John Chrysostom: If the Cross has its foundation in love and is our glory, we must not say we mourn because of the Cross Wednesday, Mar 9 2016 

Chrysostom3Why do we fast for forty days?

Formerly many believers approached the sacraments without any particular preparation, especially at the time when Christ first gave them to us.

But when the fathers realized the harm that could result from such neglect, they took counsel together and decreed that a period of forty days of fasting be set aside, during which the people would meet to pray and listen to the word of God.

During this Lenten season each of the faithful would undergo a thorough purification by means of prayer, almsgiving, fasting, watching, repentant tears, confession, and every other remedial measure.

Then when they had done all in their power to cleanse their consciences, they could approach the sacraments.

[…] So, when someone asks you why you fast, you should not answer: because of the Passover, or because of the Cross.

Neither of these is the reason for our fasting. We fast because of our sins, since we are preparing to approach the sacred mysteries.

Moreover, the Christian Passover is a time for neither fasting nor mourning, but for great joy, since the Cross destroyed sin and made expiation for the whole world.

It reconciled ancient enmities and opened the gates of heaven. It made friends of those who had been filled with hatred, restoring them to the citizenship of heaven.

Through the Cross our human nature has been set at the right hand of the throne of God, and we have been granted countless good things besides.

Therefore we must not give way to mourning or sadness; we must rejoice greatly instead over all these blessings.

Listen to the exultant words of Saint Paul: God forbid that I should boast of anything but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And elsewhere he writes: God shows his own love for us because when we were still sinners Christ died for our sake.

Saint John’s message is the same. God loved the world so much, he declares, and then, passing over every other manifestation of God’s love, he comes at once to the crucifixion.

God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that is, he gave him up to be crucified, so that those who believed in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

If, then, the Cross has its foundation in love and is our glory, we must not say we mourn because of the Cross. Far from it. What we have to mourn over is our own sinfulness, and that is why we fast.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Oratio 3 Adversus Iudaeos (PG 48, 867-868); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Ash Wednesday, Year 2.

Basil the Great: Run with gladness to the gift of the fast Wednesday, Feb 10 2016 

St-Basil-the-Great“Sound the trumpet at the new moon,” says the Psalmist, “in the notable day of your feast” (Psalm 80:4 [LXX]).

This injunction is prophetic….

The Lord says: “Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, but anoint thine head, and wash thy face” (Matthew 6:16-17).

Let us, therefore, exhibit the demeanor that we have been taught, not being doleful about the coming days, but maintaining a joyful attitude, as befits holy people.

No one who desponds is crowned; no one who sulks sets up a trophy of victory.

Do not be sullen while you are being healed.

It would be absurd not to rejoice over the health of your soul, but rather to be distressed over a change of diet and to give the impression of setting more store by the pleasure of your stomach than by the care of your soul.

For satiety brings delight to the stomach, whereas fasting brings profit to the soul.

Be of good cheer, for the physician has given you a medicine that destroys sin.

For…fasting—a remedy truly worthy of its appellation—when introduced into the soul, kills off the sin that lurks deep within it.

“Anoint thine head, and wash thy face” Matthew 6:17).  This sentence summons you to mysteries. One who has been anointed has received unction; he who has been washed has been cleansed.

Apply this injunction to your inner members. Wash your soul clean of sins. Have your head anointed with holy oil, so that you might become a partaker of Christ, and approach the fast in this spirit.

Do not disfigure your face as do the hypocrites (St. Matthew 6:16). The face is disfigured when one’s inner disposition is obscured by a sham external appearance, concealed by falsehood as if beneath a veil.

An actor in a theatre is one who assumes someone else’s persona…. Likewise, in this life, as if on some stage, the majority of people turn their existence into a theatre, entertaining one thing in their hearts, but displaying something else to men by their outward appearance.

Therefore, do not disfigure your face. Whatever you may be, appear as such. Do not transform yourself into a sullen person, seeking the glory that comes from appearing to be abstemious.

For there is no profit in trumpeting your good deeds, nor any gain in advertising your fasting. Things that are done for outward show do not yield any fruit in the age to come, but terminate in human praise.

Run with gladness to the gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, which does not grow old or become outmoded, but is ever renewed and flourishes with vigor.

Basil the Great (330-379): On Fasting 1-2, translated from the Greek original in Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXI, cols. 164A-184C @ Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Greece.

Augustine of Hippo: Almsgiving and Forgiveness Thursday, Apr 10 2014 

St Augustine of AfricaBe particularly mindful of the poor, so that what you take from yourself by living sparingly you may lay away in heavenly treasures.

Let the needy Christ receive that of which the fasting Christian deprives himself.

Let the self-restraint of the willing soul be the sustenance of the one in need.

Let the voluntary neediness of the one possessing an abundance become the necessary abundance of the one in need.

Let there be a merciful readiness to forgive in a conciliatory and humble soul. Let him who has done wrong seek pardon and let him who suffered the wrong give pardon, so that we may not be possessed by Satan who gloats over the disagreements of Christians.

For this is a very profitable way of giving alms, namely, to cancel the debt of one’s fellow servant so that one’s own debt may be cancelled by the Lord.

The heavenly Master commended both deeds as good when He said: ‘Forgive, and you shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you’ (Luke 6:37-38).

Recall how that servant, whose entire debt had been cancelled by his master, received a double punishment because he did not show to a fellow servant owing him a hundred denarii the same mercy which he had received in regard to his debt of 10,000 talents (cf. Matthew 18:26-35).

In this kind of good work, where good will is the sole requisite, there is no excuse possible. Someone may say: ‘I cannot fast without upsetting my stomach.’

He may even say: ‘I wish to give to the poor, but I do not have the means to do so,’ or ‘I have so little that I run the risk of being in need myself if I give to others.’

Even in these matters men sometimes make false excuses for themselves, because they do not find true ones.

Nevertheless, who is there who would say: ‘I did not pardon the one seeking forgiveness from me because ill health prevented me,’ or ‘because I had not a hand with which to embrace him’?

Forgive, that you may be forgiven (cf. Luke 6:37). Here there is no work of the body; no member of the body is lifted up to help a soul, so that what is asked may be granted.

All is done by the will; all is accomplished by the will. Act without anxiety; give without anxiety. You will experience no physical indisposition; you will have nothing less in your home.

Now in truth, my brethren, see what an evil it is that he who has been commanded to love even his enemy does not pardon a penitent brother.

Since this is so and since it is written in the Scriptures; ‘Do not let the sun go down upon your anger’ (Ephesians 4:26), consider my dear brethren, whether he ought to be called a Christian who, at least in these days, does not wish to put an end to enmities which he should never have indulged.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Homily 210, 10,  from Saint Augustine: Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, Homilies, translated by Sister Mary Sarah Muldowney, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 38), pp. 107-8.

Athanasius of Alexandria: Preparing to Eat the Passover Saturday, Apr 5 2014 

AthanasiusWho then will lead us to such a company of angels as this?

[…] ‘Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?’

‘Who shall stand in His holy place, but he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, who hath not devoted his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour.’

‘For he,’ as the Psalmist adds, when he goes up, ‘shall receive a blessing from the Lord’ (Ps. 24:3).

Now this clearly also refers to what the Lord gives to them at the right hand, saying, ‘Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you’ (Matt. 25:34).

But the deceitful, and he that is not pure of heart, and possesses nothing that is pure…shall assuredly, being a stranger, and of a different race from the saints, be accounted unworthy to eat the Passover, for ‘a foreigner shall not eat of it’ (Exod. 12:43).

[…] Wherefore let us not celebrate the feast after an earthly manner, but as keeping festival in heaven with the angels.

Let us glorify the Lord, by chastity, by righteousness, and other virtues. And let us rejoice, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, that we may be inheritors with the saints.

Let us keep the feast then, as Moses. Let us watch like David who rose seven times, and in the middle of the night gave thanks for the righteous judgments of God.

Let us be early, as he said, ‘In the morning I will stand before Thee, and Thou wilt look upon me: in the morning Thou wilt hear my voice’ (Ps. 5:3).

Let us fast like Daniel; let us pray without ceasing, as Paul commanded; all of us recognising the season of prayer…, so that having borne witness to these things, and thus having kept the feast, we may be able to enter into the joy of Christ in the kingdom of heaven.

Israel, when going up to Jerusalem, was first purified in the wilderness, being trained to forget the customs of Egypt, the Word by this typifying to us the holy fast of forty days.

So also let us first be purified and freed from defilement, so that when we depart hence, having been careful of fasting, we may be able to ascend to the upper chamber (cf. Luke 14:15) with the Lord, to sup with Him; and may be partakers of the joy which is in heaven.

In no other manner is it possible to go up to Jerusalem, and to eat the Passover, except by observing the fast of forty days.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Sixth Festal Letter, 11-12.

Seraphim of Sarov: The True Aim of Our Christian Life Consists of the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

Seraphim_SarovskyJanuary 2nd is the feast of St Seraphim of Sarov in the Orthodox Church.

The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.

As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, these are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.

Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good.

The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35).

As we see from another sacred narrative, the man who does what is right is pleasing to God.

We see the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: “Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there you will find Peter and he will tell you the words of eternal life, whereby you will be saved and all your house.”

Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man, in return for his good works, the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life.

But to this end, we must begin with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life.

But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cf. Hebrews. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not.

[…] If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favor of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake.

[…] Good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is said: “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34-35).

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Bede the Venerable: St Cedd Sunday, Oct 27 2013 

icon_bede-October 26th was the feast of St Chad and St Cedd 

Cedd, whilst he was bishop among the East Saxons, was also wont oftentimes to visit his own province, Northumbria, for the purpose of exhortation.

Oidilwald, the son of King Oswald, who reigned among the Deiri, finding him a holy, wise, and good man, desired him to accept some land whereon to build a monastery, to which the king himself might frequently resort, to pray to the Lord and hear the Word, and where he might be buried when he died.

For he believed faithfully that he should receive much benefit from the daily prayers of those who were to serve the Lord in that place.

The king had before with him a brother of the same bishop, called Caelin, a man no less devoted to God, who, being a priest, was wont to administer to him and his house the Word and the Sacraments of the faith; by whose means he chiefly came to know and love the Bishop [Cedd].

So then, complying with the king’s desires, the Bishop chose himself a place whereon to build a monastery among steep and distant mountains, which looked more like lurking-places for robbers and dens of wild beasts, than dwellings of men;

to the end that, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, “In the habitation of dragons, where each lay, might be grass with reeds and rushes;” that is, that the fruits of good works should spring up, where before beasts were wont to dwell, or men to live after the manner of beasts.

But the man of God, desiring first to cleanse the place which he had received for the monastery from stain of former crimes, by prayer and fasting, and so to lay the foundations there, requested of the king that he would give him opportunity and leave to abide there for prayer all the time of Lent, which was at hand.

All which days, except Sundays, he prolonged his fast till the evening, according to custom, and then took no other sustenance than a small piece of bread, one hen’s egg, and a little milk and water.

This, he said, was the custom of those of whom he had learned the rule of regular discipline, first to consecrate to the Lord, by prayer and fasting, the places which they had newly received for building a monastery or a church.

When there were ten days of Lent still remaining, there came a messenger to call him to the king; and he, that the holy work might not be intermitted, on account of the king’s affairs, entreated his priest, Cynibill, who was also his own brother, to complete his pious undertaking.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Ecclesiastical History of England, 3, 23.

Theodore the Studite: Fasting Renews the Soul and Makes Us Habitations of God Sunday, Feb 17 2013 

Theodore_the_StuditeThe present days of the holy fast are, among the other periods of the year, a calm haven to which all gather and find spiritual serenity –

not only monastics, but laymen as well…., for this period is beneficial and salvific for every country and age of mankind.

At this time every disruption and disorder comes to a halt, and doxology and hymnody are multiplied, charities and prayer by means of which our good God is moved to compassion and is pleased to grant peace to our souls and forgiveness of sins –

if only we shall sincerely turn to Him with all our heart, falling down before Him with fear and trembling, and promising to cease from every bad habit which we might have.

[…] Brethren, fasting is the renewal of the soul, for the Apostle says insofar as the body weakens and withers from the ascetic labor of fasting, then so much is the soul renewed day by day and is made beauteous and shines in the beauty which God originally bestowed upon it.

And when it is purified and adorned with fasting and repentance, then God loves it and will live in it as the Lord has said: “I and the Father will come and make Our abode with him” (John 14.23).

Thus if there is such value and grace in fasting that it makes us into habitations of God, then ought we to greet it with great rejoicing and gladness.

[…] If we desire that the fast be for us a true one and acceptable unto God, then together with abstaining from food, let us restrain ourselves from every sin of soul and body, as the sticheron instructs us in which it is said,

“Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers to all sinful passions”.

[…] Let us guard against ill temper and self-assertion, that is, let us not appropriate things for ourselves and indulge our self-will.

For nothing is so loved of the devil as to find a person who has not forgiven another and has not taken advice from those able to instruct him in virtue; then the enemy easily deludes the self-assertive and traps him in all that he does and reckons as good.

Let us vigilantly attend to ourselves, especially in regard to the desires of the flesh; for it is just now, when we fast, that the chameleon serpent-devil fights us with bad thoughts.

Theodore the Studite: (759-826): Catechetical Homilies, 47 @ Orthodox Christian Information Center.

Leo the Great: Love of God and Neighbour Saturday, Nov 10 2012 

There are two loves from which proceed all wishes, as different in quality as they are different in their sources.

For the reasonable soul, which cannot exist without love, is the lover either of God or the world.

In the love of God there is no excess, but in the love of the world all is hurtful.

Therefore we must cling inseparably to eternal treasures, but things temporal we must use like passers-by.

Accordingly, as we are sojourners hastening to return to our own land, all the good things of this world which meet us may be as aids on the way, not snares to detain us.

[…] But as the world attracts us with its appearance, and abundance and variety, it is not easy to turn away from it unless in the beauty of things visible the Creator rather than the creature is loved.

When He says, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God from all thy heart, and from all thy mind, and from all thy strength” He wishes us in nothing to loosen ourselves from the bonds of His love.

And when He links the love of our neighbour also to this command, He enjoins on us the imitation of His own goodness, that we should love what He loves and do what He does.

For … in all things He requires our ministry and service, and wishes us to be the stewards of His gifts, that he who bears God’s image may do God’s will.

For this reason, in the Lord’s prayer we say most devoutly, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done as in heaven, so also on earth.”

What else do we ask for in these words but that God may subdue those whom He has not yet subdued, and as in heaven He makes the angels ministers of His will, so also on earth He may make men?

And in seeking this we love God, we love also our neighbour. And the love within us has but one Object, since we desire the bond-servant to serve and the Lord to have rule.

This state of mind, therefore, beloved, from which earthly love is excluded, is strengthened by the habit of well-doing, because the conscience must needs be delighted at good deeds, and do willingly what it rejoices to have done.

Thus it is that fasts are kept, alms freely given, justice maintained, frequent prayer resorted to, and the desires of individuals become the common wish of all.

Labour fosters patience, gentleness extinguishes anger, loving-kindness treads down hatred, unclean desires are slain by holy aspirations, avarice is cast out by liberality, and burdensome wealth becomes the means of virtuous acts.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 90, 3-4.

G.K. Chesterton: The Joyful Asceticism of St Francis Thursday, Oct 4 2012 

If ever that rarer sort of romantic love, which was the truth that sustained the Troubadours, falls out of fashion and is treated as fiction, we may see some such misunderstanding as that of the modern world about asceticism.

[…] Men will ask what selfish sort of woman it must have been who ruthlessly exacted tribute in the form of flowers, or what an avaricious creature she can have been to demand solid gold in the form of a ring; just as they ask what cruel kind of God can have demanded sacrifice and self-denial.

They will have lost the clue to all that lovers have meant by love; and will not understand that it was because the thing was not demanded that it was done.

But whether or no any such lesser things will throw a light on the greater, it is utterly useless to study a great thing like the Franciscan movement while remaining in the modern mood that murmurs against gloomy asceticism.

The whole point about St. Francis of Assisi is that he certainly was ascetical and he certainly was not gloomy.

As soon as ever he had been unhorsed by the glorious humiliation of his vision of dependence on the divine love, he flung himself into fasting and vigil exactly as he had flung himself furiously into battle.

He had wheeled his charger clean round, but there was no halt or check in the thundering impetuosity of his charge. There was nothing negative about it; it was not a regimen or a stoical simplicity of life.

It was not self-denial merely in the sense of self-control. It was as positive as a passion; it had all the air of being as positive as a pleasure. He devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold.

And it is precisely the positive and passionate quality of this part of his personality that is a challenge to the modern mind in the whole problem of the pursuit of pleasure.

[…] It is certain that he held on this heroic or unnatural course from the moment when he went forth in his hair-shirt into the winter woods to the moment when he desired even in his death agony to lie bare upon the bare ground, to prove that he had and that he was nothing.

And we can say, with almost as deep a certainty, that the stars which passed above that gaunt and wasted corpse stark upon the rocky floor had for once, in all their shining cycles round the world of labouring humanity, looked down upon a happy man.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936): St Francis, ch. 5.

Augustine of Hippo: Lent is the Epitome of Our Whole Life Sunday, Feb 26 2012 

St Augustine of AfricaAs we begin our annual Lenten observance with its solemn call to conversion…it is more than ever my pastoral duty to nourish your minds with the word of God when you are about to mortify your bodies by fasting.

We are soon to celebrate the Passion of our crucified Lord. It is therefore in keeping with our commitment to him that we should crucify ourselves by restraining the desires of the flesh.

As St Paul says: You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all your self-indulgent passions and desires.

Such is the Cross upon which we Christians must continually hang, since our whole lives are beset by trials and temptations.

Not for us, as long as we live, to be rid of those nails we read of in the psalm: Pierce my flesh with the nails of your fear.

Flesh means the desires of our lower nature; nails, the demands of God’s justice and holiness.

With these the fear of the Lord pierces our flesh and fastens us to the Cross as an acceptable sacrifice to him.

In a similar passage the apostle Paul appeals to us by the mercy of God to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

To hang on such a Cross brings no shame to the servants of God; it is something in which they glory, as Saint Paul does when he says:

Far be it from me to glory in anything except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

This crucifixion, I repeat, is something that must continue throughout our life, not for forty days only.

It is true that Moses, Elijah, and our Lord himself fasted for forty days; but in Moses, Elijah, and Christ we are meant to see the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, and to learn from them not to cling to this present world or imitate its ways, but to nail our unregenerate selves to the Cross.

Christians must always live in this way, without any wish to come down from their Cross, otherwise they will sink beneath the world’s mire.

But if we have to do so all our lives, we must make an even greater effort during these days of Lent. It is not a simple matter of living through forty days;

Lent is the epitome of our whole life.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 205,1 (PL 38:1039-1040); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, First Sunday in Lent, Year 2.

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