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Homily for 3/9/08 - Forgiveness - Fasting, Alms and Prayer

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matt 6:14-21 As we make our final preparations for Great Lent we hear in the Gospel about the way we are to fast. We do not fast all the time – and neither
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2008
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      Matt 6:14-21

      As we make our final preparations for Great Lent we hear in the Gospel
      about the way we are to fast. We do not fast all the time – and neither
      do we feast all the time – but rather there are times set aside in the
      Church year for both of these things. Now is the time for fasting, now
      is the time when we set aside all of the worldly baggage of luxuries,
      personal comforts, diversions and recreations and everything else that
      might distract us from our spiritual growth. Now is the time to focus
      more intensely on ascetic labor, weakening the passions, subduing the
      movements of the soul and purifying our mind. This is the goal of Great
      Lent and fasting is one of the tools which we use toward that end.
      However, fasting is not the only tool that we have. In the Gospel,
      leading up to the segment that we heard read this morning there are two
      other vital spiritual activities described, prayer and giving alms.
      These two along with fasting are the three tools with which we work most
      diligently during lent.

      Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are our primary means for accomplishing
      the spiritual growth during lent for each one touches a different part
      of the soul. St John Chrysostom instructs us saying: “ The soul has
      three parts: anger, desire, and reason; and God has given us
      commandments corresponding to these powers of the soul. Almsgiving
      subdues the soul’s element of anger; fasting weakens the desire; and
      prayer purifies the mind, disposing it towards the true vision of
      contemplation.” This description of the parts of the soul is consistent
      with the more general descriptors that we glean from the Holy Fathers
      describing the three parts of the soul – feeling (anger), desire and
      intellect (reason). Indeed as we consider the science of the soul (just
      as many have studied the science of the body) we find that these three
      powers encompass the whole working of the soul. Because of our
      sinfulness these three powers are warped and out of balance; not working
      properly. In order to realign our soul and heal it, God has given us
      these treatments which address each part. These treatments are, as we
      have seen: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

      During this time we seem to focus more on fasting, since the restriction
      of the diet (especially in this modern world) affects us most severely.
      Fasting is in fact an exercise by which we abstain from certain foods as
      well as restrict the amount of food that we eat. The reasons for this we
      would see clearly if we had as detailed a knowledge of the soul as we do
      the body. Since science has focused on the nature and systems of the
      body and has generally neglected the soul, there are many things in the
      relation between soul and body that we do not clearly understand. The
      Church, as the vessel of God’s wisdom then teaches us how to live for
      our spiritual benefit even though we do not understand fully the
      mechanism of these various activities. Some foods, we learn, tend to
      arouse the passions (this refers both to our desires and to our
      emotions) more than others. The foods derived from animals (meat and
      dairy) have the greatest effect on the passions. To a lesser degree, but
      still significant is the effect of fish and again the use of oil and
      wine also adds to the effect. When we follow the strict fast and
      eliminate all of these elements from our diet (and adopt essentially
      what is known as a “vegan” diet) it has the effect of “starving” the
      passions and thus weakening them. Because of our lack of science of the
      soul, we do not know in detail how all this works, but we do know that
      it does work. Just as the patient does not have to have all the
      knowledge of medicine of his physician to benefit from treatment, so
      also we do not have to fully grasp the inner mechanisms of how fasting
      works in order to benefit from it, rather we need only to trust the
      Great Physician who prescribes this for us.

      Almsgiving, or more generally ‘works of righteousness” is also a part of
      the spiritual treatment prescribed for us. St John quotes the prophet
      Isaiah who describes this treatment saying, “…Break thy bread to the
      hungry, and lead the unsheltered poor to thy house: if thou seest one
      naked, clothe him, …Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and
      thy health shall speedily spring forth…” To give alms is to act with
      compassion. The balm of compassion has the effect of softening the
      emotions, especially those that are aggressive and destructive
      (encompassed by the description of anger). It is not possible to be
      compassionate towards someone and angry towards them at the same time –
      one drives out the other. Therefore we quiet our anger and subdue it by
      practicing the opposite virtue of compassion. This we bring out in our
      soul by the act of almsgiving and other works of righteousness.

      Prayer is the third of the “treatments” prescribed for us. When we truly
      pray, we open our mind and our heart to God and commune with Him. When
      this communion occurs we are awash with the grace of the Holy Spirit and
      it is this grace which corrects to focus of the mind (which houses the
      power of reason). The effect of sin is that our mind, and especially our
      reason, becomes flawed and twisted, thinking only in terms of this world
      and what our bodily senses report to us. Prayer, or communion with God,
      works to correct this warping effect and opens our mind to the
      understanding and perception of not only the things of the perceptible
      world, but also to those things which are beyond our perceptions, those
      things which belong to heaven, the spiritual world and the Kingdom of
      God. Prayer gives a new dimension to the mind that before was closed off
      and unused. Once opened, we continue to pray for through prayer we
      become more fully acquainted with the spiritual and heavenly realm and
      experience the interrelationships. We begin to perceive more clearly
      those things which before were hidden from us. Through prayer we learn
      to see and hear and feel all over again, but not from our physical
      senses but rather with our spiritual eyes and ears and other senses.

      During the time of Great Lent we have these three treatments with which
      to improve the health of the soul: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. One
      is good, two is better, but all three are needed for a truly complete
      effect; we cannot have effective fasting without prayer and almsgiving
      as well. Therefore, as we approach this period of spiritual labor, let
      us remember that it is not just about abstaining from certain foods, but
      that fasting is only part of what we must do. In addition we must
      increase our prayers (to which end there are more Church services during
      Lent, especially in the first and last weeks) and we must increase our
      compassionate acts – giving alms, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor
      and so on. All of these things – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are
      necessary for our spiritual well being and all of these things are part
      of our Lenten labor.


      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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