From The Blog

Mission Monthly – March 2007

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…”

Matthew 6:17

(After many inquiries about this year’s first Presanctified Liturgy pot-luck dinner reading, the following is adapted from the Homily of St. Nikolai Velimirovic on the Gospel of Cheese Fare Sunday, Matthew 6:14-21)

This is the meaning of the words “anoint your head”: bridle and restrain your inner man from every evil, and incline him to everything that is good. This is the meaning of the words “and wash your face”: cleanse your body from the committing of every sin, every impurity and every evil. Keep your senses from everything that is superfluous and dangerous. Restrain your eyes from constantly wandering through the diversity of this world; restrain your ears from listening to anything that does not serve the soul’s salvation; restrain your nose, lest your soul inbreathe the smell of this world that turns quickly to a stench; restrain your tongue from talking too much, deceit, and from unseemly speech; restrain your stomach from craving much food and drink; restrain the whole of your body from becoming over-refined and demanding of you more than it needs for survival. Along with this, restrain your hands and your feet from taking you into sin, into the abuse and torment of others, into foolish merrymaking, into godless amusements, into immorality. In contrast, make your whole body into a true temple for your soul; not a wayside tavern, where criminals gather to share ill-gotten gains and plan new attacks, but a temple of the living God. This is the fasting that leads to salvation. This is the fast that Christ teaches, a fast free of hypocrisy, a fast that drives out evil spirits and brings man a glorious victory and many fruits, both in this life and the next.

It is important to note here that Christ speaks first of the head and then of the face—first of the soul and then of the body. The hypocrites fasted only in the body, and showed this fasting to men by bodily means. In contrast to this, Christ puts interior fasting in first place: that of the soul, and then the outward, bodily fasting, not in order to undervalue bodily fasting—for He Himself practiced bodily fasting—but to begin at the beginning: first to purify the source and then the river; first to cleanse the soul and then the soul’s mirror. A man must first strive to make fasting his own, in his mind, heart and will, and then fulfill it willingly and joyfully in his body. And so bodily fasting should be joyful, not sad. This is why the Lord uses the words “anoint” and “wash”; because, as these give pleasure and joy to the physical man, so fasting—of both soul and body—must give pleasure and joy to a man’s soul. For fasting is a weapon, a very powerful weapon, in the battle against the evil spirit. How could a Christian not rejoice when he arms himself by fasting against his soul’s most fearsome opponents? How could his heart not rejoice and his face not be radiant when he sees in his hands a weapon from which the enemy flees in confusion? Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. The graces that come through fasting are countless. By fasting, a man lightens both his body and his spirit from the weight of darkness and grossness. His body becomes light and vigorous, and his spirit bright and clear. By fasting, a man lifts his soul above its earthly prison and penetrates through the darkness of animal life to the light of God’s Kingdom, to his own true homeland. Fasting makes a man strong, decisive and courageous before both men and demons. Fasting also makes a man generous, meek, merciful and obedient.

By fasting, Moses was made worthy to receive the Commandments from God’s hands.

By fasting, Elijah closed the heavens, so that there was no rain for three years; by fasting, he called down fire from heaven onto the idol-worshippers, and by fasting made himself so pure that he was able, on Horeb, to talk with God.

By fasting, Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, and the Three Children from the burning fiery furnace.

By fasting, King David lifted up his heart to the Lord, and God’s grace descended on him and he sang the sweetest and most surpassing of prayers that any man, before the coming of Christ, has ever raised to God.

By fasting, King Jehoshaphat crushed his enemies, the Ammonites and the Moabites (II Chronicles 20:23).

By fasting, the Jews were saved from persecution by Haman, the imperial deputy (Esther 4:3).

By fasting, the city of Nineveh was saved from the destruction that the prophet Jonah had prophesied for it.

By fasting, John the Baptist became the greatest of those born of woman.

Armed with fasting, Saint Anthony overcame all the hordes of demons and drove them from him. What? Only Saint Anthony? An uncountable army of Christian saints, both men and women, have purified themselves by fasting, strengthened themselves by fasting and become the greatest heroes in human history. For they conquered that which it is most difficult to overcome—themselves. And, in conquering themselves, they conquered the world and Satan.