LENTEN ENCYCLICAL of His Eminence, Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In his Sixth Homily, St. Isaac the Syrian, writes:
As a cloud veils the light of the moon, so the vapors of the belly
banish the wisdom of God from the soul. What the flame of fire is to
dry wood, this also is bodily lust to a full belly. As combustible
matter added to combustible matter increases the flames of a fire, so
succulence of foods increases the lustful movements of the body. The
knowledge of God does not dwell in a pleasure-loving body, and the man
who loves his own body will not obtain divine gifts. Just as from
labor-pangs a fruit is born that delights its mother, so from toil there
is born in the soul the knowledge of the mysteries of God.
Due to our pastoral duties, my beloved Orthodox Christians, the clergy
of our Church, as well as His Grace Bishop Moses, and myself. have
oftentimes visited lands where the inhabitants have nothing to eat but a
few vegetables every day, and where fish, milk and meat products are
only extremely expensive commodities, seldom seen. There, indeed, are
peoples who, of necessity, fast almost every day of the year, every year
of their lives. In contrast, in North America and Europe, most people
have a surfeit of food, a surplus so great and so varied that perfectly
good food is daily thrown away.
All Orthodox Christians, whether they live in societies marked by either
abject poverty or scandalous abundance, are called to look beyond their
local circumstances and to turn their gaze inwardly, especially during
this holy season of the Triodion.
Whether we fast of necessity, because there is not enough food, or of
our own choice when there is an abundance, we understand that our
fasting must be accompanied by purity of heart. This is precisely what
St. Isaac the Syrian points out, again, in his Sixth Homily:
Bodily labours unaccompanied by purity of mind greatly belabour the
body, yet they take no pains to uproot the passions from the mind. For
this reason bodily labours reap no harvest. Like a man who sows in a
briar patch and then is unable to reap, such is the man who corrupts his
thinking with anxiety, remembrance of wrongs, and covetousness, and then
groans upon his bed because of his many vigils and great abstinence.
Scripture testifies concerning this, saying: 'As a people that had done
righteousness and had not forsaken the commandments of the Lord, they
now ask of Me, their God, saying, Why have we fasted and Thou regardest
it not? Why have we humbled ourselves and 'I'hou didst not know it?
Nay, in the day of your fasts ye do your own wills' (Is. 58:2,3), that
is, your wicked desires. Ye offer them as whole burnt offerings unto
idols; and unto the
thoughts, that ye reckon in yourselves as gods, ye daily sacrifice your
free will, a thing more precious than all incense, which ye ought rather
to consecrate unto Me by your good works and your purity of conscience.
St. John Chrysostom adds his own God-inspired insights into the nature
of true fasting:
Let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the
feet, and the hands, and all the members of your body. Let the hands
fast by being pure of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from
running to forbidden spectacles. Let the eyes fast by being taught
never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances. For looking
is the food of the eyes; ... For it would be an example of the highest
absurdity to abstain from meats and from food because of the fast, but
with the eyes to feed on what is forbidden.... Let the ears also fast.
The fasting of the ear is not to receive evil-speakings and calumnies.
Let the mouth, too, fast from foul words and from revilings.
(On the Statues, III, I 1)
As always, the Saints are the unwaning beacons of the True Light, Christ
our Saviour, and, if we guide the rudder of our souls according to their
illumination, we will not fail to enter the safe haven of our
salvation. Whatever the circumstances of our life (although, indeed,
those who have an abundance are called upon to assist our needy
brethren), all of us are in need of God's mercy, and must, therefore,
train both our bodies and souls to abstain from what is harmful to
them. This is an ongoing and unceasing struggle for all of us every
moment of our lives. If we fall, we must rise again quickly to resume
our place in the battle line against the enemy of our salvation.
With these sentiments, my beloved, let us, the rich and the poor "and
all peoples, princes and the judges of the earth, young men and virgins,
elders with the younger," welcome the holy season of the Holy Forty Days
as a special opportunity to consecrate our souls and bodies to Christ,
the Author of our salvation.
Let us purify ourselves beforehand by [abstinence], the queen of
virtues, 0 brethren; for behold, she is come, bringing to us a wealth of
good things; she quencheth the uprisings of the passions and reconcileth
sinners to the Master. Therefore, let us welcome her with gladness,
crying out ,into Christ God: 0 Thou Who didst arise from the dead,
preserve us uncondemned, who glorify Thee, the only Sinless One.
(Glory of Matins, Meatfare Sunday)
Your fervent supplicant unto God,
Ephraim, Metropolitan of Boston
Great Lent, 2000
Protocol Number 1809