August Fast: A Time of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

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.

AUGUST FAST: A TIME OF FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION

The Mystery (Sacrament) of penance is our formal act of reconciliation with God and in the Church when sin has severed us from the Church's life. Because penance is the way to communion with God when that communion has been broken by sin, it is often referred to in Church Tradition as the renewal of baptism, or as the reestablishment of that condition of life with God which was given to men in the basic Mysteries (Sacraments) of inauguration into the Christian life.

The Mystery (Sacrament) of penance exists in the Church to allow for the repentance and reconciliation of Orthodox Christians who have fallen away from the life of faith. There are three main elements to the act of formal penance. The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins. At one time this confession was done publicly before all people in the midst of the Church, but in recent times it is usually done only in the presence of the priest of the Church who stands on behalf of all. The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Our Lord Jesus Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner.

The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all people according to the Commandments of Christ. From this there obviously follows the necessity of a sincere attempt by the penitent to refrain from sin and to remain in faithful obedience to God and in uprightness of life before Him and all people.

The Mystery (Sacrament) of penance, like all Mysteria, is an element of the life of the Church which presupposes a firm belief and conviction that Christ Himself is present in the Church through His Holy Spirit. A person without the experience of Christ in the Church will not understand the meaning of sacramental penance and the need for the open and public confession of sins.

When the Church is experienced as the new life in Christ and as the genuine communion with God in His Kingdom already present with humanity in sacrament and mystery, then not only will sacramental penance and the confession of sins be understood, but it will be cherished as the great Mystery of God which it is: the unique possibility for reunion with God through the forgiveness of Christ Who has come to save sinners who confess their sins and who sincerely desire to change their lives according to the ways which He Himself has given.

In a word, the Orthodox Christian Church strictly adheres to the teaching of the Holy Scripture that only God can forgive sins, that He does so through Christ in the Church, that His conditions are genuine repentance and the promise of change which are witnessed by confession; and that confession, by definition, is the open and public acknowledgment of sin before God and all mankind.

RESENTMENT AND FORGIVENESS

Anger, judgment, remembrance of wrongs, grudges, resentment: these are passions with which all of us struggle in one way or another. Why are we prone to them? According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the power that causes anger was part of man's original nature, which was created "good" by God (cf. Genesis 1:31). The Holy Fathers say that man's soul was originally created with three powers: the intellective or "knowing" power; the appetitive or "desiring" power; and the incensive or "fervent" power. Man was supposed to use his intellective power to know God, his appetitive power to yearn for God, and his incensive power to courageously repel temptation--beginning with the temptation of the serpent in the Garden.

Instead of using their incensive power to repel temptation, however, Adam and Eve succumbed to their first temptation: they ate of the forbidden fruit. According to the Holy Fathers, the essence of the serpent's temptation lies in these words: "Eat of this fruit and you shall be as gods" (cf. Genesis 3:5). Saint John Chrysostom says that Adam "expected to become himself a god, and conceive thoughts above his proper dignity." This is the key point.

When man fell, the three powers of his soul became subject to corruption, along with his body, which became subject to death and decay. Now man used his intellective power to puff up with knowledge and be superior to others; now he used his appetitive power to lust after other people, after the things of this world, after sinful pleasures, wealth, and power, and he used his incensive power, not against temptation, but against other people, against things, and sometimes against life and God Himself. The incensive power expressed itself as sinful anger and wrath. The first man born of woman, Cain, got so angry and jealous that he murdered his own brother, Abel.

So, here we are, all members of the family of Adam and Eve, possessing a fallen nature that wants to be God, and a corrupted incensive power that gets angry at eh wrong things. "No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul's eyes (the Nous), preventing it from seeing the Sun of Righteousness...Whether reasonable or unreasonable, anger obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts."

Here Saint John Cassian is telling us that, when we use our incensive power against temptation--against impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts--we are using this power as it was originally intended to be used, according to our original, virtuous nature, created in the image of God. However, when we use our incensive power against anything else--especially against other people--we are misusing it, according to our fallen nature.

Often anger is evoked in us because of our pride. This again is a function of our fallen nature: that part of us that wanted to be god. As would-be gods, we want to be in control, we want things to go our way. When things don't go our way, when other people don't follow our lead and go along with our program, we get angry. This leads us to judge others. Judging others is one way of playing God.

WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER

The Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers of the Church affirm that, as we pray for spiritual healing from passions like anger and resentment, we must also practice constant watchfulness or attention over our thoughts. Christ spoke much about watchfulness, both directly and in parables. At the conclusion of one such parable, He said: "What I say to you I say to all: watch" (St. Mark 14:38).

Watchfulness and prayer are closely connectedSaint Symeon the New Theologian explains this connection as follows: "Watchfulness and prayer should be as closely linked together as the body to the soul, for the one cannot stand without the other. Watchfulness first goes on ahead like a scout and engages sin in combat. Prayer then follows afterwards, and instantly destroys and exterminates all the evil thoughts with which watchfulness has already been battling, for attentiveness alone cannot exterminate them.

The Evil One wants to trap us. He tempts us with evil thoughts against our brothers and sisters, trying to sow the seeds of judgment and resentment against them, inciting our fallen nature so that we will stray far from our first-created image and be separated from God. We must not take the bait. Whether our anger arises from our own fallen nature or from the suggestion of the Evil One, we need to cut it off at once. And to recognize it at once, we must practice watchfulness over our thoughts.

Saint Theophan the Recluse writes: "The passions and desires rarely attack by themselves--they are most often born of thoughts. From this we can make a rule: cut off thoughts and you will cut off everything."

In The Philokalia, the growth from a thought to a passion is described with scientific precision. First comes the provocation of the thought, then the conjunction of the thought with emotion, then the joining or agreement of the will with the thought. If the thought does not pull back at this point, the thought becomes habit, and the mind is constantly preoccupied with the object of the passionate urge. Finally the person falls into the captivity of the urge, and rushes to satisfy it.

From this it can be seen why it is so important to cut off angry and judgmental thoughts at the time of their provocation. Saint John Cassian writes: "If we wish to receive the Lord's blessing, we should restrain not only the outward expression of anger, but also angry thoughts. More beneficial than controlling our tongue in a moment of anger and refraining from angry words is purifying our heart from rancor and not harboring malicious thoughts against our brethren. The Gospel teaches us to cut off the roots of our sins and not merely their fruits. (Source: Orthodox Church in America and Hieromonk Damascene)

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Please note: When, as Orthodox Christians, we truly understand the purpose of the Lenten and other Christian observances throughout the year, we are edified and inspired. Our Holy Mother Church is there to constantly nourish and nurture us so that we may come to the knowledge of the Truth and live by it. The tendency by some is to over simplify and marginalize our Holy Tradition and life and to make everything in optional or unimportant. Therefore, we have no responsibility for anything that we do or say. That we convince ourselves that we are not accountable to God, Our Creator, for all of our thoughts, feelings and actions. No matter how sinful or evil they are.

The divine services of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith are there to restore us to the full union with God, to forgive our sins, to reconcile with one another, to renew us, to heal us, to inspire us, to illuminate our souls and bodies, to lead us to salvation.

Attendance to the divine services cannot be considered as 'a personal sacrifice', but as a necessary act, to honor, thank, and to worship Our only True Savior and God, Jesus Christ.

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

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George