March 21, 2024

Homily for Thursday of the First Week of Great Lent at Great Compline: About the Fast and its Meaning

Homily for Thursday of the First Week of Great Lent at Great Compline

About Fasting and its Meaning

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1961)
"Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk. 12:32).

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Entering into the feat of the Holy Forty Day Fast, we must thank the Lord with all our hearts for the fact that He, the merciful One, who desires the salvation of all, has vouchsafed us this year to live until the holy days of Great Lent, and here, under the arches of this ancient temple, to pray and be edified with touching Lenten chants, and, testing ourselves, bring repentance to God for our sins. The Holy Church has now put on mourning attire and with slow, drawn-out bell ringing, and touching chants and prayers of the fast she call us to repentance, trying to awaken our sleeping conscience and arouse in us zeal for correction. Just as in the spring the whole nature of animals, birds and trees takes off its old cover and puts on a new beautiful robe, so on these holy days we must cleanse ourselves, put off the dirty rags of sin - by fasting, prayer and repentance - and clothe our souls with clean garments acceptable to the Lord.

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things." This is how the Venerable Andrew of Crete addresses his soul in his touching Canon, which we heard during the evening service. With these same words, we, beloved, will turn to our sleeping soul and try to wake it up from a heavy, sinful sleep.

"My soul, my soul, arise!" Arise from your attraction and addiction to earthly things. After all, you were created not for earth, but for Heaven, not for enslaving yourself to passions, but for glorifying your Creator and Redeemer.

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping?" Look how your Redeemer and Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, your Guide and Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, your Guardian Angel and all the saints are waiting for your awakening! They tell you, poor soul: “Raise your gaze from earth to Heaven, arise from your sinful sleep! Should you sleep now, when your tender, sincere friends show such care for you and want to heal you, the sick one, with prayers and the Mysteries, while your enemy lulls you to sleep and tries to destroy you!

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near!" Why don’t you take care of yourself, my poor soul, why do you spend the few days of your life scattered? Don’t you know that soon, soon you will be called to the trial that will be at the Last Judgment of God? This Judgment will be terrible, truly terrible, although the Lord is good and merciful. For the same Jesus, who now graciously calls everyone to Himself, will then send away all unrepentant sinners from Himself, saying: "I do not know you; depart from Me, all you who practice iniquity" (cf. Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27).

"The end is drawing near." Don’t you know, my poor soul, that a person, as soon as he has time to step into this world with one foot, is already standing in the grave with the other foot? The first hour of earthly life is already a step that brings us closer to death. A day passed, and we came closer to death, and a year passed, and we came even closer to the limit of our lives. Time now flies with terrifying speed, not only hours and days, but also months and years flash by, and you, poor soul, are dozing and do not feel that death is approaching you imperceptibly with quick steps. After all, in this way you are wasting the precious time you need for your correction!

If the souls of the righteous, not without fear and trembling, thought about the coming death, then what trembling will you experience when the time comes for you to be separated from your body! That terrible day and hour will come when you will be truly troubled; no one will protect you then: neither brother, nor relative, nor superiors, nor power, nor wealth, nor glory, nor honor, but then only the person and his deeds will appear for judgment. Then you will become confused, poor soul, confused and afraid. You will be afraid of the fruits of what you have sown on earth, you will be afraid of fiery hell. All your earthly deeds will seem vile to you, which you will then remember down to the smallest detail.

You will wish to improve, but it will be too late, you will cry out for mercy, but the doors of repentance will then be closed, and you will suffer forever. But you, poor soul, can avoid all this. Wake up! Wake up, shake off the impurity of sin and repent sincerely. For there is no other way to correction except repentance.

Do not put off your correction until tomorrow, because the enemy, who is always on guard, will certainly take advantage of your slowness, but begin repentance immediately. If you truly rise up, then may Christ God have mercy on you. Let your sins be like purple, and then the Lord will cleanse them in the abyss of His mercy. And then the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is everywhere and fills everything, will penetrate your being and reign in you. If you do not rise up and rise up, then such grief and such a fate will befall you, the full horror of which you cannot now even imagine...

Beloved brothers and sisters! The Holy Church combined the feat of repentance with the course of fasting, as with such a time that makes our soul cheerful and light. We have now entered the great course of Great Lent, established in imitation of the forty-day fast of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Savior, out of His love for us, before preaching the gospel to the people and His suffering on the cross, fasted for forty days, did not eat or drink anything. And since the life of Jesus Christ is for us the rule of a pious life, then His forty-day fast cannot but be an indispensable rule for us, unless we bear the name of Christians in vain. The Lord Himself established fasting for His disciples. When some came to Him, asking: "Why do the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" (Mark 2:18), then in response to this the Lord said: "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days" (Mark 2:19-20).

With these words, the Lord says that whoever sincerely loves Him, who shares with Him a part in His great work and shares His feelings, will be contrite and fast, when His Lord is taken away to suffer and die, he will sanctify the time of separation from the Lord with a moving fast. This is what the Holy Orthodox Church does, sanctifying the time of Christ's sufferings with a special fast.

Fasting is a holy thing because it curbs the passions living in our body. Fasting is a means to acquiring holiness, for just as intemperance opens the door to depravity of thoughts and deeds, so abstinence imparts light to thoughts, purity to feelings, and freedom and strength to the spirit.

One of the Holy Fathers says: “When a king wants to take an enemy city, he first of all withholds water and food supplies, and the enemies, dying of hunger and thirst, submit to him. This is what happens with our carnal passions. If a person lives in hunger and fasting, then the enemies, weakened, will leave the soul.”

According to the words of Saint John Chrysostom , whoever fasts quenches his evil passions. Fasting makes the soul cheerful, lifts it above the earthly and attracts it to the Heavenly. All saints respected fasting and revered it as the most favorable time for their correction and improvement. Great ascetics came into close contact with the Divine and were rewarded with great revelations and visions precisely through strict fasting, which spiritualized them, weakened their attraction to earthly things, made this contact easier for them and brought down upon them the great mercies of God.

Thus, for example, the holy prophet Moses, during his forty-day stay on Mount Sinai, during a strict fast, was honored to receive from the Lord stone tablets on which the God-given Law for the Israelite people was inscribed. The holy prophet Elijah, after a forty-day fast, was rewarded with the revelation of God on Mount Horeb. The Ninevites imposed a fast on themselves and through this they were pardoned. The people of Israel very often resorted to fasting when they wanted to receive some kind of mercy from the Lord or to avoid His just wrath.

Saint Basil the Great says that fasting is contemporary with humanity, because the commandment about fasting was already given in paradise. With the commandment about not eating the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord established a fast in paradise, and if our ancestors had observed it, we would not have had to observe it.

Fasting is the mother of chastity, the protection of youth and the adornment of virginity. With such a meaning of fasting, why should we, sinners, not observe it! Let us cleanse our souls by fasting and repentance from all sinful filth, and then the Lord will come to us and bring with Him the bright Kingdom of grace of Christian virtues, and with joy we will exclaim, as the Most Pure Virgin exclaimed: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" (Luke 1:46-47). Grant us all, Lord, a saving time of fasting and repentance and, having lived it, to greet the Bright Resurrection of Christ with spiritual joy. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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