From The Blog

Mission Monthly – January 2007

“Experience shows us that physical hunger can sometimes nourish the soul. The clearest proof of this is fasting. A fully-satisfied body generally denotes a completely empty soul. He who fasts nourishes his soul. The more a man accustoms himself to fasting, the fewer cares he has for his body and the greater joy in his soul. This is not something that comes by hearsay; it is only clear in itself, when a man tries it and practices it in his life.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

I can only hope that this Christmas/Theophany season has been as beautiful for others as it has been for me and my family! I do not want to dampen that beauty with further talk of fasting, but for two reasons I cannot help but think about the ongoing training of our bodies even in the heart and height of our celebrations.

First, as we keep our eyes on the calendar, it is important to note that Holy Pascha will be celebrated relatively early this year—April 8th. This means that Great and Holy Lent will begin earlier as well. Meatfare Sunday (February 11) is only just over five weeks away and Clean Monday (the first day of Lent) is February 19. The layout of any year’s calendar requires us as Orthodox Christians to keep our eyes open to it, but years such as 2007 require an even greater attentiveness that we be very well prepared—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—to fully embrace our life in Christ and His Church. I would hate for any of us to be surprised on February 11th and possibly be tempted to be embittered towards the Church.

Another outcome of the earlier Pascha is an earlier Pentecost followed by an earlier All-Saints Sunday (the Sunday following Pentecost). This is most significant because on the Monday following All-Saints we begin the Apostle’s Fast which takes us through the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul on June 29th. This year almost the whole month of June (the 4th-29th) will be another fasting period. In the years when Pascha comes late—after April 27th—the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul would fall in the week following Pentecost so essentially there would be no Apostle’s Fast. This year, however, this is not the case.

Secondly, it seems good to think about fasting “even in the height and heart of our celebrations.” While I consider myself only an average faster at best God certainly has been good in allowing me some measure of progress in attaining fewer cares in my life. The provocation of the passions in any man is what leads him to anxious care for his life and ultimately to sin. It is only within a man that this anxiousness can be detected, unless its severity leads him to act out his passions. Whether it be anger or irritability, over-eating or laziness, impure thoughts or fornication, gossip, disobedience, self-love or pride, whatever it is there is no question we need to sincerely submit ourselves to seeking freedom from care for our bodily impulses, our lives “in the world,” if we ever hope to find it.

St. Nikolai in the above quote was writing about the life of St. John the Baptist. Listen further to what he had to say about the Holy Forerunner, “As all the holy men who lived, not by a wisdom culled from books but by tried realities, so St. John lived. He learned to be free from care about his bodily life, not by reading books and listening to wise men, who “say” but do not “say how”, but by practicing freedom from care. He tried fasting, and saw that man can live, not only without all those foods over which he takes such pains, but also without bread. John fed himself on “locusts” and wild honey, “locusts” being a growth on a desert tree and “wild honey” the bitter honey of wild bees. He took no wine, nor any strong drink. And yet it is not said that he ever lacked food or drink. It was not the locusts and wild honey that nourished him, but God’s power, that was given to His faithful servant by this means This is how it generally happens with the faithful and obedient, while the faithless and the disobedient need many medicines with their rich diet. The rich foods of the faithless and disobedient do not give nourishment to their bodies, but heaviness, wrath and sickness.”

The thing that is most noticeable in our struggle today for true joy and freedom is man’s lack of trust and even contempt for the proven methods that will lead to the effect. Since the fall of Adam man has been undaunted in unimaginable self-indulgence in attempting to find missing paradise. Even today men are commonly seeking the old ways of paganism that Christianity throughout time has fought against and even shed its blood to defy. Today’s sensual materialism is as powerful and alluring as it was in ancient Rome. The one difference is that our modern “enlightened” world is willfully and eagerly returning to the pursuit of intemperate pleasure and ease (today called: fun), even after centuries of the Church’s Godly effort to lead men heavenward, and rejoicing in unrestrained human self-love while mocking the restrictions of God’s commandments.

Remembering the ongoing training of our bodies should not diminish our joy as we enjoy the celebrations of Christmas and Theophany . The truth is that any true joy we do have is only come from the training we have completed. This is the “practicing freedom from care” St. Nikolai has written about and is the only proven method that makes clear “in itself” what is the true purpose of our lives: life with God above all things, even above life itself.