March 19, 2024

Homily for Tuesday of the First Week of Great Lent at Great Compline: About Fasting and Its Benefits

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

About Fasting and Its Benefits

(cf.: 2 Cor. 6:2)

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1961)

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Beloved brothers and sisters, you and I have entered into the feat (podvig) of the Great Lent of salvation, which was established by the Church in imitation of the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who for the sake of our salvation fasted for forty days, without eating any food or taking any drink during this time. So for us, His followers, the Holy Orthodox Church strictly commands us to maintain holy abstinence, spiritual and physical, for forty days, starting from yesterday, called Clean Monday, until Friday of the sixth, or Palm, week. That is why this upcoming fast is called the Holy and Great Lent.

During these great days of repentance, the Holy Church puts on mourning clothes and through special services, prayers, chants, and the ringing of bells for the fast, expresses that in these days she laments, mourns, and cries for her children, calling on you and me to do the same. Just as the Jews, who lost their fatherland, wept by the rivers of Babylon, so we are called on these holy days to mourn the loss of our Heavenly Fatherland, which we lost due to our sins and iniquities.

The Church has combined mourning for sins with fasting, for it gives wings to our repentance and lifts it to the Throne of God. The feat of fasting is a holy and very ancient matter. “Fasting is an ancient gift, but it is not worn out and antiquated. Rather, it is continually made new, and still is coming into bloom,” says Saint Basil the Great . Do you think that its antiquity is considered from the time of the origin of the Law? Fasting is older than the Law. Fasting is not a new invention, but a treasure of the Fathers. Everything distinguished by antiquity is venerable. Respect the gray hairs of fasting, it is contemporary with humanity. Fasting was established in paradise. Adam accepted the first commandment: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Gen. 2:17). But this cannot be taken away; it is the establishment of fasting and abstinence. If Eve had fasted and had not eaten from the tree, then we would not now have the need for this fast. We, damaged by sin, will be healed by repentance, and repentance without fasting is not effective. Cursed is the earth: thorns and thistles will grow for you (cf. Gen. 3:17-18) - it is commanded to be contrite in spirit, and not indulge in luxury. By fasting, be justified before God.

But the very sojourn in paradise is an image of fasting, because, being content with little, those who lived in paradise did not consume either wine or animal meat, which makes the human mind cloudy. After the flood, people accepted wine and meat, but before the flood this did not exist. When there was no hope of perfection, then pleasure was allowed.

All the saints observed fasting as a kind of paternal inheritance, passed on from father to son and received successively, so that this acquisition, according to the order of succession, has been preserved to us. Moses fasted for forty days on Sinai, and fasting made the Holy Prophet a lawgiver, and he was honored to be with God and received from Him the Law for the Israelite people.

But thanks to the intemperance and gluttony of the belly of the Israelites, this same Law, written on the tablets by God Himself, was smashed by the holy prophet Moses. Thanks to the insatiability of their belly, the people of Israel gave themselves up to idolatry and thereby lost the favor of God.

Esau's intemperance made him a slave to his brother, because he sold his birthright for one piece of food. The prayer of the venerable Anna, combined with fasting, gave her a blessed child: the holy prophet Samuel. Fasting made Samson irresistible, and until he was separated from Him, the enemies fell by the thousands, the city gates were torn down and the lions could not withstand the strength of his hands. But when drunkenness and fornication took possession of him, he was captured by the enemies and, deprived of his eyes, was exposed to ridicule by the children of foreigners.

Elijah fasted and sealed up heaven for three years and six months. Since he saw that a lot of arrogance and evil was born among the people from satiety, then, out of necessity, in order to heal them from the vice of luxury and dissolute life, he imposed an involuntary fast on them - hunger, which stopped the sin that had already spread beyond measure. By fasting, as if by some kind of cauterization or section, he interrupted the further spread of evil.

Fasting made the holy prophet Elijah a spectator of the great vision, for, having purified his soul by fasting for forty days, he was honored to see the Lord at Horeb. Through fasting, the holy prophet Elijah returned her deceased son to the widow.

“Fasting,” says Saint Basil the Great , “gives birth to prophets, strengthens the strong, fasting makes legislators wise.” Fasting is a good guardian of souls, a reliable companion for the body, a school for ascetics. It reflects temptations, it is the partner of sobriety and chastity. Fasting precedes prayer to Heaven, becoming like wings for it when climbing a mountain. Fasting is the mother of health, educator of youth, adornment of the old, a good companion for travelers, a reliable companion for spouses. The husband does not suspect adultery, seeing that his wife has become accustomed to fasting. The wife is not consumed by jealousy, noticing that her husband loves fasting.

The man of desires, the holy prophet Daniel, who for three weeks did not eat bread or drink water, shut the mouths of the lions with his fasting; they could not do him any harm when he was thrown into their ditch.

The benefits of fasting are open to every kind of life, to every condition of the body: fasting is appropriate everywhere and at all times. Fasting protects infants, chastens the young, and makes the old man venerable, for gray hair adorned with fasting is more worthy of respect. Fasting is the most decent adornment of women, a bridle in the bloom of years, the guardian of matrimony, the educator of virginity. Immodest speeches, songs, and ridicule are banished by fasting.

If fasting were to reign in the universe, then there would be profound peace in the whole universe, and there would be no rebellion of one nation against another, and life would not be so deplorable and full of sorrow, because fasting, teaching people to abstain from excess in food, would also teach them to completely avoid vices: love of money, covetousness, vanity, and other evil passions.  And life would be lived in deep peace and serenity of the soul. Now, however, people who pursue luxury as the bliss of life have introduced this great swarm of evils. The rich man's luxurious life plunged him into hellfire, and Lazarus ascended to Heaven through fasting and rested in Abraham's bosom.

The fasting person has a respectable complexion (it does not turn into a shameless purple), his gaze is meek, his gait is sedate, his face is meaningful, and there is purity in his heart. All the saints, glorified from time immemorial, loved fasting and observed it. The life of Saint John the Baptist was one of continuous fasting. The Holy Apostle Paul fasted, and fasting elevated him to the third Heaven. But the most important thing for us is that this fast is sanctified by the Lord Himself, who fasted for forty days.

Our spirit is constantly in conflict with the flesh, they oppose each other, so if you want your spirit to be strong, bridle the flesh by fasting. The Apostle Paul says, "Our outward man decayeth, yet the inward man is renewed from day to day" (2 Cor. 4:16). No one, with abundant food and constant luxury, received spiritual gifts. If the Ninevites had not fasted, they would not have escaped the punishment that threatened them. The Jews, when they ate manna and water from the rock, defeated their enemies and were all healthy, but when their hearts wanted meat and they remembered the cooking vessels of Egypt, they did not see the Promised Land.

Fasting is a weapon for the militia against demons. But fasting does not need to be limited to abstaining from food alone, because true fasting is abstinence from evil deeds. Forgive your neighbor's insults, refrain from inflicting insults on your neighbor, refrain from irritation, from senseless grief, from fear, anger, etc.

You will forgive others for insults, mistakes, annoyances, unnecessary worries, and your sins will be forgiven. The Lord will forgive your mistakes, and you will receive great mercies from Him. You will forgive your neighbor’s few sins, and God will forgive you countless sins. You will forgive a hundred denarii, and He will forgive you ten thousand talents. Thus, let us not obey the devil, who teaches us to hold evil in our souls against our neighbor, but in the simplicity of our hearts we will forgive our neighbor for the insults inflicted on them, also at the instigation of the devil.

Let no one think evil against each other, let no one be carried away by evil suspicion towards his brother, for this is the charm of the enemy of our salvation, who is trying in every possible way to destroy the union of love and brotherhood in us and to instill demonic enmity and hostility. Let us remember the commandment of the Savior: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another" (John 13:34), and also that he who loves another has fulfilled the law: "Love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:8, 10).

We must enter into the feat of fasting, according to the commandment of the Lord (see: Matthew 6:16), not with a sad face, but with cheerful faces, like true warriors of Christ, coming out to fight sin and the flesh with the help and assistance of the grace of God. Anoint your head with the oil of alms and wash your soul with the water of purity, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly (Matt. 6:17, 18). At the same time, the Lord teaches us to banish from our hearts earthly treasures and earthly addictions and encourages us to desire and seek Heavenly treasures.

They are of Heavenly origin and therefore immortal, and earthly blessings, as coarse, corruptible and transitory, are unworthy of us, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the priceless Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the enjoyment of spiritual and eternal blessings. By clinging our hearts to earthly blessings, we thereby make our hearts earthly, rude, low, passionate, and thus make ourselves incapable of loving God and our neighbor, whereas love is the main goal and duty of our life. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos. 

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