Category: Fasting


O Voice of God

In honor of the Feast of the Theophany today and the synaxis of St. John the Forerunner (the Baptist) tomorrow, I offer the following.

It is inspired by reflecting on an interesting disparity in the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Christ (which we celebrate in the Theophany). In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the voice of the Father booms from the heavens, declaring Jesus his beloved Son. In the Gospel of John, however, no voice is mentioned. That is, no voice is mentioned other than John the Baptist, who responds to the Pharisees that he is neither the Prophet, nor the Christ, but, quoting Isaiah 40, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” In the Fourth Gospel, John is the voice of God. This curiosity was confirmed to me by a hymn for the feast of the finding of the head of St. John the Baptist (which is in the summer) that refers to him in just this way: as the voice of God. Thus, the following petitions are addressed to John, through whom the voice of God spoke, witnessing to the central confession of the Gospel: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Continue reading

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Journey to the Cave

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child [is] pushing from within me to let him come out.”

So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”

And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.

~ Protevangelium of James, 17.3(10)-18.1(1)

Last Friday, Orthodox Christians like myself began the liturgical season of Advent (most Christians have a few more weeks to go). For the Orthodox, this season is comparable to Great Lent. We fast through the whole period, but it is a lighter fast until the last two weeks. Basically we eat fish instead of being totally vegan, but it is a wonderful season of spiritual reflection nonetheless. Continue reading

An archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to Her such things as these:

Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth:

Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease!

Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam:

Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve!

Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts:

Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels!

Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King:

Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all!

Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear:

Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation!

Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed:

Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!

Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

~ Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos

This excerpt is from the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos (the Mother of God), a work of great beauty by Romanos the Melodist, a saint of the late fifth/early sixth centuries. It is so treasured by the Orthodox Church that we have multiple services during Great Lent to sing it. The present fast (of the Dormition) is another good time to revisit it as well. In particular, I’d like to focus on the refrain at the end: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!” Continue reading

It is through the Holy Spirit that there will be a universal resurrection. I do not mean the resurrection of the bodies at the end (Heb. 9:26), for then the angel will blow the trumpet and the dead bodies will rise (1 Cor. 15:52), but I mean the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of the dead souls that takes place in a spiritual manner every day. This [resurrection] He gives who has died once [for all] and risen (Rom. 6:9f.), and through all and for all those who live in a worthy manner He causes the souls to rise who have died with Him in will and faith and raises them up. This He grants through His all-holy Spirit as He even now bestows on them from henceforth the kingdom of heaven.

~ St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious

Christ is risen! For Orthodox Christians like myself, Pascha (Easter) is more than just a day, it is also a forty day season. For the first week (this past one) we don’t even fast at all! Having just finished with this Renewal Week (or Bright Week), I have been reflecting on a common motif of the Christian spiritual life and how perfectly it describes Christian asceticism: dying and rising with Christ. Continue reading

Joseph, Shadow of Christ

Let us now add our lamentation, and let us shed our tears with those of Jacob, bewailing Joseph, his memorable and wise son. For Joseph, though enslaved in body, preserved his soul in freedom, becoming lord over all Egypt. For God grants his servants an incorruptible crown.

~ Oikos for the Matins of Holy Monday

Holy Week has finally arrived for Orthodox Christians like myself. It is full of services with beautiful hymns that truly enchant the hearer not only with their musical excellence but also with their deep lyrics as well. The passage above, however, is not a hymn but is to be read. Tonight, on Palm Sunday evening, we have a matins (morning prayer service) for Holy Monday by anticipation. On Holy Monday we commemorate two things, the withering of a fig tree at the command of Christ and the patriarch Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, who I would like to reflect upon here. Continue reading

Beauty Unseen

They said of Abbess Sarah of blessed memory, that for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked down to see the water.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.19

I have read this saying several times over the years, and it has always bothered me. Perhaps it is simply because I am a Celt (in addition to being German) and I have a strong, natural affinity for the beauty of nature, but such inner strength, such fortitude, that Abbess Sarah must have had is difficult for me to even imagine, let alone realize in my own life.

Until recently, I do not think I can even say that I understood the point of this saying. Many of the desert sayings are still a mystery to me, in fact; I only reflect on the ones about which I actually have a little understanding and a little something to say myself.

The problem that I have with this story is that, despite acknowledging that it must take great inner strength to live “for sixty years … on the bank of a river,” and yet “never [look] down to see the water,” I’ve always thought that such natural beauty was a good thing. After all, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 [18:1 LXX]). But Great Lent has recently given me a little insight into what might be going on in this story. Continue reading

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Proof of [St. Antony’s] virtue and that his soul was loved by God is found in the fact that he is famous everywhere and is marveled at by everyone, and is dearly missed by people who never saw him. Neither from writings, nor from pagan wisdom, nor from some craft was Antony acclaimed, but on account of religion alone. That this was something given by God no one would deny. For how is it that he was heard of, though concealed and sitting in a mountain, in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa, unless if it was the God who everywhere makes his men known who also promised this to Antony in the beginning? For even though they themselves act in secret, and may want to be forgotten, nevertheless the Lord shows them like lamps to everyone, so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.

~ St. Athanasius, Life of Antony, 93

In a time before Facebook, according to St. Athanasius, St. Antony (also “Anthony”) was “famous everywhere and [was] marveled at by everyone,” even “in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa.” He wasn’t tweeting instagrams of the bread and salt he ate once a day (if that) either. No, people knew about this man who lived “concealed and sitting in a mountain” because “his soul was loved by God” and “on account of religion alone.” St. Athanasius is furthermore convinced that this is a sign of God’s grace, “so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.” Continue reading

The Way of Contradiction

When a certain brother in Scete was going to the harvest, he went to Abba Moses, the Black, and said unto him, “Father, tell me what I shall do; shall I go to the harvest?” and Abba Moses said unto him, “If I tell thee, wilt thou be persuaded to do as I say?” And the brother said unto him, “Yea, I will hearken unto thee.” The old man said unto him, “If thou wilt be persuaded by me, rise up, go, and release thyself from going to the harvest, and come unto me, and I will tell thee what thou shalt do.” The brother therefore departed and obtained his release from his companions, as the old man had told him, and then he came to him. And the old man said unto him, “Go into thy cell and keep Pentecost, and thou shalt eat dry bread and salt once a day [only], and after thou hast done this I will tell thee something else to do later on”; and he went and did as the old man had told him, and then came to him again.

Now when the old man saw that he was one who worked with his hands, he shewed him the proper way to live in his cell; and the brother went to his cell, and fell on his face upon the ground, and for three whole days and nights he wept before God. And after these things, when his thoughts were saying unto him, “Thou art now an exalted person, and thou hast become a great man,” he used to contradict them, and set before his eyes his former shortcomings, [and say], “Thus were all thine offences.” And again, when they used to say to him, “Thou hast performed many things negligently,” he would say, “Nevertheless I do small services for God, and He sheweth His mercy upon me.” And when by such means as these the spirits had been overcome, they appeared unto him in the form of corporeal creatures, and said unto him, “We have been vanquished by thee”; and he said unto them, “Why?” and they said to him, “If we humble thee, we are raised up by thee to an exalted position, and if we exalt thee we are accounted by thee for humility.”

~ Paradise of the Fathers 1.18

There is a lot going on in this story, but I will skip to the end. After keeping Pentecost, fasting in solitude for some period of time, being instructed by Abba Moses regarding how to work in his cell, and weeping before God for three days and nights, the brother in this story engages in a particularly enlightening practice of watchfulness. Continue reading

Giving Thanks

Abba Cassian also said: “We came to another old man and he invited us to sup, and pressed us, though we had eaten, to eat more. I said that I could not. He answered: ‘I have already given meals to six different visitors, and am still hungry. Have you only eaten once and yet are so full that you cannot eat with me now?'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 13.3

For Orthodox Christians like myself, the season of Advent has come (beginning November 15). Advent is a period of fasting leading up to the feast of the Nativity, better known as Christmas. In the United States, however, there is a significant bump along this road to Christmas: Thanksgiving. This year, not only does Thanksgiving day interrupt the fast, but I attended a conference last weekend (beginning last Thursday) that was catered with all sorts of wonderful, but non-lenten foods and drinks. So I didn’t really get to begin. On top of that, Sunday night Kelly and Brendan and I went to my mother’s to have a local family Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we are driving down to Indiana for Thanksgiving with Kelly’s aunts and uncle and grandfather. Before too long, everyone will be having Christmas parties (before Christmas, of course, rather than during those twelve days afterward set aside for, you know, celebrating Christmas). I am starting to wonder if I will get an Advent at all this year…. Continue reading

Reverse Procrastination

A brother fell hungry at dawn, and struggled with his soul not to eat until 9 o’clock. And when 9 o’clock came, he extracted from himself a resolution to wait till noon. At noon he dipped his bread and sat down to eat—but then rose up again, saying: “I will wait till three.” And at 3 o’clock he prayed, and he saw the devil’s work going out of him like smoke; and his hunger ceased.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 4.58

We are not told any other details concerning the brother in this story. We can only speculate that perhaps he struggled with gluttony or, at any rate, for some reason had resolved to observe a total fast for the day. Yet, “at dawn” he finds himself hungry. In order not to give in to his hunger, he implements a strategy that I would refer to as “reverse procrastination.”
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