“Why do you fast?”

March 18, 2008

A boy once approached his father, ‘Old man, why do you fast?’

The father stood silent, bringing heart and mind together, and then:

‘Beloved boy, I fast to know what it is I lack.

For day by day I sit in abundance, and

all is well before me;

I want not, I suffer not, and I

lack but that for which I invent a need.

But my heart is empty of true joy,

filled, yet overflowing with dry waters.

There is no room left for love.

I have no needs, and so my needs are never met,

no longings, and so my desires are never fulfilled.

Where all the fruits of the earth could dwell, I have

filled the house with dust and clouds;

It is full, so I am content—

But it is empty, and so I weep.

 

‘Thus I fast, beloved, to know the

dust in which I dwell.

I take not from that which I might take,

for in its absence I am left empty,

and what is empty stands ready to be

filled.

I turn from what I love, for my love is barren,

and by it I curse the earth.

I turn from what I love, that I may purify my loving,

and move from curse to blessing.

 

‘From my abundance I turn to want,

as the soldier leaves the comfort of home,

of family and love,

to know the barrenness of war.

For it is only amongst the fight, in the

torture of loss, in the fire of battle,

that lies are lost and the blind man

clearly sees.

In hunger of body and mind, I see

the vanity of food,

for I have loved food as food,

and have never been fed.

In weary, waking vigil I see

the vanity of sleep,

for I have embraced sleep as desire,

and have never found rest.

In sorrow, with eyes of tears I see

the vanity of pleasure,

for I have treasured happiness above all,

and have never known joy.

 

‘I fast, beloved child, to crush the wall

that is my self;

For I am not who I am, just as these passions

are not treasures of gold but of clay.

I fast to die, for it is not the living who are

raised, but the dead.

I fast to crucify my desires, for He who was

crucified was He who lived,

and He who conquered,

and He who lives forever.’

 — Desert Fathers.

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What we have…

March 17, 2008

Consider this…

Moses, who spoke with God through the burning bush, who removed his sandals on the ever-holy ground… who led the captives out of Egypt, who ascended the Mount and saw what can only be described in our frail human terminology and way of thought as the ‘back side’ of God… then descended with the Commandments… Moses, who by the power of God, parted the sea and freed the captives from Pharaoh.He did not have what we have.David, the Prophet, the King, who wrote most of the Psalter from which we chant and sing, who understood repentance and was considered the apple of God’s eye — David who slew Goliath, being exalted from a young shepherd boy, to Israel’s greatest King…

He did not have what we have.

King Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, who built the temple which held the Ark of the Covenant, who wrote the powerful Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes…

He did not have what we have.

John, the Baptist of the Lord, known to be the holiest man who walked the earth… who in shambles dared to touch the untouchable, in fear that he may be consumed as wheat to fire in touching God the Son! John who preached from the desert, sustaining himself only on honey on locusts, clothed in animal skins and very much dead to the world, who many believed to be the promised Messiah…

He did not have what we have.

Isaiah, the Fifth Evangelist, who saw the Lord seated high and lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died… Isaiah who felt contrition in a vision of the Lord, though he had seen the coming of divine worship, he still knew himself to be unclean. Isaiah, who was visited by the Seraphim with the burning coal, that glorious foreshadowing of the Divine Eucharist — the first to have heard “Behold, this has touched your lips…”

He did not have what we have.

Though these were undeniably holier than we, stop and consider — we have seen the fulfillment of the Promise. What Isaiah saw a foreshadowing of we have access to! Where Moses had to ascend in fear and trembling our God now descends! The path in which John preached to walk is manifest!

… How we must grieve the Lord, that we take our faith so casually.

How we must grieve Him that in the Old Testament, the days of waiting and expectation, there were those holy enough to look upon the Chalice with true, undeniable piety… reverence… Godly fear… and tears. How often we approach the Chalice with indifference, and hardened hearts, and mindlessly attend the Divine Liturgy which so many righteous died waiting for, without even knowing of it’s future revelation.

How would these Saints and righteous ones have approached the Chalice? How would they have stood within the beauty of the New Israel, God’s Church? In fear, in awe, in extreme piety and devotion, in ways that we would possibly never even come to understand… these Saints who lived before the God-man, before the Promise of Salvation had been completely made manifest, even as a Child to a Virgin. I must stop for a moment and consider Moses, how would he respond to that call, “with faith and with love come forward”? Would he be able to move at all? Would he tremble in fear, rejoice in tears and thanksgiving? That we can’t say for sure…

… but consider, if he and the others were to watch us in our stoicism, in our inattentiveness, and our hardness of heart, as we check our watches and shift our weight and worry for comfort… they would rend their garments, and sprinkle ashes on themselves. How easily we take it all for granted! We stand within the Church of Acts, of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Church of Pentecost, of the radiant and victorious martyrs! The faith which established the universe is ours!

How much do we give, how much do we strive, how much do we hurt, how much do we show that we want it? Do you know the difference between a man and a Saint? Effort. God has revealed to us the Church and the Sacraments, and the power in which His grace can turn us from men into angels… we have so much more than the Old Testament Saints. We stand on holier ground, we are beyond compare richer, we have the complete fulfillment of prophecy and vision…

… but we simply, lack, the effort.

May God visit us during this time of struggle and preparation, that when the Royal Doors are once again opened, and the King of all is invisibly escorted in… we may remember our immense blessings. May we turn from Pharisaical hypocrisy, false struggle, vanity, pride, selfishness, delusion, hardness of heart, and embrace humility, patience, understanding, and the wisdom which God offers to those who seek after it. May we take it upon ourselves to break ourselves from laxity and comfort, to free ourselves from the delusion of “freedom” and become a slave in Christ, that we may finally understand what freedom truly is…

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I have lived my life wantonly on earth and have delivered my soul unto darkness. But now I implore Thee, O merciful Lord, free me from this work of the enemy and give me the knowledge to do Thy will.Who doeth such things as I do? For just as a swine lying in the mud, so do I serve sin. But do Thou, O Lord, pull me out of this vileness and give me the heart to do Thy commandments.

Rise, wretched man, to God and, remembering your sins, fall down before thy Creator, weeping and groaning, for He is merciful and will grant thee to know His will. — from the Canon of Repentance

As the Fast begins with all its intensity during Clean Week, it becomes harder and harder for me to fast from sins–sometimes feeling even harder than following the rule of xerophagy. And, for a self-professed “foodie,” that’s saying something. Nevertheless, I find myself beset by all my passionate attachments; it seems that as I exert a little extra willpower to silence the voice that says “eat eat eat,” I allow the passions of lust, pride,wrath, and sloth room to expand their influence. This, the second day of the Fast–along with the failures and setbacks already experienced yesterday evening and this morning–serves to teach me that, once again, I’m going about it the wrong way. I cannot stop myself from sinning; my own will is insufficient to the task of silencing all the passions at once. I can do nothing on my own–I can only conquer through Christ, through submission to His will. My sinful soul has desired all the things of this world: power, pleasure, dominance, leisure. If my treasure remains there, my heart cannot be in the Kingdom. I have to stop wanting, and learn to let it be Christ that liveth in me, so that I no longer live.

Can this be learned, though? Isn’t the language of “learning” the spiritual practice, the spiritual disciplines, insufficient to grasp the true meaning of theosis? And what about those conflicting desires? I want the Kingdom, but am I truly this unwilling to do the work?

The experience of the Great Fast teaches us a lot about ourselves, every year. We shine just the tiniest, most minuscule fragment of the light upon the darkness with which we have covered over our souls, and we see just how incomprehensible true being–that is, being in communion with God–really is.

O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk; ++
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. ++
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my
own transgressions and not to judge
my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. ++ Amen.

+ Pax vobiscum.