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Homily for 2/7/10 - Sun of the Great Judgment - Fasting

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  • Fr David Moser
    1 Cor 8:8-9:2 As we prepare to enter into Lent, it is perhaps appropriate to talk about our attitude toward fasting. The epistle of St Paul that we read today
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2010
      1 Cor 8:8-9:2

      As we prepare to enter into Lent, it is perhaps appropriate to talk
      about our attitude toward fasting. The epistle of St Paul that we read
      today says that we are neither better nor worse whether or not we eat
      meat. Why then do we fast? We fast as a spiritual exercise so that by
      our ascetic labor we might become stronger. One of the strongest of our
      desires, or passions, is that of the belly. In fact the very first sin
      of rebellion against God and disobedience to His commandment was enacted
      through the eating of a certain food. Thus when we fast, when we abstain
      from certain foods, we strike at the core of our sinfulness and
      self-centeredness. Rather than eating anything we want, we limit
      ourselves to eat only certain foods and we limit the amount of food that
      we eat as well. It is good when we fast to always feel a little hunger.
      That uncomfortable feeling of hunger can serve as a reminder to pray and
      as a spur to deny ourselves in other ways as well. The foods from which
      we abstain – meat and other animal products – have been found by the
      experience of the Church to inflame the passions more than others.
      Therefore when we are attempting to quiet the passions and keep them at
      bay, it is only logical that we should stay away from those things which
      will tend to incite them more. In this case one of those thing is the
      foods that we choose to eat. Weakening the passions is part of the
      strategy to effectively defeat them. In addition to this somewhat
      spiritual understanding of the nature of food, there is another reason
      for abstaining from certain foods as we fast. This is simply to remind
      us that we do not depend upon food to sustain our lives, but rather we
      depend upon God. Rather than depend on our own selves, upon our own
      judgment about what and how to eat, we limit our choices according to
      the instruction that God gives us. We depend on Him to provide us with
      the sustenance that we need to remain alive and healthy in this life.

      But food is not all there is to fasting, food is only an outward
      manifestation of the whole lenten journey. Fasting engages all aspects
      of the soul. Certainly the abstinence from certain foods affects the
      body, however we also keep the fast by denying ourselves in the various
      aspects of the soul, the mind, the will and the heart. Just as we
      abstain from certain foods because they tend to inflame the passions
      more than others, we also weaken the passions by the actions of the
      soul. First we guard our mind, and especially the senses which are the
      gateways by which the outside world can affect the soul. We take care
      not to expose ourselves to those things in the world which will tempt
      us. More than usual, during the fast we take care to control what we see
      and what we hear. We even attend to the thoughts and flights of fantasy
      that we allow our mind to entertain. Therefore during the fast we are
      more vigilant about such things as entertainments, television, movies,
      theater, music, even reading material. We should be especially careful
      of the electronic media such as the internet and videogames keeping
      ourselves away from the aspects of those things which tend to feed and
      excite our passions. Another aspect of the soul is the will and that too
      should be affected by the fast. The will is the seat of our desires, of
      our wants and needs. It is by the act of the will that we make choices.
      Therefore it is in the will that the act of self denial finds its root.
      When we choose to deny our own wants and set aside our own desires so
      that we might follow another path – the path of Christ, then we weaken
      that egocentric and self pleasing tendency of the will and instead
      center our actions on Christ working to please Him and make Him the
      focus of our lives. Finally we also address the heart which is the
      feeling aspect of the soul. During the fast we spend more time and
      energy in prayer and in feeding our spiritual nature. There are, of
      course, the increased services of the Church which provide additional
      opportunities for prayer and we should take advantage of this. In
      addition, we should also expand our normal rule for private prayer,
      adding some extra time for prayer and for spiritual reading into the
      day. Continue to read the daily scriptures which are appointed for the
      various services (which during Lent are generally taken from the Old
      Testament) but add to this the rule of reading through the Gospels a
      chapter or two at a time each day. Rather than choosing to read books of
      a secular nature, set aside all these things and read instead the
      spiritual books written by the saints. It is quite common to read such
      things as “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St John of the Ladder or the
      Ascetic Homilies of St Isaac of Syria, or similar kinds of books during
      Lent. These books may be too difficult to read and so instead one might
      read the lives of the saints or their letters or possibly even their
      sermons. Having emptied your life of worldly pass times, fill the void
      with spiritually beneficial reading or by listening to the hymns of the
      Church so that your mind and your will and your heart will be surrounded
      by those things which inspire you to draw near to God.

      Because food is only one aspect of the fast it is important that we do
      not judge our neighbor based on this. Of course it is impossible to know
      the condition of someone’s soul just by looking at them. We normally
      cannot tell from the way a person is dressed or from their appearance
      the condition of the heart. However, we tend to do just that with regard
      to fasting. We look at what is in the refrigerator or on the plate of
      our neighbor and make assumptions about whether or not they are sinners
      or about the quality of their spiritual lives. The Apostle warns us
      against such foolishness instructing us not to become a stumbling block
      for our neighbor. Instead of judging one another we are instructed to do
      everything that we can to help one another – even if that means denying
      ourselves even beyond our normal practice so that we would avoid
      offending our brother. In the Paradise of the Fathers it is recorded
      that “One of the elders used to say : in the beginning when we got
      together we used to talk about something that was good for our souls.
      But now we get together and spend our time in criticizing. And we drag
      one another down into the abyss.” This is a trap that even the saints
      must avoid. Rather than judging one another, we should put forth the
      effort to encourage one another and to support the building up of the soul.

      Therefore during the fast (as well as at all other times) we should make
      the effort to:
      - pray for each other
      - pray with each other
      - read the scripture daily with someone or discuss it with them
      - read a spiritual book together
      - engage in charitable work with someone else
      - attend divine services together
      - give someone a ride to Church
      - call on the sick

      These are the things we should be doing together – not checking each
      others cupboards to make sure they aren’t “cheating”. Better we should
      look into our own souls to see our own condition.

      Great Lent, is nearly upon us. This year let us resolve to not only keep
      the outward fast, but also let us resolve to encourage each other in the
      building up of our souls. The purpose of Great Lent is to prepare the
      soul – strengthen it for our participation in the crucifixion and
      resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We fulfill this purpose in two
      ways – by eliminating that which weakens us (the fasting part) and by
      doing those things which strengthen us. Refraining from certain foods is
      only a part of the process – refrain also from sin. But at the same
      time, do not forget to strengthen your soul and at the same time
      strengthen the soul of your neighbor so that having struggled through
      the fast together, together we may also enter into Holy Week and Pascha.
      Encourage your neighbor, strengthen them during the fast – and you too
      will become strong together with them in the Spirit of the Lord.

      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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