We entered the Great Lent. As we know, the Lent is a time of inner cleansing, of purification. I would even call the Lent a time of forgiveness, a time of return, of retrieval. Through fast, we return to God (2nd Chron. 20:3, Isaiah 58:6, Joel 2:12) and through the Sacrament of Holy Confession we receive forgiveness of our sins. But we often mistake the fast for a diet or for the healthiest nutrition possible.
We are not aware of the actual signification of fasting and nor do we think about its consequences.
‘Old people fast, well, why should we do the same? Isn’t youth too beautiful? So many dainties…’ Indeed, when we are young we are tempted by the worldly dainties – and not by the spiritual ones. Can the fast be a path to the heavenly dainties? Yes, it can. When we fast, first of all we fast for Him. He feeds us, we accept his consummate nourishment. The nourishment being God’s Will itself and not our own. Secondly, the fast can also be an act of praise, that is a deed of worship to the Lord, because it is a sacrifice – cause ‘Love is a sacrament that God planted in the human soul, which is based on sacrifice. There is no sacrifice without love and there is no love without sacrifice.’ At the same time it is a voluntary relinquishment of something that is permitted to us – sprung from our love and respect for God – as Father Cleopa used to say.
Why ‘flight of the soul’? Here is what Saint John Chrysostom says: ‘Fasting holds the body under restraint, checks its unruly movements, renders the soul transparent, gives it wings, raises it on high and makes it light.’ What does giving wings to the soul means? For the prayer be able to raise to Heavens, it needs two wings: fasting and alms deeds. Fasting gives our souls wings crowning them with the Real and Eternal Joy. Fasting cannot lack prayer. Likewise, nor prayer without fasting can fly to God.
‘It raises it on high and makes it light’. How wonderful these words are… Just by reading them, we should discover within ourselves the desire to search, to meditate and to prepare unceasingly for fasting. For the ‘raising of our souls’. But for this we need to fast not only with our body, but we also must confess Christ through our deeds, let the work of God be shown through them. How can our deeds be pleasant to God?
Saint John Chrysostom tells us: ‘Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your good deeds. How? If you see a poor man, take pity on him; an enemy, be reconciled to him; a friend receiving honor, don’t envy him; an alluring woman, pass her by. Don’t just fast with your mouth and stomach, but also with your eyes, and your ears, and your feet, and your hands, and all the members of your body. Let the hands fast by being cleansed of plunder and greed. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run to immoral shows. Let the eyes fast by refusing to stare lewdly at lovely faces. The mouth must fast from disgraceful speech and other shameful words.’ Our Saviour says: ‘When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting’ (Matthew 6:16). In the Saviour’s time, there were the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and other people that wanted to be praised for fasting. They used to paint themselves with pitch, to appear thin, sad or miserable. But what do we gain if we follow their example? Shall we receive the unwithering crown if people appreciate us or praise us for fasting? Shall we gain anything if we look sad in front of the others? ‘But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face’; appear joyful to others, so that they can’t know you are fasting.
Therefore, let us rejoice of the Lord’s things serving and thanking Him for the Heavenly Nourishment. Let us give our souls wings through fasting and let the prayer be ‘mother’ to us upon the ladder of salvation.
Translated by Claudia
Many Christians do not give much importance to fasting. They fast without conscience or are not doing it at all. Yet, we have to receive fasting with joy, not with fear and sorrow, because it’s not scary for us, but for the devils. In the case of a possessed person, fasting really does a lot, especially when is accompanied by his good sister, the prayer. Therefore, Christ sad: “But this kind does not go out except by fasting and by prayer.” (Mat 17, 21)
So, it is certain that fasting sends away our salvation enemies; we should love it and not be feared by it. We should rather be afraid of eating a lot, especially when it is accompanied by drunkenness, because too much food and drink subdue us to passions, while fasting, on the contrary, gives us spiritual freedom. What kind of proof for fasting benefits do we need more, when we know that it fights against devil and it delivers us from the sins slavery?
Not only monks with angelic life are accompanied by the fasting power, but also laymen, who are flying on the wings of fasting till the heights of holy contemplation.
I recall that the two great prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, although they had great daring towards God, by their virtues, they often fasted, and fasting brought them closer to God.
Even long before them, in the beginning of creation, when God created man, He immediately gave the command to fast. If Adam fulfilled this commandment, he would be saved. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.(Genesis 2, 16-17).
This was no other than the command to fast. If in Paradise was a need for fasting, there is a bigger need outside it. Before man was spiritually hurt, fasting had been a medicine for him; now more than ever when his soul is hit by sin, fasting is a medicine. Before the war of pleasures begun, there had been a need for fasting; the need is grater now, when we wage wars against devil. If Adam had obeyed this commandment, he would not have heard the words: for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3, 19). Because Adam didn’t obey, there subsequently came death, worries, sufferings, and a life worse than any death.
Do you see how God becomes angry when fasting is despised? And you cannot imagine how much He rejoices at our fasting. Death touched man because he despised fasting and also through fasting death can not have power on man.
(St. John Chrysostom)
Translated by Ioniţă Radu
The title of this article does certainly not thrill anyone and that is only for a single reason: because of the exhortation:”Repent!”. After the 1990’s there have been many Christian groups (churches) in our country, that had one purpose in corrupting of a large number of followers. Those who had been in these churches discovered a very strict regime of life: no drinking, no secular music, no TV, no radio, with head-kerchiefs, no jokes, no laughter, no parties, no restaurants, no bars, as humble and quiet as possible etc.
People have noticed their behavior in society and have called them “penitents”. Rooted in the everyday language, the term “penitent” means a strange man who lives out of time. In the Romanian consciousness is a person who doesn’t want to integrate in society, a man who show faith by extreme behavior and gestures, actually a well indoctrinated man. The “penitent” appellation means in the first place: a man of another religion than the Orthodox faith, and hence all the prejudices that accompany that status, in our people consciousness.
To cut a long story short, if someone told you that you are a penitent then well, you’re already in a strange area in his mind and he will try to avoid you. This is the first great obstacle over which we, Romanians, should pass to understand what exactly the repentance is. Other Orthodox people do not have this problem.
In the Orthodox Church repentance means changing your mind, changing the way of perceiving things at sensory, rational and spiritual level. Perhaps you’ve wondered: “Why as soon as we go into fasting we talk about repentance? Why do not talk about it throughout the year? Why should I repent once the fasting begins? Actually, what does it means to repent?”
Maybe some of us believe that repentance means lamenting ourselves before God and telling Him what sinners we are, although sometimes we don’t feel it. Maybe sometimes we must think like Saint Paul the Apostle did; He said: “I am the chief of sinners”, but do we really belive that?
That is not repentance. The man must remember his sins not only in fasting but day by day, hour by hour, asking God’s forgiveness second by second: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” What does repentance means for us, Christians?
To repent is to acknowledge that the vision that I have about the world it’s not true and complete, but it is a subjectively perception in my limited and fragile mind. Although I think I know the truth (the reality) and everything that happens around me, yet the decisions that I take which are based on my perception, are really built on untruth, lack of information, on lies. Therefore I perceive the reality around me in a distorted manner, often wrong, based on my life experience and on what others have said, not knowing what really happened and which were the motivations of each event.
Wrongly perceiving reality (at least distorted), as being free, I still take wrong decisions and I make those around me suffer. So, wrong perceptions will influence me and I will form a wrong perception about the world and people around. So my actions will have negative and more significant consequences to my neighbor and to me. When I see that actions and choices in my life bring suffering around me, I notice that that is the first warning of conscience:
What happens? Why do I suffer? Why doesn’t anything good ever happen to me? Why don’t I do things right?Where am I going wrong here?
All these questions can help you realize your limitations and infirmities. Looking at yourself , you will see many passionate habits and sins into your soul that have mastered you for so long.
The Holy Fathers say that only God and His saints perceive the world as it actually is, without any prejudice.
To repent means to ask God to illuminate your mind to perceive the world truely as it is. To repent means to have greater confidence in the words of God than in your own thoughts when you need to make a decision, and that it is because He has all the information and you only have a very small part of it.
To repent means a humble confession that you are sinful man and that only God through His grace can rise you above your sins in order to see the world as it really is. Seeing reality as it is, the decisions you will take will be without sin, having positive effects on others.
Mantzaridis Georgios said:
“Repentance is necessary not only to receive the divine grace, but also to keep it or to regain it, because man sins every day, he is bound to repent daily. No matter how spiritually advanced he is, it requires repentance. This is not exhausted in certain facts, not limited to certain periods of time. Its work never ends. Repentance is the work of Christian life, and its exercise is the only way to keep himself member of the Body of Christ.
The more man repents, the fuller knowns himself, he is aware of his nothingness, he deplores his affliction and trust in God’s mercy. So the repentance becomes the path of self knowledge, but the knowledge of God too, because it approaches man to God and makes him more receptive to His grace. Moreover, this process of repentance already is not only something human, but also the fruit of the gift of God’s work.
Located in the state of spiritual death, man dosn’t feel his sin, nor can’t see inside of him. Feeling or, more precisely, “seeing” the sin is an important gift from God. Christian life is a life of repentance, that it means awareness of sin and God’s grace full custody. Therefore it is accompanied by crying and tears. This crying is not a sterile or negative condition , but creative and it brings joy. And this tears do not express emotional sensitivity, but deep existential changes, caused by human repentance and the grace of God. Crying rises joy .
Insisting on repentance is not a tacit acceptance or tolerance of the sinful life, but it is the awareness of the sinful state we are in.
Repentance is not a moral act, but existential. It belongs not to the psychology level or to the social behavior, but to the spiritual life. As the sin does not lay in breaking of moral commandments, but in removing from the source of life, of God, so the repentance lays not so easy in straighten morals, but in returning to God and inside of your spiritual life. Repentance breaks the mind of sin and it sticks on the remembrance of God, it takes it to the grace and to the union with God, which it is accomplished mysteriously in the human heart, on the “throne of grace”, and it unifies God and man.”
Translated by Blendea Elena
In our youth we wonder often what is the will of God with us, what is His plan with ourselves. Why do we say “May Your will be done” and not mine in Our Father prayer? Why do we have to ask the will of God first in order to receive what we want? Within us occur thousands and thousands of desires; some are good, and some less than good. Sometimes we are willing to do anything to make our dream come true, and once accomplished, we realize that the result is just not the one we thought it would be. The, we easily ask ourselves: “why is this not to my benefit?” We ask for reasons, clues even, “signs” from God; we continue to pray and yet wishing that our will may be done.
As a parenthesis, I would like to share with you a bit from my own experience. For two years I’ve been asking in my prayers for something that in the end turned out to be not to my benefit but against me. I was constantly asking for that dream to come true, with prayers, akathists and bidding prayers. I thought that God wanted the same thing for me. But still, time passed and my prayer didn’t receive an answer. I was living under the impression that God disregarded my call. That He wasn’t answering my prayers anymore, and so I fell…I couldn’t understand what was wrong. I couldn’t understand what His will was, regarding me. I tried to force things, but still no change. Thousands and thousands of thoughts were filling my mind…Thoughts that managed to transform my “small” fallen into a profound and dark fallen.
All this until one day when…A dear soul sent to me by God brought me back to reality telling me that “God is not a jukebox which fulfills desires and we get mad at him after that”. Then a second person came that told me that God has something better in His mind for me. At that moment I didn’t understand much, but now I do, very clearly. I hope you will understand too, not from me but from our heavenly Father who knows what is best for us.
So, why do we have to ask for His will to be done and not ours? For only He knows what is best for us. He knows what is useful for us, and He will work in our hearts only if we allow Him to. And how do we do that? With: “May your will be done, not mine!” It is one of the shortest prayers and at the same time, one of the hardest prayers to say. “May your will be done” is one of the hardest thing to say in my opinion because it means self-denial.
Those who are seeking to do the will of God are called by Christ Himself his relatives, as it is said in the Holy Scripture: “For anyone who will do the will of God, this is my brother and my sister and my mother” (Mark 3:35). How great this can be; through His holy will, Jesus Christ unites us with Himself, making us His brothers, and His sisters. Doing God’s will doesn’t consist in just asking Him constantly in our prayer so that His will be done, it also means that we have to fulfill his commandments. Fulfilling his commandments helps us to find the way; it helps us to understand that what God has planned for us is better than what we’ve planned for ourselves. We must not rely only on our own desires because without Him we can not do anything. Without His will we wouldn’t have existed in this world, without His will, the scripture wouldn’t have been fulfilled. That is why it is important for us to say in our prayers “May Your will be done!” Through these words we hand over our life in God’s hands, because like our Savior says: “the world passes and it’s lust, but who does God’s will, will remain for all eternity”.
God’s will may be our will when we don’t ask for things from this passing world, when we don’t ask for a selfish wish to come true but we let God do how he knows best. When you say “May your will be done” now, in the present, you actually say for later “This is what I actually wanted from You, but I didn’t know from the beginning how good it actually is what You had given to me!” In that way you let Him be in your life and you live as He wants you to live, and not the way you wanted to. Usually, what we think we need in this world and for this world, it is not what we need for our salvation. Let the Giver of all live inside of us asking him constantly to let His will be done with us, for only then we will understand what His plan with us is, and how we really feel in His loving arms. We will have that incredible feeling of safety, that unexpected joy, that immeasurable love of the One who said in the Gethsemane garden before He gave Himself for us: “Not My will, but Yours be done…!”
Translated by Closcaru Georgiana