February 27, 2023

Second Homily on Fasting (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on March 2, 1952 - Cheesefare Sunday)

"The fast has come - the mother of chastity."

Oh, how rightly sacred chants call fasting the mother of chastity, for nothing disposes so much to the violation of chastity as overeating and drunkenness.

But we are not only talking about sexual chastity when praising fasting: there is another form of chastity - spiritual chastity. This is purity of heart, and fasting disposes us to this goal - purity of heart.

I know, of course, that you cannot always get the lenten food that you would like. What will I say about this? I will say that it is important not only what will enter your mouth, but even more important is your spiritual disposition, your attitude to fasting. For if you do not have fast food and are forced to eat everything that you can't have, then God will not condemn you for this.

But if you treat fasting with disdain, if you do not have the intention and desire to fast, you will be condemned by God, for God appreciates not only our good deeds, but also all our good intentions. He looks into your heart, and if he sees sorrow that you cannot fast, then he counts this sorrow as a genuine and true fast.

Why should we have great reverence for fasting?

First of all, because fasting was established by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and if He established it, then it means that it is important, it is holy; one must honor this with all one's heart, one must keep His words.

Once the Pharisees and scribes reproached the Lord Jesus Christ for His disciples not fasting. They considered this a violation of the law and pointed it out to Christ, and the Lord answered them: “Can the sons of the bridal chamber grieve when the bridegroom is with them? As long as the bridegroom is with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).

He established, therefore, a fast for His apostles, but what is commanded to the apostles is commanded to all of us. And the Lord Jesus Christ gave us a great example of fasting, when in the wilderness of Judea he fasted a strict forty-day fast. And His holy apostles kept fasts. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the apostles laid hands on those they consecrated as presbyters only after fasting — they prepared for ordination as presbyters by fasting and prayer.

Those who do not want to fast, who despise fasting, hypocritically say: “Do we please God with food? We must please Him not with food, but with good deeds.” But they also do not do good deeds, just as they do not observe fasting. They point to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: "Not what goes into the mouth, but what comes out of the mouth, defiles a person." But do we speak of desecration when we propose fasting? Of course not. These words the Lord said at the same time when the Pharisees reproached Him; when He said that his disciples would fast when the bridegroom was taken from them. These words are spoken only to expose the superstitiousness of the Pharisees and scribes, who attached great importance to washing hands before eating. He said that nothing unclean that enters the mouth along with food, and therefore uncleanness from unwashed hands, can defile a person.

Those hypocrites who try to justify their negative attitude to fasting with the words of the Holy Scriptures, those sectarians who reject fasting, Lutherans who deny it, fasting not as the Church commands, but only two or three days a year fasting - all of them in justification of themselves cite not only these words of Christ, which I have just explained to you, but they also cite the words of the holy Apostle Paul: “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:1–4).

These words of Saint Paul are mistakenly considered a negation of fasting. It is said that the apostle Paul did not attach importance to fasting. Is this true? It is completely false, for we know from the book of the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostle Paul himself kept a fast. When he was on a distressful voyage to Rome, then it was winter, and we read: “But when enough time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous, because the fast had already passed, then Paul advised, saying to them: 'Men! I see that navigation will be difficult and with great harm, not only for the cargo and the ship, but also for our lives'” (Acts 27:9-10) .

See, he was talking about the fast, that the fast had already passed. What fast?The winter fast - Christmas or Philip's fast. This means that from these words of the apostle one can know and assert that in ancient apostolic times the Christmas fast was observed.

And that Paul himself fasted, we will find many indications of this in his epistles, for example, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, when the apostle speaks about how many troubles and sufferings he experienced in his preaching about Christ, when he says that many times he was subjected to blows, suffered shipwreck three times, many times was in various dangers, in labor and exhaustion, often in vigil, in hunger and thirst, often in fasting, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:27). Who dares to say that the apostle did not fast? Who dares to interpret his words as a denial of fasting, as sectarians and Lutherans do?

So, fasting was not only established by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, but was also observed by the holy apostles themselves, and from their time the Church of Christ observed fasting.

What is the meaning, what is the power of fasting? Oh, how great it is, how important it is! Already in the Old Testament, in the book of the Prophet Jonah, we read that the Lord God warned the huge, great and glorious city of Nineveh, the ancient city, for complete destruction. But before the execution of the sentence on Nineveh, He sent the Prophet Jonah there to announce this to the inhabitants of Nineveh and call them to repentance. And what? – The Ninevites were shocked by the preaching of Jonah, they immediately changed their minds, immediately repented, immediately decided to change their sinful life. And the king of Nineveh himself commanded all the inhabitants to fast for three days, commanded that even all cattle fast for three days. He himself dressed in sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on his head, and all the people tore their clothes, covered themselves with sackcloth, and fasted for three days with complete and perfect fasting. And what?

You see, the great city was saved from destruction by fasting and prayer. Similarly, each individual person can be saved by fasting and repentance, for fasting is the most conducive to repentance. When we sit down at the table, on which there is meager Lenten food, we will remember what it is for - for repentance, for repentance for our many sins.

Now, as you yourself know, many laugh at our fast, now the fast is rejected and forgotten by millions of Russian people. Was it so in the old days? Oh no, oh no! Then it was completely different: then all the people fasted on all fasts, on Wednesdays and Fridays; then the ancient Russian pious tsars set an example for the people, not missing a single divine service, strictly observing all fasts. At that time children were taught the necessity of fasting from a very early age, and being instructed by such a good instruction, they treated fasting with great respect and were taught to fast from an early age.

Now it's not like that, it's not like that at all. But it is necessary that at least in our Christian community, in the small flock of Christ, this deep respect for fasting be preserved, so that at least we fast, setting an example for those who reject fasting. For people, seeing us fasting and repenting, will think about it and stop along their way and see that our fasting, that our obedience to Christ, who established the fast, established repentance, is not at all as ridiculous as it seemed to them. Perhaps they will see and understand the profound meaning of fasting.

Those who do not want to fast meet fasting with irritation and displeasure. And I will remind you that our Lord Jesus Christ, when His disciples could not heal the demon-possessed lad and asked why they could not heal him, said to them: “This kind is driven out only by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). Do you see the power of fasting: it casts out demons; demons flee from fasting, demons hate fasting. Is there really anyone among us who would hate fasting, to become like the very demons? No, no, no! Let us love holy fasting, let us see its tremendous power, its mighty protection against all the temptations of demons. Let us believe deeply that fasting is the mother of chastity, not only of direct sexual chastity, but also of spiritual chastity.

Those of you who diligently read the lives of the saints know what an incomprehensible fast all the multitudes of venerable fathers and mothers fasted. They fasted with constant fasting; there were no easy days for them. A lot of them ate only bread and water, and nothing else. This, perhaps, will seem dangerous to you: how so, only bread and water, for where are the vitamins? The great venerables had never heard of vitamins, and yet they lived in such a strict fast for up to a hundred years or more, for the grace of God supported their body much more powerfully than our exquisite dishes. They often destroy our health, cause many stomach and intestinal diseases, often cause headaches, gout. Those saints who always lived in a difficult, severe fast did not know these diseases at all. So, let no one doubt that fasting for God will not hurt, but on the contrary, it will give strength to both body and spirit.

You cannot always fast, as these monks fasted, but at least observe the fast established by the Church, you can, you must, you are simply obliged. If you reject this commitment, then woe to you. Our Lord Jesus Christ, as you heard in the Gospel reading, commanded not to fast like the Pharisees fasted: to show people, darkening their faces during fasting, so that people would see them darkened, dejected by fasting and praise them. Not so, not so, the Lord commanded us to fast as follows: He commanded us to hide our fast, not to fast before people, but to fast before God only, to appear before people with a bright, joyful face, anointing our heads, enlightening our eyes. For such a fast, known only to God, Christ will bless us.

May grace be upon all of you, into whose hearts my words have entered today, and may you receive recompense not from people, but from God for your fidelity to the rules of the Church, for your fidelity to fasting. And not only for this reason is fasting important: its great significance is that it is a school of abstinence. When you learn to refrain from food forbidden in fasting, then you temper your will, then you become accustomed to abstinence. And it is not only what you should abstain from, aren't there things that you should be banned from?

And so, if by fasting you get used to curbing your insatiable stomach, this will be a simple transition to learning to curb all your lusts and all the dictates of the flesh, from which most sins come. It is not easy to learn any great deed, it requires a long and intense exercise in this deed. And it is precisely during the entire Lent that the Holy Church teaches us to acquire the habit of curbing our stomach, and this will teach us how to curb our lusts. And from the lusts of the flesh, fighting against the spirit, most of our sins come.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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