Category: Fasting


Medicine

Saint Syncletice also said: if you are troubled by illness, do not be melancholy, even if you are so ill that you cannot stand to pray or use your voice to say psalms. We need these tribulations to destroy the desires of our body—in this they serve the same purpose as fasting and austerity. If your senses are dulled by illness, you do not need to fast. In the same way that a powerful medicine cures an illness, so illness itself is a medicine to cure passion.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.17

Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about the desert fathers (or mothers, as the case may be) is their seemingly counterintuitive wisdom. Does your life lack meaning? Maybe you should think about death more often. Need to learn patience? Maybe you need more annoying people in your life. Feeling sick? That’s good medicine. Indeed, St. Syncletice goes on to say that “there is much profit in bearing illness quietly and giving thanks to God.” Headache? Thanks God. Fever? Thanks God. Queasy stomach? Thanks God. Continue reading

A brother was goaded by lust and the lust was like a fire burning day and night in his heart. But he struggled on, not coming to meet his temptation nor consenting to it. And after a long time, the goad left him, annihilated by his perseverance. And at once light appeared in his heart.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 5.12

Of all the sayings of the desert fathers, perhaps those on lust are the most relevant to our culture and world today. Our media has seized upon lust as a marketing tool, worsening the problem (though I doubt such a tool could be used in a different moral climate). I know people, indeed many Christians, myself included, who entered adolescence with little to no defense against such a vicious demon. Truth be told, many of us began the battle having already been defeated—it is a shame how early children become curious about sex. Even the strongest of soldiers can be defeated by sickness, sometimes much easier than any human enemy. In this case, all it takes is one older sibling or pseudo-role model to pass the disease on to those who do not yet even truly understand its draw, and a whole troop can be defeated even before entering basic training. Continue reading

Prepare the Way

Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”

Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 10.11

Today is the commemoration of the beheading of St. John the Baptist, also known as St. John the Forerunner. Abba Agatho quotes John’s words from Matthew 3:10 when he says, “Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.'” John is known for his austere asceticism, his call to repentance, and, of course, his baptism of Jesus Christ. According to all four Gospels he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord'” (Isaiah 40:3). In his beheading, Orthodox Christians see an extension of his role as the Forerunner of Christ: “The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Saviour might also be preached to those in Hades” (from the Kontakion for the day). I would submit that, in addition to being a forerunner of the Messiah to both the living and the dead, he also “prepared the way of the Lord” for the many Christian ascetics yet to be born, like Abba Agatho, who would follow his example of discipline. Continue reading