Archive for March, 2012

Last Sunday was the anniversary of the recognition of the Georgian Church’s Autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, and hence recognised by all other Orthodox Patriarchates. It is mentioned in weekly sermons and is considered a very important event.

Initially the Georgian Church was part of the Patriarchate of Antioch, headquartered in Syria, but was granted self-rule (“Autocephaly”) in 466 in recognition of its strength, administrative competance and strong understanding of local cultural conditions. Autocephaly was forcibly stripped from the Georgian Church by the Russian Imperial administration, in breach of the terms of the Treaty of Georgievsk, and the Church was amalgamated with the Church of Moscow in 1811. As an Exarchy of the Church of Moscow, it was subject to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, which in turn was controlled by the secular Prosecutor of the Synod, an Imperial bureaucrat answering to the the Empress, hence allowing the Russian state control over the activities of the Georgian Church. Many clergy protested this move and were persecuted or martyred for their position.

To an outsider, it may be hard to grasp why Autocephaly might be important. All Orthodox Churches are in communion with each other, so why is it important that the Church in one small country be self-ruled? The answer lies in the underlying philosophy of the Orthodox communion, that Patriarchates agree on fundamental theological points, and then operate their dioceses, their charitable campaigns, their liturgies and traditions according to local requirements and preferences. While Georgia and Russia have some similar cultural and historical features, their civilisations are quite different and the Church must deal with the reality on the ground. The dark days of the 19th century, when Georgian murals were whitewashed over in cathedrals by Russian officials and Church Slavonic imposed on parishes as the liturgical language, are remembered with some bitterness. The even more perilous times under the Marxists when clergy and laity were martyred and the Church suppressed are in more recent memory.

Rather than recounting in text the process of the restoration of the Georgian Church’s Autocephaly, I will submit to His Holiness Patriarch Ilia to recount his experiences in his own words.

Part I

Part II

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This Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of The Ladder. Saint John of The Ladder (“Klimakos” in Greek)was a 7th century monk at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai, and he later in life became the abbot. He is principally known for his book “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, which acknowledges the real spiritual struggle needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom. While written for clergy, it is commonly read by Orthodox lay people during Lent. This Sunday also is an encouragement for the faithful to keep the goal of their Lenten efforts, for according to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).

Protestant theology often considers salvation to be an instantaneous event; accept Christ as your personal saviour and you are saved forever regardless of future conduct. For Orthodox Christians, Salvation is not so much a 100 metre sprint with winners and losers at the end of 10 seconds effort, as an endless series of marathons, run day after day. Some days have a good outcome spiritually, some have a bad outcome. A slow, gradual process with inevitable setbacks and failures is how we understand the progress of spiritual life, rather than a dramatic epiphany and a lifetime of sinless bliss.

The Icon of this Sunday is a well known one, with Christ at the top of the ladder calling to humanity and his angels urging them to climb, while the forces of darkness try to thwart humanity’s efforts and drag us into slavery and grief.


What we need to achieve in this life is to regain our wholeness. Human nature can be seen as existing at two levels: the unfallen nature of the human person created in the image of God- the way we were before the fall of Adam and Eve, and the fallen, sinful nature. Man’s struggle on this earth is the search for the state of glory properly belonging to his nature.

In Paradise, before the fall, Adam was in the state of “theoria” (vision) of God. “Original sin” consists in the darkening of the nous and the loss of communion with God. Man becomes unable to encounter God, so reason undertakes the effort.

Man then needs to conquer his fallen nature, but he cannot do this on his own. His condition calls for God’s Grace, and thus man is always “in debt” (χρεώστης) to God. What man is meant to do is to lay down humbly before Christ his own weakness, to recognise his nothingness and ask for His Grace. But God does not act as a deus ex machina: He acts “synergistically” with man. Man needs to co-operate and respond to Divine Grace.

“Many are the paths of piety and destruction,” wrote St John of the Ladder. There exist, not just one, but many ways of salvation, and each person constitutes one unique – though not independent – way which leads to, or away from, salvation.

In general, Orthodox Christians who want to progress spiritually towards salvation strive to be guided by their spiritual father, and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Many Fathers of the Church describe this spiritual ascent as proceeding through various stages. Living within the Church by Grace, man must first cleanse his heart of the passions; secondly attain the illumination of the nous – Adam’s state before the fall – and thirdly ascend to theosis, which constitutes man’s communion and union with God. These are the stages of spiritual perfection- the foundations of Orthodox spirituality.

1. The beginners stage – the cleansing of passions
The evil within man is not natural to him, but it can become something like second nature to him. Man was created good by God. There are many natural virtues, but no natural vices. Monastic writings describe passions as “alien or superfluous.” Sin is contrary to human nature (“παρά φύσιν”).
Some ascetic writers attempted to classify the passions. The order in the Evagrian list has an intrinsic logic.

a) The beginners stage is marked by the cruder and more materialistic passions, namely gluttony (greediness in eating), lust (uncontrolled and unlawful sexual desire) and avarice (greed for money)

b) The middle stage is identified by more inward passions, namely dejection and anger. Dejection (λύπη), is hard to define. It refers to depression/lowness of spirit. In the Philokalia 3(page 87, volume 1) we read that it prevents us from praying gladly, from reading Holy Scripture with profit and perseverance, from being gentle and compassionate towards our brethren. It instils a hatred of every kind of work. It persuades us to shun every helpful encounter and stops us accepting advice from true friends or giving them a courteous and peaceful reply. It fills the soul with bitterness and listlessness and despairing thoughts.

c) The advanced stage is recognised by the more subtle and spiritual vices of vainglory (caring about what others think of us) and pride. Pride is described by St John of the Ladder as “the denial of God’s assistance, the extolling of one’s own exertions, demonic in character.” “A proud monk,” St John sums up, “has no need of a demon; he has become a demon and an enemy unto himself.”
St John of the Ladder1 has added further passions to this list:

Μνησικακία- the remembrance of the wrongs that others have done to us
Slander (saying bad things about someone, which arises out of having passed judgment on that person)
Talkativeness. St John says, “The man who recognises his sins has taken control of his tongue, while the chatterer has yet to discover himself as he should. The lover of silence draws close to God….”
Insensitivity (hard heartedness, forgetfulness)
Despondency (ακηδία). This refers to listlessness, which the dictionary defines as, “Having or showing little or no interest in anything; languid; spiritless; indifferent.” Another synonym is torpor, which the dictionary defines as, “Sluggish inactivity or inertia, lethargic indifference; apathy.”

St John of the Ladder’s book also contains descriptions of the various stages of temptation leading to passion.

a) Assault. This is the first stage and signifies the initial presence within us of some alien impulse intervening into consciousness from outside by the will of the adversary. Abba Poimen said that “you cannot prevent thoughts from arising, but you can resist them.” This stage is not the same as sinful activity, it is “guiltless”, since only the surface of the heart is affected.

b) Converse. In this stage we start a conversation with the invading thought. Abba Poimen says: “Take care not to speak, but if you do speak, cut the conversation short.”

c) Consent. In this step one gives approval and sanction to the temptation. This step initiates sin.

d) Captivity. At this stage one’s free will is impaired and undermined, so that one is now forced to consent involuntarily. The heart is “carried away”, yet not irrevocably.

e) Struggle. This stage can be the occasion of crowns or of punishments.

f) Passion. This is the last stage, from which one is rescued in repentance, or for which one is punished.

Even after man has fallen into sin he can attain purity; in fact, ascetic writers such as St John of the Ladder personally prefer those who fall and subsequently mourn.
The Fathers of course do not just focus on sins and passions, they also stress positive attributes and virtues. In his book, “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” St John describes virtues constituting an ascent. As he said1, “At the beginning of our spiritual life, we cultivate the virtues, and we do so with toil and difficulty. Progressing a little, we then lose our sense of grief or retain very little of it. But when our mortal intelligence turns to zeal and is mastered by it, then we work with full joy, determination, desire and a holy flame.” (p77). We are warned not to attempt too much too soon, presuming that we can climb the ladder of perfection in one leap. Barsanuphios stressed: “We ought not to put our foot on the first step of the ladder and immediately expect to set foot on the top rung.”

In “Ladder of Divine Ascent”1, St John discusses the following virtues that constitute the rungs of the ladder leading to Heaven:

a) A break with the world
b) Obedience
c) Repentance
d) Remembrance of Death
e) Simplicity. (“An enduring habit within a soul that has grown impervious to evil thoughts.”)
f) Humility
g) Discernment
h) Stillness
i) Prayer
j) Dispassion. The Cleansing of the entire person, to the most hidden parts of his subconscious. Through dispassion the heart is cleansed and God can, unhindered, enter “the house.” Christian ascetical writers see dispassion differently to ancient Greek Stoic philosophers: dispassion is more than being detached and unswayed by passions, for the Christian the truly dispassioned keeps his soul continuously in the presence of the Lord. St John of the Ladder and St Isaac the Syrian also stress that dispassion consists not in no longer feeling the passions, but in not accepting them.

k) Love. In the Ladder St John speaks of an intense love for God that he himself has experienced. To describe it he uses words like eros, the language of lovers: “Blessed is he who has obtained such love and yearning for God as a mad lover has for his beloved.” A single vivid experience of eros in all its intensity will advance one much further in the spiritual life; will be more effective than the most arduous struggle against the passions and the severest ascetic exercise.

2) The intermediate stage – Illumination
A characteristic trait of this level is the knowledge of beings, the “theoria” of the causes of beings and the participation in the Holy Spirit. The benefits of illumination are the purification of nous by Divine Grace, which consumes the heart like fire, the noetic revelation of the “eye of the heart” and the birth of the Word within the nous. In other words, in this state man acquires knowledge of God and unceasing noetic prayer.

3) Perfecting stage – Theosis
In this stage man becomes “deified”, he comes into communion with the angelic powers, he approaches the “uncreated Light,” the depths of God are revealed to him through the Holy Spirit, and thus he beholds the uncreated essential energy of God. Thus man comes to know many mysteries existing in Holy Scripture that are hidden from other people. He ascends to the “third Heaven,” like Apostle Paul, and hears ineffable words and sees what corporal man’s eyes cannot see.


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Sundays in Lent all have a special theme. Today’s theme is the Cross.

The historical theme is the victory and joy of the cross, not the suffering. The Church fathers equate the life-giving cross with the tree of life and plant it in the middle of the Lenten pilgrimage. It was the tree that was planted in Paradise; it is to remind the faithful of both Adam’s bliss and how he was deprived of it.

For the faithful preparing for Pascha today, the spiritual theme starts to change from personal faith, and personal effort, to Christ. The Church teaches that it is Christ’s cross that saves. One cannot take up his own cross and follow Christ unless one has Christ’s cross which he took up to save mankind. Partaking of this tree, one will no longer die, but will be kept alive. This is done to refresh, reassure and to encourage those participating in Great Lent. The Church equates the appearance of the cross at this time to the banners and symbols that precede the return of a victorious king.

From Orthodoxwiki.org

Veneration of the Cross by the faithful is expected today; you will see long queues in front of the Cross as people wait their turn to venerate it.


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Lent was in origin the time of final preparation for candidates for baptism at the Easter Vigil, and this is reflected in the readings at the Liturgy on all the Sundays of Lent. But that basic theme came to be subordinated to later themes, which dominated the hymnography of each Sunday. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated as the “triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Orthodox teaching about icons was defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787, which brought to an end the first phase of the attempt to suppress icons. That teaching was finally re-established in 843, and it is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.

The name of this Sunday reflects the great significance which icons possess for the Orthodox Church. They are not optional devotional extras, but an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion. They are held to be a necessary consequence of Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in Jesus Christ. They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them. So the interior of Orthodox churches is often covered with icons painted on walls and domed roofs, and there is always an icon screen, or iconostasis, separating the sanctuary from the nave, often with several rows of icons. No Orthodox home is complete without an icon corner, where the family prays.

Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them, by the use of incense and by kissing. But there is a clear doctrinal distinction between the veneration paid to icons and the worship due to God. The former is not only relative, it is in fact paid to the person represented by the icon. This distinction safeguards the veneration of icons from any charge of idolatry.

Although the theme of the victory of the icons is a secondary one on this Sunday, by its emphasis on the incarnation it points us to the basic Christian truth that the one whose death and resurrection we celebrate at Easter was none other than the Word of God who became human in Jesus Christ.

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The second Sunday of Great Lent is always dedicated to Saint Gregory Palamas, a leading theologian of the medieval period. He successfully defended the Orthodox faith against rational innovations in theology developed in Italy.

Born in 1296 in Constantinople, he and his two brothers chose a monastic life on the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos, where they learnt the Orthodox practice of hesychasm, a contemplative method of prayer that in some cases may lead a practitioner to receive revelations or to witness the Uncreated Light of God.

In 1337, he was engaged in defending the monks of Mount Athos against accusations of a Calabrian monk, Barlaam. Barlaam believed that secular philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets, and he valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. He stated the unknowability of God in an extreme form. He accused the monks on Mount Athos of wasting their time in contemplative prayer when they should instead be studying to gain intellectual knowledge.

When St. Gregory criticized Barlaam’s rationalism, Barlaam replied with a vicious attack on the hesychastic life of the Athonite monks. Gregory’s rebuttal was the Triads in defense of the Holy Hesychasts (c. 1338), a brilliant work whose teaching was affirmed by his fellow Hagiorites, who met together in a council during 1340-1341, issuing a statement known as the Hagioritic Tome, which supported Gregory’s theology.

Contrary to Barlaam, Gregory asserted that the prophets in fact had greater knowledge of God, because they had actually seen or heard God himself. Addressing the question of how it is possible for humans to have knowledge of a transcendent and unknowable God, he drew a distinction between knowing God in his essence (in Greek, ουσία) and knowing God in his energies (in Greek, ενέργειαι). He maintained the Orthodox doctrine that it remains impossible to know God in his essence (God in himself), but possible to know God in his energies (to know what God does, and who he is in relation to the creation and to man), as God reveals himself to humanity. In doing so, he made reference to the Cappadocian Fathers and other early Christian writers.

Gregory further asserted that when the Apostles Peter, Jamesand Johnwitnessed the Transfiguration of Christon Mount Tabor, that they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of repentance, spiritual discipline and contemplative prayer, although not in any automatic or mechanistic fashion.

He continually stressed the Biblical vision of the human person as a united whole, both body and soul. Thus, he argued that the physical side of hesychastic prayer was an integral part of the contemplative monastic way, and that the claim by some of the monks of seeing the uncreated light was indeed legitimate.

Saint Gregory Palamas’ struggle with rational western philosophers continues to this day. Humanists, Marxists and some heterodox Christians are quick to discount the mystical aspects of life and emphasise the rational route to salvation. Saint Gregory’s theses emphasise that knowledge of God is not dependent upon a high level of education or possession of doctororates, but upon spirit.

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“Exhort the people, priests,” it says; “speak into the ears of Jerusalem.” The nature of that word “exhort” is enough to intensify the desires of the earnest, but also to stir to readiness those who are idle and careless.

That’s how commanders operate. They marshal the army into place, and give a speech before the battle is engaged. The exhortation has so much power that it often produces a disdain for death in many. Similarly, coaches and athlete trainers use exhortation. Before the games in the stadiums the athletes are brought forward, and they are given speeches that are full of how they have to exert themselves so they can win the crown. So by persuasion, many can be joined together in ambition for victory, even to the disregard of their own bodies.

And so it is now with me. The soldiers of Christ have been ordered to war against invisible enemies, and the athletes of godliness are preparing themselves for crowns of righteousness through self-control. So the word of exhortation is indispensable.

So, what am I saying, brethren? I’m saying it makes sense that those who practice battle tactics, and those who work out in wrestling school, take in more food for their bodies the more strenuous the exertions are that they participate in. But, to those for whom “the struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers of this darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness,” to these, it is absolutely necessary to be disciplined for struggle through self-control and fasting.

While oil bulks up the athlete, fasting is the strength-training of the godly. So whatever robs the flesh, of that you will make the soul shine with spiritual health. Power to overcome invisible enemies doesn’t come by bodily exertion, but by endurance of the soul. By patience trials are overcome.

2. Fasting is, therefore, useful all the time to those who take it up. (The abuse of demons can’t challenge the one who fasts, and the angels who guard our lives love working more when they stay beside those who have made the soul clean through fasting.)

But now how much more, when all around the world the proclamation is being announced. There isn’t any island, land, city, nation, or remotest border where they haven’t heard of the proclamation. Even armies and travelers, all alike hear the announcement, and they are receiving it joyfully.

So no one should leave himself off the list! People of every race, of all ages, and all different ranks are counted among those who fast. The angels are writing down the names of those who fast in each church. [31.188] See to it that you don’t forfeit the angelic register through a little pleasurable food, and make yourself liable as a deserter, since you have been enlisted as a soldier by the scriptures.

The danger of the inexperienced soldier is that he will put down his shield when the battle is engaged. That’s something that must be thoroughly warned against. Don’t appear to be putting down the great weapon of fasting.

Are you rich? Don’t insult the fast by refusing to eat at her table, as if she were unworthy of you. Don’t send her away from your house, when you have been happily living in pleasure, and never denying yourself in accord with the divine principle of fasting. If you do, your judgment will come many times over in times of want, or bodily sickness, or some other gloomy circumstances. The poor should not pretend to ignore fasting, because in the past she lived together with you, and you had things in common.

Now women, fasting is as natural for your household as breathing. Children are nourished by fasting, just like thriving plants are sprinkled with water. From old times people have taken on the practice of it for themselves, and for the old it has made work light. Habitually practiced labors become less painful for those who have been trained.

To those who are traveling, fasting is a favorable traveling partner. While luxury forces them to bear burdens by carrying their enjoyments around, fasting prepares them to be light and unencumbered.

When a foreign war has been proclaimed and soldiers have been conscripted, they aren’t furnished with luxuries. We have been sent out to war against invisible enemies. But after these victories we anticipate going to our home country up above. So isn’t it appropriate that we be fed like an army, content with the conscription?

3. “Endure suffering as a good soldier,” and contend lawfully, in order that you may be crowned. You know that “everyone who struggles is temperate in all things.”

But someone will undermine me perfectly by saying something that shouldn’t be overlooked: that to those who are soldiers of the world, their provisions increase in proportion to their efforts. But on the contrary, to those who are heavily-armed spiritually, the less they have of food, the greater honor they have.

Our helmet contrasts with the perishable kind; theirs is made of bronze, but ours consists of the hope of salvation. Their shield is made of wood and leather, but we hold out the shield of faith.[31.189] We wear the breastplate of righteousness, but they have coats of chain-mail around them. We defend ourselves with the sword of the Spirit, but they carry iron.

So it’s clear that foods don’t produce the same kind of strength for both armies. The teachings of godliness strengthen us, even while they are enslaved by the fullness of their stomachs.

Now time has brought these much longed-for days around to us again. So let’s welcome them into our homes like old nursemaids, who have been placed in the church for helping us to godliness.

Therefore, when you are going to fast don’t be gloomy-faced like the Jews. Rather, like gospel believers, adorn yourselves with rejoicing in the soul from spiritual enjoyment, not mourning your empty stomach.

You know that “The flesh desires what is opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit is opposed to the flesh.” Therefore since “these things are adversaries to one another,” let’s rob the flesh of its comforts, and let’s increase the soul’s strength. Fasting will help us work through suffering until the victory feast is thrown for us, when we may be crowned with wreaths wrought by self-control.

4. Now you should already be preparing yourselves to be worthy of the honorable fast. Don’t be getting drunk today and ruin tomorrow’s self-control.

This kind of rationalizing is evil, a wicked notion: “Since five days of fasting have been proclaimed for us, let’s drown ourselves in drunkenness today.”

No man who is about to celebrate lawfully marrying a wife goes and cohabits with concubines and prostitutes beforehand. The lawful wife won’t put up with those corrupted companions. So don’t expect fasting to put up with it, if you begin with drunkenness—that public prostitute, that mother of shamelessness, that lover of laughter, that madman-maker, that friend of everything shameful.

Fasting and prayer will certainly not enter into the soul defiled by drunkenness. The Lord admits the one who is fasting inside the walls of holy places, but he doesn’t approve of extravagance, he regards that as profane and unholy.

If you come tomorrow smelling of wine, and of this rotten stuff, how will I regard your extravagence as fasting? Consider this: I don’t regard what’s going on lately as being pure, because you aren’t purified by wine. How will I categorize you? With the drunks, or with those who fast?

When drunkenness has passed it drags its victim around. The presence of want corroborates the need for fasting.

It could be argued that drinking takes you into slavery, because it doesn’t pay you fairly. The evidence exhibited that you were working as a slave is the odor of the wine that remains behind in the bottle.

Then the first of the fast days becomes unfavorable to you, on account of the remains of the drinking that have been stored up in you. [31.192] But if the beginning is unfavorable, then the whole time is also plainly rejected. “Drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If you come to the fast drinking, what do you think is the point? If drunkenness closes the kingdom of God from you, what’s the use of you fasting?

Don’t you see, that even those who are experienced in the breaking of racehorses expect a struggle, since they haven’t been won over beforehand? But with malice toward yourself you gulp down your fill. You rush to gluttony like so many animals.

A full belly not only makes running a race difficult, it even makes sleep tough. When you are weighed down completely and can’t find a way to rest, you are forced instead to continually turn from side to side.

5. Fasting guards infants, chastens the young, dignifies the old—for gray hair is more venerable when it’s adorned with fasting.

It is an attractive ornament to women, a preventative for aging, a castle for couples, a nurse of virginity. There are people like this in each house who diligently pursue it.

But how is our public life in this society? The entire city has come together, and the entire region adopts good conduct, puts to sleep the shouting, gets rid of quarrels, and silences insults. What teacher can control the clamor of children when they have assembled like fasting, as it shows how it makes a throbbing city orderly?

What kind of revelry begins with fasting? What sort of sensual performance comes from fasting? Seductive laughter, songs of harlots, and passionate dances are suddenly withdrawn from the city, having been banished by the austere judge that is fasting.

If only everyone who needs a counselor would take her in, there would be nothing preventing a deep peace from abiding in each house. Nations wouldn’t be attacking each other, and armies wouldn’t be engaging in battle. Neither would weapons be forged, if fasting ruled. There would be no point in holding court, prisons would be unpopulated, and evildoers wouldn’t have a place to hide. If slanderers were found in the cities, they would be thrown into the sea.

If all were disciples of fasting, to echo the words of Job, there wouldn’t be heard any “voice of the taskmaster.” If fasting ruled our life, it wouldn’t be full of groaning and sorrow.

It’s clear that fasting would not only teach self-control in relation to all kinds of foods, but also how to entirely escape and get rid of covetousness, greed, and all kinds of evil. Having been set free, nothing [31.193] would hinder deep peace and calmness of soul from accompanying our lives.

6. But now those who have dismissed fasting and pursued after indulgence to make life happy, have instead found that swarms of evils have been introduced, and their own bodies are perishing anyway.

Pay attention with me to the difference in how the faces will appear to you this evening and tomorrow. Observing them today, they are somewhat reddish, wet with a little sweat, their eyes are watery and drooping, and a kind of mistiness seems to have taken over the clarity of their inward senses. But tomorrow they will have become quiet and solemn, the skin natural-looking, filled with meditation. The inner senses will be keen, since they have not had occasion to be darkened by physical exertions.

Fasting is the likeness of the angels, the tent-companion of the righteous, the moderation of life. It made the divine Mosaic Law. Samuel is the fruit of fasting. Hannah was fasting when she prayed to God: “O sovereign Lord, God of hosts, if you will look upon your servant, and give me a male child, I will give him to you as a dedicated gift. Wine and liquor he will surely not drink, until the day he dies.”

Fasting brought about the great Samson, and brought him up until the time when he appeared publicly before men. Enemies were falling by the thousands, and many of their cities were being torn up, and lions were yielding to the strength of his hands. But when he came under the power of drinking and took up with harlots, he was easy prey for his enemies. He was bereaved of his eyes, and he was set out as a plaything for the children of foreigners.

After Elijah fasted he closed up the heavens three years and six months. After he saw how much wantonness had been born from the people’s fullness, he thought it necessary to bring an involuntary fast upon them by means of famine. Through that he stood, while their excessive sins were already poured out, and fasting created such a burning, and cutting down of their evil leaders in pieces.

7. Receive her, poor common laborers, as your living companion and table partner. Slaves, you who hold the household together, receive her as a rest from your toils. You rich, receive her because she is curing you from the damage of excess. When she has worked her change in you, your daily life will be more pleasant, lived by the way of wisdom. You who are sick, receive her as the mother of health. You who are in good health, receive her as your prescribed good medicine.

Ask the doctors and they’ll report it to you, that it’s the most dangerous of all to be at the peak of health. So even the most experienced should deprive themselves of overindulgence, so as not to start secretly weeping for the power of the burden of fleshiness. For when they have purged the excess [31.196] by firm purpose and through austerity, they prepare some open space for education, and a second beginning for promoting the power of growth. So it will have all kinds of bodily benefits for every activity, and it will go along well in houses and fields, by night and by day, in cities and wilderness.

So now, at such a time as this, let’s receive her graciously and joyously into our homes for our own good. Let’s obey the word of the Lord and not be like the gloomy-faced hypocrites, but rather just letting the simple brightness of the soul show clearly.

And I suppose it’s not really necessary for me to preach about the challenge of fasting, about how today should not be given over to the evils of drunkenness. Most of you receive fasting into your homes again as a habit, showing respect to yourself and one another. But I fear that the wine-lovers will try to rescue drunkenness, like an inheritance from their fathers.

It’s as foolish to buy wine before five days of fasting, as it would be for those who are setting off on a long journey abroad. Who is so stupid that before even beginning to drink, he irrationally thinks about the things of drunkenness? Don’t you know that a stomach won’t safely care for what is entrusted to it? The stomach is a very unfaithful partner. It leaves the treasury unguarded. However many things you put away there, hoping to preserve them, it of course doesn’t take care of them.

See to it that tomorrow, when you have come away from being drunk, the Lord doesn’t have to say, “I haven’t chosen this kind of fast.” Why do you dilute pure things? What communion has fasting with drinking? What fellowship does self-control have with drunkenness? “What concord has the temple of God with idols?”

Those whom the Spirit of God indwells are God’s temple. But those who let drunkenness bring the refuse of intemperance into their lives are a temple of idols. Today is the gateway of the fast days. But surely the one who has profaned the front doors is not worthy to enter into the holy places.

No household slave who wants to win the favor of his master becomes friends with the champion of his enemy. Drunkenness is an enemy of God, but fasting is the beginning of repentance. So if you want to come near to God through confession, flee drunkenness, so that the loss will not be made more difficult for you.

So let’s not be selfish as we begin the abstinence from foods that is the noble fast. Let’s fast in an acceptable manner, one that’s pleasing to God. A true fast is one that is set against evil, it’s self-control of the tongue. It’s the checking of anger, separation from things like lusts, evil-speaking, lies, and false oaths. Self-denial from these things is a true fast, so fasting from these negative things is good. But on the positive side, let’s delight in the Lord, being in pursuit of the words of the Spirit. And let’s delight in taking up the laws of salvation, and in all the doctrines that restore our souls.

Therefore let’s guard the fast from these things in secret. The prophet also rejects these things, saying, “The Lord will not let the soul of the righteous go hungry,” and, “I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants looking for bread.” Now this isn’t speaking about literal bread, such as what the children of our patriarch Jacob went down into Egypt for. Rather, it’s talking about spiritual food, the kind that goes inside us and perfects a person.

May the fasting threatened against the Jews not also come upon us: “For behold, days are coming, says the Lord, and I will bring upon this land a famine, not a famine of bread, neither thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.” The righteous judge brought this upon them because their minds were suffering from hunger and in a state of atrophy without true teaching, and their bodies were growing fat and weighed down with flesh. So you should entertain the Holy Spirit joyfully every day without exception, both in the mornings and evenings.

No one should be left behind willingly from the spiritual feasting. Let’s all share from this wineless bowl together. Wisdom has set it before us equally, and a special place for it has been set aside. “She has mixed her own bowl, and has slaughtered her own sacrifices.” This refers to the food of the mature, “Who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Once we have thoroughly taken our fill, may we also be found worthy of the exhilaration that comes in the bridal chamber of Christ Jesus our Lord! To him be the glory and the power forever! Amen.

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Saint Basil the Great was a 4th century Bishop of Caesarea, a city in the Cappadocia region of Anatolia from whence Saint Nino came. He is renowned as one of the Three Holy Heirarchs of the early church, along with Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Gregory the Theologian. His Divine Liturgy is used during Lent today, and his homilies (sermons) are still widely read and discussed by Orthodox Christians. This sermon on Fasting is considered authoritative.

1. “Sound the trumpet at the new moon,” says the Psalmist, “in the notable day of your feast.”2 This injunction is prophetic. The Scripture readings indicate to us more loudly than any trumpet and more distinctly than any musical instrument the Feast that precedes these days. For we have learned from Isaiah the Grace to be gained from the fasts. Isaiah rejected the Jewish way of fasting and showed us what true fasting means. “Fast not for quarrels and strifes, but loose every bond of iniquity.”3 And the Lord says: “Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, but anoint thine head, and wash thy face.”4 Let us, therefore, exhibit the demeanor that we have been taught, not being doleful about the coming days, but maintaining a joyful attitude, as befits holy people. No one who desponds is crowned; no one who sulks sets up a trophy of victory. Do not be sullen while you are being healed. It would be absurd not to rejoice over the health of your soul, but rather to be distressed over a change of diet and to give the impression of setting more store by the pleasure of your stomach than by the care of your soul. For satiety brings delight to the stomach, whereas fasting brings profit to the soul. Be of good cheer, for the physician has given you a medicine that destroys sin. For, just as the tapeworms that breed in the intestines of children are obliterated by certain very pungent drugs, so also fasting — a remedy truly worthy of its appellation —5, when introduced into the soul, kills off the sin that lurks deep within it.

2. “Anoint thine head, and wash thy face.”6 This sentence summons you to mysteries. One who has been anointed has received unction; he who has been washed has been cleansed. Apply this injunction to your inner members. Wash your soul clean of sins. Have your head anointed with holy oil, so that you might become a partaker of Christ, and approach the fast in this spirit. Do not disfigure your face as do the hypocrites.7 The face is disfigured when one’s inner disposition is obscured by a sham external appearance, concealed by falsehood as if beneath a veil. An actor in a theatre is one who assumes someone else’s persona — if he is a slave, he often plays a master, and if he is a private citizen, he plays a king. Likewise, in this life, as if on some stage, the majority of people turn their existence into a theatre, entertaining one thing in their hearts, but displaying something else to men by their outward appearance. Therefore, do not disfigure your face. Whatever you may be, appear as such. Do not transform yourself into a sullen person, seeking the glory that comes from appearing to be abstemious. For there is no profit in trumpeting your good deeds, nor any gain in advertising your fasting. Things that are done for outward show do not yield any fruit in the age to come, but terminate in human praise. Run with gladness to the gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, which does not grow old or become outmoded, but is ever renewed and flourishes with vigor.

3. Do you think that I am resting the origin of fasting on the Law? Why, fasting is even older than the Law. If you wait a little, you will discover the truth of what I have said. Do not suppose that fasting originated with the Day of Atonement, appointed for Israel on the tenth day of the seventh month.8 No, go back through history and inquire into the ancient origins of fasting. It is not a recent invention; it is an heirloom handed down by our fathers. Everything distinguished by antiquity is venerable. Have respect for the antiquity of fasting. It is as old as humanity itself; it was prescribed in Paradise. It was the first commandment that Adam received: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat.”9 Through the words “ye shall not eat” the law of fasting and abstinence is laid down. If Eve had fasted from the tree, we would not now be in need of this fast. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”10 We have been wounded through sin; we are healed through repentance, but repentance without fasting is fruitless. “Cursed is the ground…. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth for thee.”11 You were ordered to live in sorrow, not in luxury. Make amends to God through fasting. Yet even life in Paradise is an image of fasting, not only insofar as man, sharing the life of the Angels, attained to likeness with them through being contented with little, but also insofar as those things which human ingenuity subsequently invented had not yet been devised by those living in Paradise, be it the drinking of wine, the slaughter of animals, or whatever else befuddles the human mind.

4. Since we did not fast, we fell from Paradise; let us, therefore, fast in order that we might return thither. Do you not see how Lazarus entered Paradise through fasting?12 Do not emulate the disobedience of Eve; never again accept the advice of the serpent, who suggested eating out of regard for the flesh. Do not use bodily sickness and infirmity as an excuse for not fasting. You are not offering such excuses to me, but to Him Who knows all about you. Tell me, you are unable to fast, and yet you are able eat to satiety throughout your life and oppress your body with the burden of what you eat? And yet, I know of doctors who prescribe for sick people not a variety of foods, but fasting and abstinence. How is it, then, that, while you are able to carry out doctors’ orders, you allege that you are unable to keep the fasts ordained by the Church? What is easier for the stomach? To pass the night after observing a frugal diet, or to lie in bed weighed down by an abundance of foods? Or rather, not lying down, but tossing and turning, heaving and groaning — unless you are going to say that it is easier for a helmsman to save a vessel weighed down with cargo than one that is less encumbered and lighter. The one that is laden with a multitude of goods will be submerged when any wave, no matter how low, rears up against it, whereas the one carrying a moderate quantity of freight easily rides the waves, there being nothing to prevent it from rising above the surge. Likewise, the bodies of men, when weighed down by constant surfeiting, easily become overwhelmed by illnesses, whereas, when they avail themselves of simple and easily-digested fare, they not only escape, as from the eruption of a tempest, the suffering that is to be expected from any disease, but also repel like the onslaught of a squall the sickness that is already present within them. In your view, I suppose, it is more laborious to rest than to run and to be still than to struggle — if, indeed, you assert that it is more appropriate for those who are ill to indulge in delicacies than to observe a frugal diet. For the force that governs living creatures naturally engenders moderation and frugality and adapts itself to that which is eaten; but when the body ingests sumptuous and varied foods, this force, being entirely unable to tolerate them, gives rise to a variety of diseases.

5. But let our discourse proceed to history in reviewing the antiquity of fasting, and how all of the Saints, receiving it as an ancestral legacy, preserved it in the way that fathers hand things on to their children; thus, this possession has come down to us by a process of successive transmission. There was no wine in Paradise, nor any slaughter of animals, nor any consumption of meat. After the flood, there was wine; after the flood came the ordinance: “Eat all things as the green herb.”13 When hope of human perfection was abandoned, then enjoyment was permitted. Noah, who knew nothing about the use of wine, is proof that men had no experience thereof. For wine had not yet found its way into human life, nor had men become accustomed to it. Therefore, when he had neither seen anyone else drinking wine nor tried it himself, he unguardedly succumbed to the harm that comes therefrom: “For Noah…planted a vineyard; and he drank of its fruit, and became drunk”;14 not because he was a drunkard, but because he did not know how much wine he could imbibe. Thus, the discovery of wine-drinking is more recent than Paradise, so ancient is the dignity of fasting. Moreover, we know that Moses ascended the mountain while fasting.15 For he would not have dared to touch the peak of the mountain while it was smoking, nor would he have made bold to enter the darkness, had he not been armed with fasting. It was through fasting that he received the commandment inscribed on the tablets by the finger of God. Above, fasting ushered in the Law; below, gluttony led to the madness of idolatry. “And the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”16 The forty days in which the servant of God waited on God in fasting and prayer were rendered futile by a single drinking bout. For the tablets inscribed by the finger of God that Moses obtained were shattered by drunkenness, since the Prophet did not judge the drunken people worthy to receive the Law from God. In one moment of time that people, who had been taught about God through stupendous miracles, plunged headlong, through gluttony, into the idol-madness of the Egyptians. Now juxtapose both of these facts: how fasting brings one close to God, and how indulgence drives away salvation. Once you descend to indulgence, you are on the road to perdition.

6. What ruined Esau and made him a slave of his brother? Was it not a single act of eating, which caused him to sell his birthright?17 Was it not prayer combined with fasting that bestowed Samuel on his mother?18 What was it that rendered the mighty champion Samson invincible? Was it not fasting, with which he was conceived in his mother’s womb?19 Fasting gave birth to him; fasting suckled him; fasting made him grow to manhood, and an Angel enjoined this fast on his mother: “She shall not eat of anything that cometh from the vine, neither shall she drink wine or strong drink.”20 Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness. It sanctifies the Nazirite21 and perfects the Priest. For it is not possible to dare to perform sacred actions without fasting, not only in the mystical and true worship of the present era, but also in the symbolic worship offered according to the Law. Fasting made Elias a beholder of that great vision; for, having cleansed his soul by fasting for forty days, he was thus vouchsafed, in the cave in Horeb, to behold the Lord as far as it is possible for a man to do so.22 While fasting he restored to the widow her son, having been fortified against death itself through fasting.23 A voice that went forth from the mouth of one fasting shut the heavens for the transgressing people for three years and six months. For, in order to soften the untamed heart of his stiff-necked people, he chose to condemn himself to hardship together with them. Hence, he said: “As the Lord liveth, there shall not be water upon the earth, except by the word of my mouth.”24 He brought a fast upon the people through famine, so as to correct the evil caused by their dissolute life of luxury. What kind of life did Elissaios have? How did he enjoy hospitality from the Shunamite woman? How did he himself welcome the prophets? Did he not fulfill the duties of hospitality with wild greens and a little flour?25 At that time, after the gourd had been placed in the pottage, those who had tasted it would have been in peril, had not the poison been neutralized by the prayer of the faster.26 There is a physical substance called amianthus,27 which is noncombustible, and which, when placed in a flame, appears to glow like coal, but emerges purer when removed from the fire, as if it has been brightened and cleansed with water. Such were the bodies of those three Youths in Babylon, which, on account of their fasting,28 possessed the properties of amianthus. For in the fiery furnace, as if they were golden by nature, they thus proved to be invulnerable to the fire. In fact, they proved to be stronger than gold. For the fire did not smelt them, but preserved them intact. And yet, nothing could have withstood those flames, which were being fed with naphtha, pitch, and brushwood, to such an extent that they streamed forth forty-nine cubits into the air and, feeding on what surrounded them, consumed many of the Chaldæans.29 Entering that conflagration, therefore, armed with fasting, the Youths trampled it underfoot, breathing refined and dew-laden air in such a fierce fire. The fire did not dare to touch even their hair, because they had been nourished by fasting.30

7. Daniel, a man greatly beloved,31 who ate no bread and drank no water for three weeks,32 when he descended into the den, taught even lions to fast.33 The lions were not able to sink their teeth into him, as if he were made of stone, bronze, or some other harder material. Thus, fasting, as when iron is dipped in water, had toughened that man’s body and rendered it impregnable to lions; for they did not even open their mouths against the Saint. Fasting extinguished the power of fire and stopped the mouths of lions. Fasting sends up prayer to Heaven, becoming, as it were, a wing for it on its upward journey. Fasting is the enhancement of households, the mother of health, the guide of the young, the adornment of elders, the good companion of wayfarers, the steadfast comrade of married couples. A husband does not suspect a plot against his marriage when he sees his wife observing the fast. A wife does not pine with envy when she sees her husband embracing the fast. Who has ever diminished his resources during a fast? Count up today what is in your house, and after a fast count it again. You will not have run short of any household goods because of the fast. No animal laments death, nowhere is there any blood, no sentence is pronounced against animals by the inexorable stomach. The knives of cooks are checked; the table is content with foods that grow naturally. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, Scripture says, that your beast of burden and your servant might enjoy a rest.34 Let the fast be a rest from constant toils for the menials who serve you throughout the year. Give your cook a break, grant your footman a holiday; stay the hand of your cupbearer. Let your pastry cook have a vacation from time to time. Let your household at last have some respite from the never-ending commotion, smoke, the odor of fat, and people running hither and thither and ministering, as it were, to that implacable mistress, the stomach. In any case, even tax-collectors sometimes give small breaks to those who owe them money. Let the stomach give the mouth some rest, and let it make a truce with us for five days35—for otherwise it is always making demands and never desists, receiving today and forgetting tomorrow. When it is full, it philosophizes about abstinence; when it is deflated, it forgets such ideas.

8. Fasting knows nothing of loans; the table of a faster does not reek of usury. A father’s debts do not suffocate the orphaned son of a faster like serpents that coil themselves around their victims. In other ways, too, fasting is the occasion of gladness. For, just as thirst makes a drink refreshing and prior hunger makes a meal pleasant, so also fasting heightens our enjoyment of food. For, by interposing itself and interrupting your constant self-indulgence, it will make the consumption of food appear desirable to you, like an absent friend. Hence, if you wish to make a meal appetizing, accept the transformation that comes about in you from fasting. Because of your intense addiction to lavish fare, you have dulled your enjoyment of food without realizing it, ruining pleasure through hedonism. For nothing is so desirable that it does not become contemptible through constant gratification. It is the things that rarely come our way that we enjoy with the greatest avidity. Thus, He Who created us provided that we should take abiding delight in His gifts through an alternation in our lifestyle.36 Do you not see that the sun is more resplendent after the night, that being awake is more pleasant after sleep, that health is more desirable after the experience of the opposite condition, and that the meal table is more gratifying after a fast? It is the same for the rich and those who dine sumptuously as it is for those whose diet is frugal and improvised.

9. Fear the example of the rich man, who was consigned to the fire by his lifelong luxury.37 It was not for injustice that he was condemned, but for his sumptuous lifestyle, and for this reason he was tormented in the fiery furnace of Hell. Now, in order to extinguish that fire, we need water. Fasting is beneficial not only for the life to come, but even more is it profitable for the flesh itself. For even those in the peak of condition experience reverses and changes, when nature fails and proves unable to maintain an abundance of good health. Beware of spurning water now,38 lest you subsequently find yourself longing for a drop of it, as did the rich man. No one has ever gotten drunk on water. No one has ever contracted headaches from drinking too much water. No one who drinks only water has ever needed someone else’s feet.39 No one has lost the use of his feet or hands through their being nourished with water. Bad digestion, which inevitably dogs those who indulge in dainties, causes serious bodily disorders. The complexion of a faster is venerable, not breaking out in unseemly red blotches, but adorned with the pallor of temperance.40 His gaze is calm, his gait is sedate, his countenance is thoughtful — not demeaned by unrestrained laughter —, his speech is moderate, and his heart is pure. Call to mind the Saints from all ages, “of whom the world was not worthy, [who] wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”41 Emulate their way of life, if you seek their portion. What was it that gave Lazarus rest in the bosom of Abraham?42 Was it not fasting? The life of John the Baptist was one continuous fast.43 He did not have a bed, a table, arable land, a plough ox, wheat, a quern, or anything else that pertains to nourishment. For this reason, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.”44 Among other things, fasting, which Paul reckoned among the afflictions in which he gloried, raised him up to the third Heaven.45 To cap all that we have said, our Lord, having fortified through fasting the flesh which He assumed for our sake, submitted to the attacks of the Devil therewith, both instructing us to anoint and train ourselves with fasting for the struggles that we must undergo amid temptations and affording the adversary a handle, so to speak, through hunger.46 For on account of the height of His Divinity He would have been inaccessible to the Devil, had He not submitted to human weakness through hunger. However, before He ascended back to Heaven, He tasted food, giving assurance of the true nature of His risen body.47 Will you not give up fattening and gorging yourself? Will you allow your mind to waste away through lack of nourishment, because you take no thought for saving and life-giving teachings? Or do you not know that, just as in the case of a battle those who fight for one side cause the defeat of the other, so he who sides with the flesh prevails over the spirit, while he who aligns himself with the spirit brings his flesh into subjection? “[For] these [flesh and spirit] are contrary the one to the other.”48 Hence, if you wish to make your mind strong, tame your flesh through fasting. For this is what the Apostle says, that to the extent that our outward man perishes, our inward man is renewed;49 he also says: “[W]hen I am weak, then am I strong.”50 Will you not disdain perishable foods? Will you not conceive a desire for the table in the Kingdom of Heaven, for which fasting here on earth is assuredly a preparation? Do you not know that by immoderate satiety you fatten for yourself the worm that torments? For who amid lavish feasting and perpetual delectation has become the partaker of any spiritual gift? Moses needed a second fast in order to receive the second set of laws.51 If the animals had not fasted along with the Ninevites, the Ninevites would not have escaped the threat of destruction.52 Whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?53 Were they not those of the people who demanded to eat meat?54 As long as they were content with manna and water from the rock, they overcame the Egyptians and journeyed through the sea; there was not a feeble one among their tribes.”55 But when they recalled the fleshpots56 and returned to Egypt in their desires, they did not see the Promised Land. Do you not fear their example? Do you not shudder at their gluttony, lest it exclude you from the good things for which we hope? But not even the wise Daniel would have seen visions, had he not rendered his soul more pellucid through fasting. For certain thick vapors are emitted from rich foods, which, like a dense cloud, prevent the illumination produced by the Holy Spirit from entering the mind. But if there is any food that is proper even to Angels, it is bread, as the Prophet says: “Man ate the bread of Angels”57 — not meat, nor wine, nor those items that are zealously sought after by those enslaved to their stomachs. Fasting is a weapon against the army of demons. “[For] this kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”58 So many are the benefits of fasting, whereas satiety is the beginning of lasciviousness. For sybaritism, inebriation, and all manner of rich foods immediately give rise to every kind of brutish wantonness. Hence, men become lecherous stallions59 on account of the frenzy wrought in the soul by self-indulgence. Perversions of nature arise from drunkards when they seek the feminine in the masculine and the masculine in the feminine. Fasting teaches moderation in conjugal relations, and, by chastising intemperance even in licit sexual activity, engenders abstinence by mutual agreement, so that married couples may devote themselves to prayer.60

10. Do not, however, define the benefit that comes from fasting solely in terms of abstinence from foods. For true fasting consists in estrangement from vices. “Loose every burden of iniquity.”61 Forgive your neighbor the distress he causes you; forgive him his debts. “Fast not for quarrels and strifes.”62 You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others. You wait until evening to eat, but waste your day in law courts. Woe to those who get drunk, but not from wine.63 Anger is inebriation of the soul, making it deranged, just as wine does. Grief is also a form of intoxication, one that submerges the intellect. Fear is another kind of drunkenness, when we have phobias regarding inappropriate objects; for Scripture says: “Rescue my soul from fear of the enemy.”64 And in general, every passion which causes mental derangement may justly be called drunkenness. Pray consider a man smitten with anger, how he is inebriated by this passion. He is not in control of himself, he does not know who he is, nor does he know those around him. He attacks everyone and collides with everyone just as in a night-battle; he speaks recklessly, cannot restrain himself, rails, pounds his fists, utters threats, swears, shouts, and becomes apoplectic. Avoid such inebriation as this, and do not accept the inebriation that comes from wine. Do not precede the season in which you drink only water by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Let not drunkenness initiate you into the fast. For neither through greed do you attain to righteousness, nor through wantonness to temperance, nor, in short, through vice to virtue. The door to fasting is a different one. Inebriation leads to wantonness, frugality to fasting. An athlete trains before a contest; a faster practices abstinence before a fast. Do not indulge in drunkenness before the five days as if taking revenge for the days of fasting or attempting to outwit the Lawgiver. For you toil in vain if you afflict your body, but do not receive consolation for your privation.65 The receptacle is unreliable, you are drawing water with a perforated jar.66 For wine flows through your body, coursing along its own path, but sin remains in you. A servant runs away from a master who beats him; but you cleave to wine, which beats your head every day? Bodily need is the best criterion for the use of wine. If you exceed your limits, on the following day you will have headaches, you will be listless and dizzy, and you will reek of putrid wine. Everything will seem to you to be spinning around and unstable. For drunkenness not only brings on sleep, the brother of death, but also a wakefulness that resembles dreams.

11. Do you know Whom you are going to receive?67 He Who gave us this promise: “I and my Father will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.”68 Why do you forestall Him by inebriation and prevent the Master from entering you? Why do you encourage the enemy to occupy your ramparts? Inebriation does not receive the Lord; inebriation drives away the Holy Spirit. For smoke drives bees away, while drunkenness drives away spiritual gifts. Fasting is the adornment of a city, the stability of the marketplace, peace in the home, and security of possessions. Do you want to see its dignity? Pray compare this evening with tomorrow evening, and you will see a city transformed from tumult and commotion into profound tranquillity. Would that today might resemble tomorrow in dignity, and that tomorrow might yield nothing to today in gladness. May the Lord Who has brought us to this period of the year grant us, as contenders, to display steadfast and vigorous perseverance in these preliminary contests and to attain to the Day of the Lord, whereon crowns are bestowed, so that we might now commemorate the saving Passion of Christ, and in the age to come enjoy the reward for our deeds in life at the just Judgment of Christ Himself, for unto Him be glory unto the ages. Amen.”

1 Translated from the Greek original in Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXI, cols. 164A-184C.
2 Psalm 80:4, Septuaginta.
3 Isaiah 58:4, 6.
4 St. Matthew 6:16, 17.
5. “Νηστεία” literally means “not eating.” St. Basil is arguing, here, that fasting kills off sin by starving it of the aliment on which it feeds.
6 St. Matthew 6:17.
7 St. Matthew 6:16.
8 Leviticus 23:27.
9 Genesis 2:17.
10 St. Matthew 9:12.
11 Genesis 3:17-18.
12 St. Luke 16:19-31.

13 Cf. Genesis 9:3.
14 Genesis 9:20-21.
15 Exodus 24:18.
16 Exodus 32:6.
17 Genesis 25:29-34.
18 I Kings 1:13-16, Septuaginta.
19 Judges 13:4.
20 Judges 13:14.
21 Another name for an ascetic; cf. St. Basil the Great, “Epistle 44,” §1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXII, col. 361C.
22 III Kings 19:8-13.
23 III Kings 17:17-24.
24 III Kings 17:1.
25 IV Kings 4:39-41.
26 Elissaios, as a Prophet, was an ascetic and therefore a practitioner of fasting.
27 Amianthus is a fine, silky type of asbestos.
28 Daniel 1:8-16.
29 Daniel 3:46-48, Septuaginta.
30 Daniel 3:50, Septuaginta.
31 Daniel 10:11.
32 Daniel 10:2-3 (where it is stated that Daniel drank no wine).
33 Daniel 6:16-22.
34 Exodus 20:10.
35 During five weekdays in Lent, the Fast is observed with greater strictness than on weekends, when wine and oil are permitted.
36 That is, through the alternation of fasting and non-fasting seasons.
37 St. Luke 16:19-31.
38 That is, during Lent.
39 That is, to carry him home when drunk.
40 Cf. Long Rules, XVII.2, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXI, col. 964C.
41 Hebrews 11:38, 37.
42 St. Luke 16:23.
43 St. Matthew 3:4.
44 St. Matthew 11:11.
45 II Corinthians 11:27; 12:2.
46 St. Matthew 4:2.
47 St. Luke 24:43.
48 Galatians 5:17.
49 II Corinthians 4:16.
50 II Corinthians 12:10.
51 Exodus 34:28.
52 Jonah 3:4-10.
53 Hebrews 3:17; cf. Numbers 14:29.
54 Numbers 11:33.
55 Psalm 104:37, Septuaginta.
56 Exodus 16:3.
57 Psalm 77:25, Septuaginta.
58 St. Mark 9:29.
59 Jeremiah 5:8.
60 I Corinthians 7:5.
61 Isaiah 58:6.
62 Isaiah 58:4.
Isaiah 51:21.
64 Psalm 63:2, Septuaginta.
65 That is, by excessive drinking before the Fast or on weekends during the Fast, one impairs his ability to live a more spiritual life by giving himself the spiritual consolation of the prayers appointed for Great Lent.
66 The latter phrase is taken directly from Xenophon (Oikonomicos, VII.40) and cited elsewhere by St. Basil, e.g. in “Homily XXI, ‘That We Should Not Be Attached to Earthly Things,’” §3, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXI, col. 545C.
67 That is, in Holy Communion. The verb ὑποδέχεσθαι is very commonly used by the Greek Fathers to denote the reception of Communion; cf. St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV.13, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1149A.
68 Cf. St. John 14:23.

Source: Orthodox Tradition, Volume XXIII, Number 3 (2006), pp. 6-16.

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