins of all those who believe in Him, have been illuminated by His light of grace, have become cognizant of their sins and repent of them; He had to taste our death, combat it, and vanquish it, in order to deliver all of us from our many centuries’ of enslavement to it and, finally, to conclude His glorious work of atonement by His resurrection from the dead, in order to have the power to resurrect all mankind, for whose sins He had offered His Father full ransom with His own self; for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23).
This is the reason why the Son of God’s sufferings and His death for mankind were necessary. Without them humanity would have perished forever, completely, irreversibly, as have perished all the demons.
As regards the terrible accountability that exists for Judas’ betrayal, for the demonic schemes against the Saviour on the part of the high priests and Jewish elders, the scribes and the Pharisees, – they sinned against the promised Messiah of their own free will, through their willful blindness, through their avarice and envy; and seeing the Saviour’s charity and miracles, and His righteous life, – it was as though they did not see; and hearing His holy words, – it was as though they did not hear; and finally, they could have repented and could have been pardoned, to which they were invited by the Apostles, – but they did not repent. For this reason they will answer for all their evil deeds at the Last Judgment: they shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced (Zach. 12:10).
In conclusion I would like to say to both you and myself: let us make an all-out effort to guard ourselves from sin, which had engendered mankind’s disaffection from God and His life, from His holiness and truth, which brought upon us a just condemnation, which prepared for us the fiery, insatiable abyss of hell and all its fathomless depths. Only by means of a sincere belief in Christ and His redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection, and through constant repentance and a virtuous life may we be delivered from hell. God forbid that any of us be thrown into it amid the general bundle of tares mentioned by the Saviour to His angels: gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn (Matt. 13:30). Whosoever has ears to hear, may he hear. Amen. Saint John of Kronstadt
From:  John Granger
Subject: My Life in Christ #264 (Part 1 of 4)
Date: 24 February 2016 21:18:21 GMT
If you don't subscribe to this daily email from St John of Kronstadt's Life  in Christ, I heartly recommend it!
---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: DailyJohnofKronstadt
Subject: Video of Enthronement of Metropolitan Photiy
Date: 7 March 2016 23:25:19 GMT
A link to the enthronement ceremony of our beloved Metropolitan Photiy  of Triaditza, so loved and admired by our Metropolitan  Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios, as Metropolitan of the  Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria. The service took  place at the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God  in Sofia, Bulgaria.
ξιος, ξιος,
ξιος! Достоен, Достоен, Достоен!
Worthy, Worthy, Worthy!
Our ROCA's Bolgorod's diocese website: First click on to  this site:
 Церковная правда.   Click unto this video: ...about  the SOVIET CHURCH, the historic VIDEO, under this heading. about the  soviet church, a  sad video of great Martyrs, and Big Judases.
It is all in Russian, both   texts and narration. I wish it were in English.  Here in many many historic photos, are some of the terrible  days and persons, victims the bloody communist takeover  of Russia and the mass persecution and murder of so  many.This  'Moscow Patriarchy' still exists, as the communists  founded it.
Here are the photos of many of the New Confessors and  Martyrs.In the very fast speed Russian  narration, is a very heart rending
 accounting of those terrible events.  Also, here are the many photos pf the big traitors, Sergius  Stragorodsky and others with him.Today,  Kyrill Gundayev, is his successor.
Link forwarded from: Cristian Comanescu Date: 15 February 2016 18:37:57 GMT
Bless!  Recently BBC2 did a TV documentary on Greece, which included a piece about the plight of the harassed and persecuted monks of the Traditionalist Monastery of Esphigmenou there.  This is, of course, a view from a non-Orthodox TV journalist, but it is sympathetic and informative, well worth watching.  The link:
Dear-in-Christ, Everyone,  bless!
         Sorry we did not inform you earlier, but we had a particularly hectic time over the weekend and  the feast day, but the February issue of "The  Shepherd" and the calendar insert with the saints of  the day, appointed scriptural readings and fasting  guidelines are both now up on our website:
Don't be as tardy as we have been: go to it immediately!        Pray for us also, With love in  Christ, A,  Sinner
WINTER IN RUSSIA AND, this link  for many more photos:
An Informative Anti-Ecumenism  Sharing-3 Interesting Videos:  For those who understand Russian: Some Solid Critical Remarks About What Kyrill Gundayev is doing, etc.,.  When this link opens to this article, then click on  to the three VIDEOS:
Deacon Andrei Psarev:  Andrei Borisovich, many thanks for agreeing to talk to us.  So, here we are – the ROCOR (MP) and the Moscow Patriarchate are united, what hopes did you have and how many of them were realized?
A.B. Zubov:  You must understand that the main thing is that we are  together.  Any unity is better than being divided.  The fact that our Church was broken up into various parts is sad, both from the mystical point and on a human, practical level.  Christ’s vesture is torn up – that can only be a bad thing.  Besides, it’s in our human nature to want to bring together fragmented parts that feature in our daily lives, not just be united in a exalted and mystical sense. The feature that was important to us … well, at the time, I believed that the ROCOR preserved – and had even made it her mission to preserve – that human and cultural aspect that was largely lost to the Russian Church here, first because of the Bolshevik terror and then through serving the state in a way that greatly contributed to Church’s  moral undoing.  I believed then the ROCOR could be a small – it’s quite a small church structure– so a small, but powerful catalyst for rejuvenation of the Russian Church . Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened yet and I was disappointed on that score.  When I was still part of the Church establishment, I was able to observe the sessions of the Inter-Conciliar meetings for myself and gradually realized that the ROCOR has adopted altogether different position.  It tends to remain either silent or generally supportive of the Moscow Church leadership and is rewarded with Moscow’s lack of involvement in its internal affairs.  The ROCOR is able to appoint to its own hierarchs and administer its economic resources as it sees fit.  So, all in all, it has both preserved its own autonomy and kept out of Moscow’s business…..  

1 comment:

  1. ROCOR Studies = MP pro-unionite propaganda website rewriting history

    If you click on the ROCOR Studies link it goes to an article titled:
    "The Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR-MP) Should Help Us to Build-up Our Society"

    It reminds me of something Fr. Seraphim Rose said:
    "The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of loss of faith."
    Fr. Seraphim Rose


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