Encounters with God: from what I have lived and heard close to my Father and brothers and sisters in Christ (II)

  • Posted on: 8 June 2017
  • By: delia

When man knows himself and has acquired mastery over his own mind, he is like a skilled skier that knows how to elegantly pass through all the temptations that he meets on the way to his target - Christ. 

Notes on fasting  

Why does the Church establish fasting periods before all important feast days, before each important event of the liturgical year? Because that aim to which we all yearn has to be a joyful moment. We all know that happiness, even when it concerns earthly things, can only be obtained through labour. The greater the labour, the greater the joy is as well. All of us who have cheated on exams know that after we passed an exam by cheating we went for a drink in order to relax. Yet, not one of us was too happy. Something inside us was telling us that we were not well. Conversely, if you worked hard, studied hard, passing an exam would bring a great joy that filled your heart. Yet, this is only a pale image of what ought to be the labour that precedes joy in spiritual life. 

Fasting is an opportunity that God gives me, on the one hand in order to be part of the trend of the Church, part of the grace of Church, where without great labour, without great challenges, we are carried to the target which in the short term is to have the right attitude towards the upcoming feast day, and in the long term is the receiving of the unceasing joy of the Heavenly Kingdom. On the other hand, fasting is a very handy way for each person, more or less healthy and having even the slightest willingness, to tell God: "God, I am also here". Yet, this is still a superficial dimension of fasting, as fasting is much more profound and much more complex. It is toward this more profound understanding of fasting that we need to strive to reach, year after year, in order to grow and to be fulfilled in Christ.

In order to be inspired we have to always have an eagle’s vision (as told in Father Sophrony’s book on Saint Siluan’s life). This means that we always have to see things from above in this life and to have a large perspective on life and on those things that we want to pursue and on our aims. We ought to understand these things very clearly. When we begin to live with this understanding, we try to apply what we are saying in the evening and morning prayers “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.”

Most of us are afflicted with the syndrome that at any moment, bad things can happen to us. These anxieties do not let us truly live, and then we complain that the unpredictable might happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

We need to examine ourselves to see if we can be sinless for even one minute. It is not easy, but this is the first thing we have to start with, to try to live without sin. We need to have this double perspective: in this moment at hand, I have to be vigilant, I have to be careful, and in the larger perspective I should not lose sight of my objective, where I want to reach, and what I truly desire in this life.

Everyone’s goal should be to acquire a unitary conscience, avoiding between scattered as we usually are between what my mind, my heart and my body want. Most of the time we are torn into three different parts: the mind says that this piece of cake is delicious and I need to take a break to eat it (the mind is tricky but knows what is good), the heart tells that I really need to eat the cake as it looks enticing (for it is in the heart that the passions gravitate and our vicious thoughts are born), and our salivary glands are activated, making us eat the piece of cake no matter the consequences.

It is the mind that we have to educate to say no in order not to lose the grace prayer.

The grace is obtained when we have a broken heart and when we struggle to humble ourselves. Then, man becomes sensitive to the answer of God's grace and his life becomes unitary, whole. 

When we fast and we become weaker because of fasting we easily became subject to temptations. But this is a good sign as it means that the devil does not like what we do and as a result we became the subject of his attacks.

If we do not see the aim of all that we do, then the thing we are doing does not have any value in itself. If my prayer does not aim for something and I am just saying words for fifteen minutes, then this does not make any sense, it is not at all rewarding. If during Lent I do not aim to grow closer to God, to acquire love, to grow closer to the Mother of God (the Theotokos), to acquire more zeal and love for God, to overcome the temptation that comes when a certain person might be irritating me in the moment, if I only fast because I have to and because the Church says so, I will not achieve anything. Lent will not be Lent and I will go through it without even realising it. I will be happy like the weightlifter after lifting 50 times the weight from his chest: "I am a fit Christian, 40 days have passed, I have not eaten a drop of milk". And then in our conscience Lent has passed without any use. 

Lent is a fight with temptations. During Lent, it is especially patience that is put to test. If you decide to keep a strict fast and not eat anything on a particular day, that day acquires such great value if you live it as you should! It is this time of waiting, of expectation, that resurrects us in a way that is beyond our understanding. 

During Lent we are in a special state, we live in tension and we feel a special blessing. Then, the feast day comes, we eat after the Liturgy. It seems that the light is already starting to fade away. Then, we have lunch and everything is over, if we are not careful. We lived an ascetic, yet joyful, culture, but we are not capable of preserving this joy. This is why we lose it so easily. All the grace and all joy dissipate because we are not capable of keeping the tension of joy. Lent should be continued after the feast day as well in the sense that I go home and I taste a little form everything and say: "Blessed are You, O Lord. To You I give thanks that I have reached this feast day". And thus the joy will prolong itself even after the end of Lent.

Giving up bodily things is only the beginning of Lent. Our fight has to be aimed at those of the spirit.

Before starting the fast, everyone should pray to the Lord so that their confessor is enlightened and receives from above a thought that he or she should follow and which should be the foundation of the fast that has just begun.

What is the difference between a Christian's life from the life of the rest of the world? It is the fact that we reject the sweetness of passions so that we can be with God.

Do you feel that if you do not taste the sweetness of a specific passion you will die? The answer is easy. So be it, die. And the old man, the passionate man, the man enslaved to passions will be torn apart and he will die. And we will not mourn afterwards. In those moments the body and mind are refreshed, are reborn and we gain dominion not thanks to Lent, but thanks to having mastered the mind.

When man knows himself and has acquired mastery over his own mind, he is like a skilled skier that knows how to elegantly pass through all the temptations that he meets on the way to his target - Christ. 

When man trains his mind to reject all passions so that his mind does not intertwine with the passion's impulse, then the passion dies.

When the mind becomes proud, God allows a bodily passion to reach man so that he humbles himself, so that man is reminded in what a wretched state he is, and that he is a slave to the most awful passions.   

Our inspiration will become stronger knowing that hundreds of millions of Christians will also fast during this time and that we are not alone, that we are not outside the sphere of what is normal, as we are often accused.

During the cheese-fare week, for example, or when we are only days from the beginning of Lent, Saint John Chrysostom says that we do not have to behave as pagans who in the week before being imprisoned did all the things that they were not going to be able to do while imprisoned “Let us take advantage as much as possible because afterwards hardship will come, Lent will be here, and we will miss all these things.” If we pray in order for God to give us the proper understanding of what Lent is, then one day we will reach a state when we impatiently wait for Lent to start.