homily for 2/2/09 - meat and passions
- 1Corinthians 8:8-9:2
“Meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the
better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse. … But when you sin
against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, you sin against
Today, as we prepare to enter Great Lent, we give up the eating of meat.
If, as the Apostle says, whether we eat meat or not does not make us
worse, why is it that we make such a point of forgoing the eating of
meat during the fast. What is the reason for this exercise? In writing
on the creation of the animals, St Basil the Great tells us, “According
to Scripture, ‘the life of every creature is in the blood’ (Lev 17:11)
... See the affinity of the soul with blood, and of the blood with the
flesh.” (Hexameron Homily VIII) This closeness that he draws between the
soul and the blood (and therefore the flesh) of the animal creates an
unseen bond between the nature of the animal as expressed by its mortal
soul and the body of the animal itself. When we consume the flesh of the
animal, we also consume its life and partake of its nature. The beasts
by nature are driven by their desires, they act on instinct and are
motivated by the simple impulse to fulfill their basic needs. Because
the beasts were brought forth from the earth and draw their life from
the earth, their nature is bound to the earth and their desires are for
earthly things. When we partake of that nature, we reinforce in
ourselves the desire for earthly things and we bind ourselves more
closely to the earth.
Mankind, on the other hand, draws only his body from the dust of the
earth, but his life is from the breath of God. We were created in the
image and likeness of God. We are not bound to the earth as the beasts
are nor do we share its nature as the beasts do. Rather mankind is
destined to ascend from the earth to heaven, uniting in himself the
physical and the spiritual, standing between heaven and earth as the
link uniting the Creator with His creation. During the fast, by
abstaining from certain foods, we loosen the bonds which hold us to the
earth that we might more easily ascend into heaven. At the end of the
fast we proceed with our Lord through His passion – we suffer with Him,
we ascend the cross with Him, we die with Him, we are buried with Him
and with Him we descend into Hell. But the grave cannot hold us, the
bounds which hold us to the earth are weakened and broken by Christ and
we rise with Him, and with Him we enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For this
reason we fast, to loosen the chains which would keep us in the grave,
which bind us to the earth so that we might be bound instead to Christ
and ascend with Him out of hell, out of the grave and into the Kingdom
St Basil also points out to us how although mankind was created to rule
all of creation, he has, in the fall, enslaved himself to sin with the
chains of the passions (that is our base and earthly desires). He says
to us, “O human, you are a ruling being. Why do you serve the passions
as a slave? Why do you throw away your dignity and become a slave of
sin? For what reason do you make yourself a prisoner of the devil?” (On
the Origin of Humanity, Discourse 1) If it is the passions, our animal
like earthly desires, which are the chains of our enslavement to sin, is
it not proper that we should resist this slavery and throw off these
chains. This is the reason behind our fast – to weaken the chains of
slavery so that they might be more easily broken with the coming of Christ.
What are these passions which bind us? There are many passions and each
person is bound by them in a different manner according to his own
weakness. The chief of the passions are pride and self-centeredness. All
the others emanate from them. We can all name many of these passions
which arise from the belly and overwhelm us: gluttony, greed, anger,
lust, laziness, envy, jealousy, and so on. Last week, as you will
recall, the Holy Apostle made an example of two passions – hunger and
lust – to demonstrate that not all things are profitable for us. Today
we again address these passions which bind us to the earth and prevent
us from rising to heaven. These passions are the chains of our slavery
to sin. In Christ, we have the power to throw off these chains and to
negate their power over us.
We say that “we are what we eat”. When we eat the flesh of the beasts,
we partake of their nature and we allow the passions to grip us more
tightly. Do we not recognize this when we pray in the Canon to our
sweetest Lord Jesus, “O Jesus, having yielded to the irrational
pleasures, I have become irrational, O my Jesus; and wretch that I am I
have truly become like unto the beasts, O my Savior. Wherefore, O Jesus,
deliver me from irrationality.” (Ode 8 Tropar 2) or in the Evening
Prayers when we say, “forgive me the sins which I have humanly
committed, and not only humanly but even worse than a beast, my
voluntary sins…” But now we set aside the eating of meat, and we no
longer partake of the nature of the beasts, but rather we instead
partake of the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus
Christ. We receive instead the Divine nature of the God/man Jesus Christ
and are united to Him. During the fast, we intensify our struggle
against the passions which would drag us down and bind us to the world
and instead embrace the divine nature of Jesus Christ by which we are
lifted up from the world and ascend to heaven where we are united with
Christ and thus participate in the life of the Holy Trinity.
The fast, however, is not just about abstaining from food. True, the
flesh of the animals strengthens our bond to the earth and by abstaining
from meat we weaken that bond. However, we must also cease from all
those activities which are instigated by the passions and abstain from
worldly behavior as well. It is not just to eat a meatless diet, we must
also live a sinless life. For this reason St John Chrysostom asks us:
“Do you fast?
Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see someone who is poor, take pity on that person.
If you see a friend being honored, do not be envious.
Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eyes, and the feet, and
the hands and all the member of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is
Let the ears by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and
devour our brothers and sisters?”
See how important it is that we remember not only to keep the fasting
diet, which weakens the hold of the passions on us, but also to fast
from those actions which are born of the passions. Let us therefore fast
with our whole being, not with the stomach alone, but with our will,
with our hands and feet, with our eyes, ears and mouth. In this fast,
let us strive to cut ourselves off from the enslavement of the world and
the devil, of passions and sin and instead unite ourselves to Christ
that we might rise with Him from the grave of sin and ascend with Him to
heaven where we will live in union with Him.
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)