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Homily for 022612 - F - Self Denial

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 6:14-21 A psychological study on the nature of willpower discovered that at any given time 50%-75% of the people will consciously be experiencing some
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2012
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      Matthew 6:14-21

      A psychological study on the nature of willpower discovered that at any
      given time 50%-75% of the people will consciously be experiencing some
      kind of desire and that at least 25% of the time any one person is
      engaged in the mental activity of resisting some desire. The most common
      desire that people reported resisting was the urge to eat followed by
      the urge to sleep. There were many other desires reported by the study
      which I am sure would be familiar to each one of us. Our desires are
      with us constantly and this is actually very natural for desires arise
      from the will which is a component of the soul. However, these natural
      desires too often are out of control and rather than instructing the
      will into what the needs of the body are (e.g. hunger indicates the need
      for nourishment) too often the desires dominate the will demanding their
      fulfillment. Such fallen desires are what we refer to as passions and
      their demands are the temptations that arise from the passions.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ, when laying out the path of salvation gives three
      steps – to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Him. The
      process of resisting these passionate temptations (and indeed of
      resisting all temptation) is at its core, self denial. The beginning of
      the process of following Christ is to stop following ourselves and
      living under the domination of our passions and desires. In the life of
      the Church there are particular times that we dedicate to strengthening
      our own will in order to deny ourselves and thee are the fasting
      seasons. Great Lent is the most strenuous of those times when we really
      struggle to begin to deny ourselves and follow Christ.

      Today, on the threshold of Great Lent, we hear in the Gospel a teaching
      on self denial. Jesus points out three areas in which we need to
      exercise self denial. He speaks about forgiveness, fasting and laying up
      treasure in heaven. We will look at each of these in reverse order.

      “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, … But lay up for
      yourselves treasures in heaven, … For where your treasure is, there will
      your heart be also.” This is the final injunction in today’s Gospel and
      it speaks to the passion of acquisitiveness (which is also related to
      such passions as greed and envy). Acquisitiveness is the passion of
      simply wanting to possess things. This passion is something that
      afflicts us all, for we all experience the desire to get this or buy
      that and to collect all manner of things. We all want to own or possess
      things. Sometimes this passion becomes so dominate in a person that they
      begin to hoard all manner of things (and this condition has now even
      become the topic of reality TV). While we are not all hoarders, we are
      all acquisitive. What is it that is behind this passion? Behind
      acquisitiveness is self reliance and the preservation of independence.
      By acquiring things we seek to make sure that all our needs are met and
      we do this on our own power. Acquisitiveness pushes us to lay up for
      ourselves not only treasure but also every possible item that might
      someday meet some need we could conceivably have. In doing this we seek
      no longer to be dependent upon God’s providence, but rather to construct
      our own providence upon which to draw to insure our continued health,
      safety and comfort. And so our Lord tells us “lay up not treasures upon
      earth…” , in other words, deny the temptation to acquire worldly things,
      but instead redirect that desire back to its proper purpose and seek to
      acquire (lay up) heavenly treasure. Earthly treasure is transitory and
      in the end is not only worthless but also subject to corruption and
      passes away. Heavenly treasure, on the other hand, is eternal and beyond

      These heavenly treasures are the virtues such as humility, love,
      compassion, patience, and so on. These treasures we acquire by following
      Christ, and not ourselves; by fostering dependence upon Him and not on
      ourselves. This passion is driven by our fallen nature which seeks to
      supplant God and become god instead. But to deny this passion is to
      reject the drive of our fallen nature and instead seek to fulfill our
      original purpose to be the servants and children of God – united to Him
      in love and completely dependent upon Him for all our needs. Thus we
      deny ourselves and do not lay up treasures on the earth and instead put
      all our hope on our Lord Jesus Christ and so lay up treasure in heaven.

      “Moreover when ye fast…” The most obvious of the exercises in self
      denial of which our Lord speaks is fasting. The most basic and strongest
      of the passions is that of the belly. We desire to eat food – not only
      food which supplies our bodily needs, but food which is tasty and
      pleasurable to the palate and such quantities that we might never feel
      any unpleasant pangs of hunger. Remember that in the study of desires,
      the psychologists found (what the Church has always told us) that the
      most common desire is the urge to eat. This passion too has its roots in
      the self. In this case it is not only the general desire to acquire
      things that will meet our needs, but more specifically the desire to
      make sure that we never run out of the “life energy” which comes from
      food. Rather than depend upon God, the source of life, for the
      sustenance of our own lives, we seek constantly to find some other
      source of life that we can control and own and possess. When we deny
      ourselves in this area and begin to fast – turning away from foods that
      are in excess and foods that are full of pleasure and restrict what,
      when and how much we eat – we directly confront this passion. Rather
      than seek out the foods we want, we take the food that God gives. Rather
      than seek out that which is tasty and pleasurable, we eat only those
      foods which provide basic nourishment. Rather than eat as much as we
      desire, we eat only a minimal amount. We seek to depend more upon God to
      give us life than upon our own labors to sustain the life in us. We seek
      to derive our pleasure from God rather than to take pleasure in the
      aromas and taste of food. We seek our comfort and security from God
      rather than finding it in food. Food is such a basic vehicle and focus
      for so many of our desires – not just nourishment – that when we fast,
      we confront much more than hunger and the “urge to eat”. Fasting is a
      powerful tool to turn our dependence away from self and place it firmly
      upon God.

      “…forgive men their trespasses…” Before fasting and before
      acquisitiveness our Lord speaks of forgiveness. This is the first of the
      areas of self denial. Forgiveness is, as we know, an act of the will, a
      choice that we make. By forgiving, we forgo any attempt to gain justice
      and instead seek mercy. By forgiving, we sacrifice justification for our
      own actions and instead embrace our brother. By forgiving we deny
      ourselves the opportunity to explain our actions and vindicate ourselves
      in the eyes of our neighbor. By forgiving, we deny our desire to get
      even and instead acquire compassion. We love to be heard, to have others
      recognize the rightness (or at least the reasonableness) of our actions.
      We love to be vindicated and not at all responsible or at fault in any
      situation. We love to prove ourselves better than others by pointing out
      their faults. But when we forgive, we sacrifice all these things.
      Forgiveness is an act of self denial. When you forgive someone else, you
      set aside the justification of determining who is right and who is
      wrong. That is no longer an issue and justice falls away to be replaced
      by reconciliation and the unity of love of one another. When you
      forgive, you set aside reason and rationality and seek in its place love
      and unity. When you choose to forgive, you choose to step down off your
      pedestal of justice, of rationality, of immunity from guilt and instead
      seek out the destruction of barriers between yourself and others, and
      the mutual flow of love for others and the compassion of bearing one
      another’s burdens. Forgiveness is an act of self denial that opens the
      doors of the heart and soul to receive the love and compassion that God
      pours out upon us.

      Great Lent is a time when we especially practice that first step on the
      path of salvation – self denial. This step allows us to turn away from
      all our dependence upon “self” (self justification, self defense, self
      reliance, and so on) and instead put all our dependence upon God,
      looking to Him to give to us love and life and all our needs. Let us
      then forgive, fast and lay up treasure in heaven so that we might
      receive from God forgiveness and blessing and that our hearts might rest
      in the Heavenly Kingdom.

      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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