Lenten Ascesis

St. Sabbatius of Tver

St. Sabbatius of Tver

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

LENTEN ASCESIS

ON FASTING

"A life of fasting properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to be 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 Blessed Memory).

Dr. Cavarnos knows this subject well. In his famous Anchored in God he writes:

"Fasting takes into account both the quality of food and the quantity of food. The idea is to eat a smaller amount of food during a fasting day; to abstain from fats and oils, as these tend to fatten the body and thereby to arouse lust and make one physically and spiritually lazy; to abstain from meat, fish, and products of animal origin, as these tend to excite carnal desire; and also to abstain from mere delicacies, as the consumption of these is form of self-indulgence. Saint John Climacus (525-605 A.D.) says: "Satiety of food is a begetter of unchastity." He also says, "Let us cut down fatty and greasy foods that inflame carnal desire, and foods that sweeten and tickle the larynx" (The Ladder of Divine Ascent).

The practice of fasting is not regarded as an end in itself, as something having intrinsic value, but only as a means, as a necessary condition for the spiritual life. It belongs to the category of what the Holy Fathers call "bodily virtues," among which are prostrations, standing and vigils. Referring to these, Saint John Damascene (676-754 A.D.) says that they "are rather instruments for the virtues; they are necessary, in one practices them with humility and spiritual knowledge. For without them neither do the virtues of the soul come into being, but in themselves they are of no benefit, any more than plants without fruit" (Philokalia, 2, 17). And Saint Gregory the Sinaite (1289-1360 A.D.), speaking specifically of fasting, observes: "Constant fasting withers lust and gives birth to self-restraint" (Philokalia, 2, 272), while Callistos and Ignatios Xanthopoulos remark: "Fasting and self-restraint are the first virtue, the mother, root, source and foundation of all good" (Philokalia, 2, 370).

Other food for thought, from the wise Nicephorus Theotokis:

"When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth in order to collect seeds, produce, fruit, spices, and every kind of growing edible; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, snails, sea-urchins, and anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and from these ingredients we concoct many and motley dishes, seasoned with oil, wine, sweetness and spices. Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat. Moreover, since these foods stimulate the appetite, we eat and drink beyond moderation. And after that we imagine that we are fasting...

"And whoever taught those who fast in this way that such a variety and such quantities of food constitute a fast? Where did they read or hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, great variety in food another; fasting is one thing, eating great amounts of food another" (Fasting and Science, 18-19).

ON THE MODERN WORLD

"We are living in a strange time, when all the true and healthy Christian concepts are being replaced by false and deceitful concepts, discovered often with an evil intention with the undoubted intension, naturally, of drawing people away from the right path of a truly Christian life. In all of this there can be discerned some kind of rationally acting black hand which is working to bind people as lightly as possible to this temporary, earthly life by forcing to forget the future life, the eternal life assuredly awaiting us all."

"For us modern Christian faith, for the most part, is being divorced from life, we do not live in full agreement with the teachings and demands of our faith. Our faith so clearly and so definitely teaches us to renounce everything corruptible and earthly and to concentrate with all our thoughts and feelings on the incorruptible eternal life awaiting us."  (Archbishop Averky)

THE SPIRITUAL TEACHING OF THE HOLY FATHERS

"Christian ascetic theology is not something borrowed from extraneous sources, from eastern religions or from Greek philosophy. It is firmly based on the Holy Bible. The ruling idea of it is familiar to all of us from Saint Paul, for it is he who tells us that the Christian life is an athletic contest, and draws the conclusion that we must go into training for it. It is he, again, who likens the Christian life to a battle, and the Christian to a soldier; he describes the discipline to which the Christian is subject, his armor and his weapons of offense, and the enemies, internal and external, against whom he has to fight. Christian ascetic theology is simply the development of these Pauline conceptions into a systematic doctrine and a practical discipline, so that the Christian soldier or athlete may know exactly what he is contending for, and be well trained for the struggle.

The Bible is full of material for such a doctrine and discipline. If it contains the gospel of God's free grace, it also contains the new law, the laws of liberty and love, by which God's people are to govern themselves. It tells of the work that was wrought for us once for all by Christ, it also tells of the work which is wrought in us every day by the Holy Spirit, and in that work it summons us to be 'fellow-workers with God'. We are told to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that we can do nothing unless God works in us, and yet that in Christ we can do everything...

"The goal of the Christian discipline is union with God by loving contemplation. This is the Kingdom of God, and this is eternal life. For this we were created, but from this we have fallen; our minds are distracted and fascinated by created things, our wills are held in bondage to finite and transient goods. The purpose of our discipline is therefore to turn the mind and will back into their proper alignment, so that they may receive in full measure the illumination of divine grace" (Unseen Warfare by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain by St. Theophan the Recluse).

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George