Fasting is as old as humanity: it was legislated in Paradise. It was the first command that Adam received: You shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You shall not eat legislates fasting and self-control. If Eve had fasted from the tree, we would not need this fasting now. For those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. We have been injured by sin; let us be healed by repentance. But repentance is futile without fasting. Cursed is the ground; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you. You have been ordered to be sorrowful, not to indulge yourself. Make satisfaction to God through fasting. Now the manner of life in Paradise is an image of fasting, not only insofar as man, sharing the life of the angels, achieved likeness to them by being content with little, but also because those who lived in Paradise had still not dreamt up what humans later discovered through their inventiveness: there was still no drinking of wine, still no animal sacrifices, not to mention whatever else beclouds the human mind. It is because we did not fast that we were banished from Paradise. So let us fast that we may return to it. Don’t you realize that Lazarus entered Paradise through fasting? Do not imitate the disobedience of Eve. Then again, do not take the serpent as your advisor, who suggests that you eat out of regard for the flesh. (2014-08-19. On Fasting and Feasts [Popular Patristic Series Book 50] Kindle Locations 1293-1311. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition)
Asceticism, and the toils that go with it, was devised simply in order to ward off deception, which established itself through sensory perception, it is not [as if] the virtues have been newly introduced from the outside, for they inhere in us from creation, as hath already been said. Therefore, when deception is completely expelled, the soul immediately exhibits the splendor of its natural virtue. (Disputation with Pyrrhus, 95)
Since the fasts and the prayers are necessary, hearken unto the Lord who says in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “And there was a prophetess Anna… She did not depart from the Temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk. 2:36-37). Also, hear Paul in the seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “that you may devote yourselves to fast and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). And also, the sixth chapter of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians [reads]: “in watchings, in fastings” (2 Cor. 6:5). And if someone would like to elicit similar testimonies from the Scripture, he will easily find many others. (Augsburg and Constantinople, p. 209. The Three Answers: Second Exchange: Constantinople to Tubingen, 15)
All those who have their mind on high, all those who forget the things of the earth, all those who give no care to the flesh… who, to be sure, have mortified their earthly members, having a pure mind and an acute mind’s eye, being yet on earth, these see the sufferings that are in hell, the eternal torments, the everlasting fire, the outer darkness, the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. But they also see the heavenly gifts that God has presented to the Saints: the royal attire, the shining inner chambers, the inexpressible delights and eternal life. What more can I say? Indeed, the greatest wonder of all is that he who has a pure mind also perceives with his inner eyes even God Himself. (Constantine Cavarnos, The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching, p. 38)
Today, beloved brothers and sisters, was read the Gospel passage from the Evangelist Mark on how a father asked Jesus Christ to heal his son, a deaf and dumb child who was possessed, by casting out the evil spirit who was the reason the child was deaf and dumb. ‘Deaf and dumb spirit,’ said the Lord to the impure one, ‘I command you, come out of him and enter him no more.’ Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose (Mark 9:25–27). But see how evil was the spirit who tormented the child. His father told the Lord how wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid (Mark 9:18). This happened also at the time when the father brought his son to the Saviour. And when the Lord asked the father, as if he did not already know, even though, as God, He knows all, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him,’ and he asked the Lord to have compassion on him and his son, and to help them, if He can do anything. Jesus told him: ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ And the unfortunate father of little faith cried out with tears ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:21–24).
Do you see what power the Lord attributes to faith and to the one who believes? All things are possible to him who believes , He says. The one who believes is able to cast out demons and to heal all kinds of diseases. And how powerless and miserable is the unbeliever! He cannot even control himself, and cannot overcome his own sins, but as a slave he serves them and is tormented by them. And as the unfortunate father initially brought his possessed son to the Apostles and they were not able to expel this demon from him, they asked the Lord in private why they were not able to expel him. The Lord answered them: This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Such is the Lord’s praise for prayer and fasting. This is the evangelical basis for fasting. How could those who call themselves followers of the Gospel have expelled fasting from our common life, as if it was unnecessary?! Is it not because in our days passions and iniquity and demonic possessions of all kinds have multiplied, so much so that some Christians have broken their ties with the Church and have renounced prayer and fasting as something superfluous? (Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies of Saint John of Kronstadt, On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent)
Gregory of Sinai and other saints concur. They insist that it is not an easy task to find a skilled and trustworthy guide in this wonderful discipline. For, they explain, such a trustworthy instructor must have much personal experience and be grounded in the wisdom of the holy Writings.
He must also have acquired the gift of spiritual discernment. Even in the time of those saints we are told that such a teacher was not easily found. In our present time of such evil, all the more diligence must be had in seeking such a guide. But if such a teacher cannot be found, they, the saintly Fathers, order us to study the Sacred Scriptures and hear our Lord Himself speaking: “Search the Scriptures and in them you will find eternal life.” For St. Paul the Apostle says that all that was written in the Sacred Scriptures was written for our instruction (cf. Rom 15:4). Thus the saints, who underwent great discipline to control their feelings and labored in mental prayer in the vineyard of their own heart and purified their mind of all passions, have discovered the Lord and attained spiritual wisdom. We, too, who are so enflamed by the fires of our passions, are enjoined to draw the living water from the fountain of the Sacred Scriptures, which have the power to extinguish the fires of our passion and instruct us in the understanding of the truth.
For this reason, even though I am a great sinner and not endowed with wisdom, I also assiduously have applied myself to the holy Writings according to the inspired Fathers’ teachings. Like a slave I was imprisoned by unbecoming passions, which are the basic roots of evil in all things. Thus it is not because I have overcome the passions in a healthy, benevolent silence, but because of my sickness of the passions that I have collected together a little out of what I found from the holy Writings. Like a dog picking up crumbs that fall from the table, so I have gathered together the words of those blessed Fathers and have written all this to be a reminder to us to imitate them, even if it be only in an insignificant way. (The Monastic Rule [Ustav], Introduction)
[L]et us vie with each other in observing the purity of the fast 1 Cor. 9:24-27, by watchfulness in prayers, by study of the Scriptures, by distributing to the poor, and let us be at peace with our enemies. Let us bind up those who are scattered abroad, banish pride, and return to lowliness of mind, being at peace with all men, and urging the brethren unto love. Thus also the blessed Paul was often engaged in fastings and watchings, and was willing to be accursed for his brethren. Blessed David again, having humbled himself by fastings, used boldness, saying, ‘O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is any iniquity in my hands, if I have repaid those who dealt evil with me, then may I fall from my enemies as a vain man. ‘ If we do these things, we shall conquer death; and receive an earnest of the kingdom of heaven. (Letter 14)
We are made up of a soul and body, and both soul and body consist of many members. For the soul too has members after a fashion: those parts of it concerned with growth, desiring, anger and reason. Therefore, true fasting must extend to every part, cleansing and healing them all. Fasting, brethren, gently and and kindly restores the soul to health, and that is why our Fathers imposed it on us during these days.
If we shrink from fasting in our foolishness, hell waits to punish us, to cut us down and burn us, at that time when Christ will cut in pieces anyone incapable of being healed and consign them to unquenchable fire to suffer eternal punishment. It was because we did not fast in Paradise that we were thrown out into this life full of sufferings. In the same way, if we have not fasted here or lived with as much self-restraint as we could, we shall fall into that unquenchable and unbearable hell-fire. (Homily 9.9)
[F]rom the beginning of creation [God] separated men into three classes: He gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to another. The first one has the highest gifts: he has greater mental capacity and is called “taught by God”, because he receives teachings from God without a teacher, just like St. Anthony the Great, St. Onouphrios, St. Mary of Egypt, Cyril Phileotes, Luke of Steirion, and thousands of others in the old days who became perfect without a guide. The second type of person has to be taught what is good in order to do it. And the third one, even if he hears, even if he learns, he hides it in the ground: he doesn’t do anything. So that is why there is such a big difference among the people and monks that you see. And that is why first and foremost you must “know thyself”. That is, who you really are in truth, and not what you imagine you are. With this knowledge you become the wisest man. With this kind of awareness, you reach humility and receive grace from the Lord. However, if you don’t obtain self-knowledge, but consider only your toil, know that you will always remain far from the path. The prophet does not say, “Behold, O Lord, my toil,” but says, “Behold my humility and my toil.” (LXX 24:18) Toil is for the body, and humility is for the soul. Moreover, the two together, toil and humility are for the whole man.
Who has conquered the devil? He who knows his own weaknesses, passions, and shortcomings. Whoever is afraid of knowing himself remains far from knowledge, and he doesn’t love anything else except seeing faults in others and judging them. He doesn’t see gifts in other people, but only shortcomings. And he doesn’t see his own shortcomings, but only his gifts. This is truly the sickness that plagues us men of the eighth millennium: we fail to recognize other’s gifts. One person may lack many things, but many people together have everything. What one person lacks, another person has. If we acknowledged this, we would have a great deal of humility, because God, Who adorned men in many ways and showed inequality in all His creations, is honored and glorified; not as the unbelievers say, who toil trying to bring equality by overturning the divine creation. God made all things in wisdom. (cf. LXX Ps. 103:24) (Monastic Wisdom pp. 49-50, Third Letter)
The cure and deification of man is achieved, on the one hand, by the sacramental life, and on the other hand by the ascetic life which we live in the Church. I want to particularly emphasize that the Holy Fathers of the Church teach that man’s salvation is a combination of sacraments and asceticism. We cannot understand the sacraments without asceticism in Christ, and we cannot live a real ascetic life without the sacraments of the Church… In our time a great deal is being said about the sacramental life, the eucharistological life is being much emphasized. This is very good. But, unfortunately, the ascetic tradition of the Church is being overlooked. (The Mind of the Orthodox Church, pp. 147-148)
It must not be forgotten that the person who first introduced monasticism to the Latin West was St. Athanasius. During his exile in 340, St. Athanasius brought with him to Rome two monks from the Egyptian desert, one of whom was Ammonius; the other Isidore. Rome was stunned. But the initial reaction of disgust and contempt soon changed to one of admiration and then imitation. Two additional visits to Rome by St. Athanasius strengthened the beginning of the monastic movement in the Latin West. St. Athanasius influenced even the northern part of the Latin empire — during his exile in 336 he spent time in Trier, and wherever St. Athanasius went he spread the knowledge of monasticism. (The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers)
The introduction of monasticism into the West may be dated from about A.D. 340 when St. Athanasius visited Rome accompanied by the two Egyptian monks Ammon and Isidore, disciples of St. Anthony. The publication of the “Vita Antonii” some years later and its translation into Latin spread the knowledge of Egyptian monachism widely and many were found in Italy to imitate the example thus set forth. The first Italian monks aimed at reproducing exactly what was done in Egypt and not a few — such as St. Jerome, Rufinus, Paula, Eustochium and the two Melanias — actually went to live in Egypt or Palestine as being better suited to monastic life than Italy. (Monasticism, Western)
Philip Schaff 1819-1893
[M]any have held, that monasticism also came from heathenism, and was an apostasy from apostolic Christianity, which Paul had plainly foretold in the Pastoral Epistles. But such a view can hardly be reconciled with the great place of this phenomenon in history; and would, furthermore, involve the entire ancient church, with its greatest and best representatives both east and west, its Athanasius, its Chrysostom, its Jerome, its Augustine, in the predicted apostasy from the faith. And no one will now hold, that these men, who all admired and commended the monastic life, were antichristian errorists, and that the few and almost exclusively negative opponents of that asceticism, as Jovinian, Helvidius, and Vigilantius, were the sole representatives of pure Christianity in the Nicene and next following age. (History of the Christian Church: Chap IV. 28 “The Rise and Progress of Monasticism”)
Athanasius, the guest, the disciple, and subsequently the biographer and eulogist of St. Anthony, brought the first intelligence of monasticism to the West, and astounded the civilized and effeminate Romans with two live representatives of the semi-barbarous desert-sanctity of Egypt, who accompanied him in his exile in 340. The one, Ammonius, was so abstracted from the world that he disdained to visit any of the wonders of the great city, except the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul; while the other, Isidore, attracted attention by his amiable simplicity. The phenomenon excited at first disgust and contempt, but soon admiration and imitation, especially among women, and among the decimated ranks of the ancient Roman nobility. The impression of the first visit was afterward strengthened by two other visits of Athanasius to Rome, and especially by his biography of Anthony, which immediately acquired the popularity and authority of a monastic gospel. Many went to Egypt and Palestine, to devote themselves there to the new mode of life; and for the sake of such, Jerome afterward translated the rule of Pachomius into Latin. Others founded cloisters in the neighborhood of Rome, or on the ruins of the ancient temples and the forum, and the frugal number of the heathen vestals was soon cast into the shade by whole hosts of Christian virgins. From Rome, monasticism gradually spread over all Italy and the isles of the Mediterranean, even to the rugged rocks of the Gorgon and the Capraja, where the hermits, in voluntary exile from the world, took the place of the criminals and political victims whom the justice or tyranny and jealousy of the emperors had been accustomed to banish thither. (ibid. Chap. IV.40)
Once there came to him a mother who was concerned about how she might arrange the best possible marriage for her young daughter. When she came to Saint Seraphim for advice, he said to her: “Before all else, ensure that he, whom your daughter chooses as her companion for life, keeps the fasts. If he does not, then he is not a Christian, whatever he may consider himself to be.” (From a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret, quoted in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, pub. Holy Trinity Monastery, Pg. xxxiii.)
Someone knocked at Jesus’ door, and Jesus asked, “Who is there?”
“It’s me, Your great ascetic!”
“You’re not ready; I’m not opening the door for you!”
The ascetic was worried: “I wonder why?” And he went again to the door and knocked.
“Who is there?” asked the Lord.
“It is you!”
“If you are Me, enter!” – That is to say, God gathers with those who are gods by grace.
So it is not permitted to knock at Christ’s door with stains, since any little sin is not small! If should not be understood that the struggle is to become perfect only in not committing sins! This is a little brash, and it is not the way of humility. You have to believe that the grace of God is helping you and that if you’re something it’s only by God’s grace. This is how I understood the words of St. Silouan, uttered to him by the Savior: “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not!” Our deeds can’t save us; therefore, we have reason for a continuous and authentic humility; not a rational humility, but a true humility. (The Orthodox Word No. 280, 2011 pg. 247)
As far as abstinence from food is concerned, the divine Logos did not prohibit the eating of anything, but said: ‘See, even as I have given you the green herb I have given you all things; eat, asking no questions; it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man’ (cf. Gen. 9:3; 1 Cor. 10:25; Matt. 15: 11). To abstain from food, then, should be a matter of our own choice and an ascetic labour. (On Asceticism and Stillness in the Solitary Life)
To be as the martyrs, or as the apostles, or as Christ, involves a hard struggle, but brings with it a great reward. All such efforts are only of use when they are made within the church’s pale; we must celebrate the passover in the one house, Exo. 12:46 we must enter the ark with Noah, 1 Pet. 3:20-21 we must take refuge from the fall of Jericho with the justified harlot, Rahab. James 2:25 (Letter 22.38)
I will relate what took place not very many years ago at Nitria. A brother, more thrifty than covetous, and ignorant that the Lord had been sold for thirty pieces of silver, Mat. 26:15 left behind him at his death a hundred pieces of money which he had earned by weaving linen. As there were about five thousand monks in the neighborhood, living in as many separate cells, a council was held as to what should be done. Some said that the coins should be distributed among the poor; others that they should be given to the church, while others were for sending them back to the relatives of the deceased. However, Macarius, Pambo, Isidore and the rest of those called fathers, speaking by the Spirit, decided that they should be interred with their owner, with the words:
Your money perish with you. Acts 8:20 Nor was this too harsh a decision; for so great fear has fallen upon all throughout Egypt, that it is now a crime to leave after one a single shilling. (Letter 22.33)
There are, in the Scriptures, countless divine answers condemning gluttony and approving simple food. But as fasting is not my present theme and an adequate discussion of it would require a treatise to itself, these few observations must suffice of the many which the subject suggests. By them you will understand why the first man, obeying his belly and not God, was cast down from paradise into this vale of tears; and why Satan used hunger to tempt the Lord Himself in the wilderness; Mat. 4:2-3 and why the apostle cries:
Meats for the belly and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them; 1 Cor. 6:13 and why he speaks of the self-indulgent as men
whose God is their belly. Phil. 3:19 For men invariably worship what they like best. Care must be taken, therefore, that abstinence may bring back to Paradise those whom satiety once drove out. (Letter 22.10)
Bodily fasting alone is not enough to bring about perfect self-restraint and true purity; it must be accompanied by contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil and manual labor. These are able to check the restless impulses of the soul and to recall it from its shameful fantasies. Humility of soul helps more than everything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin. In the first place, then, we must take the utmost care to guard the heart from base thoughts, for, according to the Lord, ‘out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, unchastity’ and so on (Matt.15:19).
We are told to fast not only to mortify our body, but also to keep our intellect watchful, so that it will not be obscured because of the amount of food we have eaten and thus be unable to guard its thoughts. We must not therefore expend all our effort in bodily fasting; we must also give attention to our thoughts and to spiritual meditation, since otherwise we will not be able to advance to the heights of true purity and chastity. As our Lord has said, we should ‘cleanse first the inside of the cup and plate, so that their outside may also be clean’ (Matt. 23:26).
If we are really eager, as the Apostle puts it, to ‘struggle lawfully’ and to ‘be crowned’ (2 Tim. 2:5) for overcoming the impure spirit of unchastity, we should not trust in our own strength arid ascetic practice, but in the help of our Master, God. No one ceases to be attacked by this demon until he truly believes that he will be healed and reach the heights of purity not through his own effort and labor, but through the aid and protection of God. For such a victory is beyond man’s natural powers. Indeed, he who has trampled down the pleasures and provocations of the flesh is in a certain sense outside the body. Thus, no one can soar to this high and heavenly prize of holiness on his own wings and learn to imitate the angels, unless the grace of God leads him upwards from this earthly mire. (On the Eight Vices)
The Ascetics are Orthodoxy’s only missionaries. Asceticism is her only missionary school. Orthodoxy is ascetic effort and it is life, and it is thus by effort and by life that her mission is broadcast and brought about. The development of asceticism…this ought to be the inward mission of our Church amongst our people. The parish must become an ascetic focal point. But this can only be achieved by an ascetic priest. Prayer and fasting, the Church-oriented life of the parish, a life of liturgy: Orthodoxy holds these as the primary ways of effecting rebirth in its people. The parish, the parish community, must be regenerated and in Christ-like and brotherly love must minister humbly to Him and to all people, meek and lowly and in a spirit of sacrifice and self-denial. And such service must be imbued and nourished by prayer and liturgical life. This much is ground-work and indispensible. But to this end there exists one prerequisite: that our bishops, priests, and our monks become ascetics themselves. That this might be, then: let us beseech the Lord. (Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ: The Inward Mission of Our Church pp. 30-31)
Saint James, Brother of Christ – d. ca. 62
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” Saint James 1:9-11
Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461
But there are three things which most belong to religious actions, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the exercising of which while every time is accepted, yet that ought to be more zealously observed, which we have received as hallowed by tradition from the apostles: even as this tenth month brings round again to us the opportunity when according to the ancient practice we may give more diligent heed to those three things of which I have spoken. For by prayer we seek to propitiate God, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time God’s image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to God’s image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains steadfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. On Wednesday and Friday therefore let us fast: and on Saturday let us keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, who will deign to aid our supplications and fast and alms with his own prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Sermon 12.4)
St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908
“One cannot eat and drink and smoke continually. One cannot turn human life into constant eating, drinking, and smoking (although there are men who do eat, drink, and smoke almost uninterruptedly); and thus the spirit of evil has turned life into smoking, and made the mouth, which ought to be employed in thanking and praising the Lord, into a smoking furnace. The less and lighter the food and drink you take, the lighter and more refined your spirit will become.” My Life in Christ, p.139
How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! In the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: “I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself! (St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 1)
People say that it is not a matter of importance if you eat meat during Lent, for Lent does not consist in food; that it is not a matter of importance if you wear costly, fine clothes, frequent theatres, evening parties, masquerades; if you provide yourself with expensive plate, china, furniture, costly equipages, spirited horses; if you amass and hoard money, etc. But what is it that turns away our heart from God, the Source of life; through what do we lose eternal life? Is it not through gluttony, through expensive dress, like the rich man in the Gospel! Is it not through theatres and masquerades? What is it that makes us hard-hearted to the poor, and even to our own relatives? Is it not our attachment to carnal pleasures in general, to our belly, to dress, plate, furniture, carriages, money, etc.? Can a man serve God and mammon; (Matthew 6:24) be a friend of God and a friend of the world, work for Christ and for the Devil? It is impossible. Through what did Adam and Eve lose Paradise, through what did they fall into sin and death? Was it not through food alone? Let us consider well what makes us careless about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dear; what makes us add one sin to another; what makes us fall continually into opposition against God, into a life of vanity. Is it not attachment to earthly things, and especially to earthly delights? What makes our heart gross ? What makes us become flesh, and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not attachment to food and drink and other earthly goods ? How after this can it be said that to eat meat during Lent is unimportant? To say so is nothing but pride, sophism, disobedience, want of submission to God, and estrangement from Him. My Life in Christ, p. 290, Jordanville 2000
St. Gregory of Nyssa A.D. 335-395
“Those, then, whose reasoning powers have never been exercised and who have never had a glimpse of the better way soon use up on gluttony in this fleshly life the dividend of good which their constitution can claim, and they reserve none of it for the after life; but those who by a discreet and sober-minded calculation economize the powers of living are afflicted by things painful to sense here, but they reserve their good for the succeeding life, and so their happier lot is lengthened out to last as long as that eternal life. This, in my opinion, is the gulf; which is not made by the parting of the earth, but by those decisions in this life which result in a separation into opposite characters. The man who has once chosen pleasure in this life, and has not cured his inconsiderateness by repentance, places the land of the good beyond his own reach; for he has dug against himself the yawning impassable abyss of a necessity that nothing can break through.” (On the Soul and Resurrection)
“If thou desirest to be one of the faithful, and to please the Lord, O wife, do not superadd ornaments to thy beauty, in order to please other men; neither affect to wear fine broidering, garments, or shoes, to entice those who are allured by such things. For although thou dost not these wicked things with design of sinning thyself, but only for the sake of ornament and beauty, yet wilt thou not so escape future punishment, as having compelled another to look so hard at thee as to lust after thee, and as not having taken care both to avoid sin thyself, and the affording scandal to others. But if thou yield thyself up, and commit the crime, thou art both guilty of thy own sin, and the cause of the ruin of the other’s soul also. Besides, when thou hast committed lewdness with one man, and beginnest to despair, thou wilt again turn away from thy duty, and follow others, and grow past feeling; as says the divine word: “When a wicked man comes into the depth of evil, he becomes a scorner, and then disgrace and reproach come upon him.” Prov. xviii. 3. For such a woman afterward being wounded, ensnares without restraint the souls of the foolish. Let us learn, therefore, how the divine word triumphs over such women, saying: “I hated a woman who is a snare and net to the heart of men worse than death; her hands are fetters.” Eccles. vii. 26. And in another passage: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is beauty in a wicked woman.” Prov. xi. 22. And again: “As a worm in wood, so does a wicked woman destroy her husband.” Prov. xii. 4 in LXX. And again: “It is better to dwell in the corner of the house-top, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” Prov. xxi. 9, 19 You, therefore, who are Christian women, do not imitate such as these. But thou who designest to be faithful to thine own husband, take care to please him alone. And when thou art in the streets, cover thy head; for by such a covering thou wilt avoid being viewed of idle persons. Do not paint thy face, which is God’s workmanship; for there is no part of thee which wants ornament, inasmuch as all things which God has made are very good. But the lascivious additional adorning of what is already good is an affront to the bounty of the Creator. Look downward when thou walkest abroad, veiling thyself as becomes women.”
A certain brother, seeing his [St. Seraphim of Sarov] ascetic life, asked him for his own edification: “Why don’t we, Father, lead a strict life as the ancient ascetics did?”
“Because,” replied the saint, “we have no determination to do so. If we had the determination, we should live as those Fathers did who, in olden times, shone with labours and piety; because God gives His grace and help to the faithful and to those who seek the Lord with all their heart now just as He did before. For according to the word of God, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever (Heb. 13:8). (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore pg. 427)
From the minute of his new life, the repentant sinner commences his podvig, struggle, and labor, and begins to bear the burden, the yoke. This is so essential that all the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work. On the contrary, lightness and ease are a sign of a false path, for the kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig [spiritual struggle], is in prelest [spiritual delusion]. The Apostle says: whoever does not endure is not a son. (Heb. 12:8) (The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation pg. 209)
St. Niphon of Constantia, 4th Century
“But in the last times those who truly will serve God will succeed in hiding themselves from men and will not perform in their midst signs and wonders as at the present time, but they will travel by a path of activity intermixed with humility, and in the Kingdom of Heaven they will be greater than the Fathers who have been glorified by signs. For at that time no one will perform before the eyes of men miracles which would inflame men and inspire them to strive with zeal for ascetic labors.” St. Niphon of Constantia, Cyprus, writing of St. Baranuphius the Great and John, Moscow, 1855, pp.654-55
Fasting is a good teacher: (1) It soon makes everybody who fasts understand that a man requires very little food and drink, and that in general we are greedy and eat a great deal more than is necessary– that is, than our nature requires. (2) Fasting clearly shows or discloses all the infirmities of our soul, all its weaknesses, deficiencies, sins, and passions; just as when muddy, standing water is beginning to be cleaned it shows what reptiles and what sort of dirt it contains. (3) It shows us all the necessity of turning to God with the whole heart, and of seeking His mercy, help, and salvation. (4) Fasting shows all the craftiness, cunning, and malice of the bodiless spirits, whom we have hitherto unwittingly served, and whose cunning, now that we are enlightened by the light of God’s grace, becomes clear, and who now maliciously persecute us for having left their ways.”
– St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ p. 314
“’A monk must love God as a son and fear him as a slave.’ says Evagrius. In fact, this is so of every Christian, even if he is not a monk. It is a great art to unite love for God to fear of Him. Many other of the Holy Fathers also, when they speak of love for God, speak at the same time of fear of Him- and vice versa…the greatest love towards God of which man is capable can be turned into pride if it is not accompanied by a sense of fear- and great fear without love leads to despair.” – St. Nikolai Velimirovic
“[I]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live” (Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391]). – John Chrysostom
The so-called “birth control” pill – shown above – is indeed an abortifacient. It actually performs an embryonic abortion. This has been proven by medical doctors across the world. Randy Alcorn has a short article on it here.
There is what some in the west call Natural Family Planing, which is perfectly ethical and godly. It has to do with identifying the signs of a woman’s fertility. Here is information on that.
Regarding how Chrysostom ties receiving inheritances to abortion, I would say that the same thing is happening in our day but from a different angle. Many couples now would rather NOT have children so that they can enjoy the inheritance of their culture – hobbies and luxury. There are legitimate reasons for not having children but I think that the “we cannot afford them” clause is grossly abused today. What I think many people mean to say when they refer to not affording children is that they cannot afford the lifestyle of their choice if they have children.
“The longer we remain without confessing, the worse it is for us, the more entangled we become in the bonds of sin, and therefore the more difficult it is to give an account.”
“He who is accustomed to give account of his life at confession here will not fear to give an answer at the terrible judgment-seat of Christ. It is for this purpose that the mild tribunal of penitence was here initiated, in order that we, being cleansed and amended through penitence here below, may give an answer without shame at the terrible judgment-seat of Christ.”
My Life in Christ: Part II, Holy Trinity Monastery pg.280
St. John Cassian 360-435
“All the corners of our heart must… be examined thoroughly and the marks of all that rise up into them must be investigated with the utmost wisdom. And all this must be done in case some beast of mind, some lion or serpent, has passed through and has left its dangerous hidden marks there, marks by which, as a result of the way we neglect our thoughts, a way into the sanctuary of our heart may be made available to others. Every hour and every moment working over the earth of our heart with the plough of Scripture, that is, with the memory of the Lord’s cross, we shall manage to destroy the lairs of the wild beasts within us and the hiding places of the venomous serpents.” Conferences, Conf. One sect. 22; Paulist Press pg. 57
Hence, brethren, if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending. By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility. And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled. For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder, and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb. (Rule of St. Benedict Chap. 7)
“Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.”
“He who chooses maltreatment and dishonor for the sake of truth is walking on the apostolic path; he has taken up the cross and is bound in chains (cf. Mt. 16:24; Acts 28:20). But when he tries to concentrate his attention on the heart without accepting these two, his intellect wanders from the path and he falls into the temptations and snares of the devil.”
The Philokalia Vol. 1
“Self-indulgence takes many forms. A man may be self-indulgent in speech, in touch, in sight. From self-indulgence a man comes to idle speech and worldly talk, to buffoonery and cracking indecent jokes. There is self-indulgence in touching without necessity, making mocking signs with the hands, pushing for a place, snatching up something for oneself, approaching someone else shamelessly. All these things come from not having the fear of God in the soul and from these a man comes little by little to perfect contempt.” Discourses and Sayings; Cistercian Publications pg.114
Silence is a mystery of the age to come, but words are instruments of this world. A faster endeavors to liken his soul to the nature of spiritual beings. Through silence and continual fasting a man sets himself apart so as to perservere in his divine labor within his hidden self. In these very mysteries the invisible hosts perform the liturgy that is filled with divine mysteries and the holiness of the Supreme Being Who rules the ages. Some of the saints set themselves apart in order to enter into the mysteries of God and were marked by this seal; some were entrusted with the governance of a strong people; others were entrusted to receive authority over the elements and by a great wonder the natures of created things were obedient to the command of their words; and some of them were entrusted to reveal hidden things, concealed in the secret silence of the Lord, for the renewing of those who are in the middle state. Indeed, it would not have been fitting that such mysteries should be administered by men whose belly is full and whose intellect is confused because of intemperance. The saints, however, did not dare to converse with God or raise themselves toward His hidden mysteries, unless their limbs were weak, their color pale by reason of gnawing hunger, and their intellect quiet in its perceptivity through renunciation of every earthly thought. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 65)
Afflications, illnesses, ill health and the pains that our bodies experience…are counted for the remission of our trespasses…[They are the] furnace in which we are purified.”
Homily on the Paralytic 2.
Saint Cyprian (200-258)
What makes us different from those who do not know God is that they grumble and complain about their misfortunes, whereas for us tribulation, far from turning us from true courage and authentic faith, fortifies us through suffering. Thus whether we are exhausted from the tearing of our innards, or a violent interior burning consumes us from the stomach to the throat, or our strength is constantly sapped because of vomiting, or our eyses are shot through with blood, or we are eaten by gangrene and forced to amputate a member of our body, or some infirmity suddenly deprives us of the use of our legs, our sight or our hearing: all of these afflictions are just so many opportunities to deepen our faith.
On Death 13-14
Saint Diadochus of Photike (400-486?)
AS long as the athlete in the realm of piety is at the mid-stage of spiritual experience, it is the infirmities of the body that lead him to develop humility.
One Hundred Chapters 95; cf. St. Nicetas Stehatos, Centuries I.87
Saint Nicetas Stethatos (1000-1090)
Illnesses are useful to those who are taking their first steps in the virtuous life. They help them exhaust and humble the burning desires of the flesh. For they weaken the vigor of the flesh and lessen the earthly temptations of the soul.
[When you are] afflicted by illness and agonies of the body, be vigilant over yourself and consider the multitude of remedies that the true Physician sends to you for the health of your inner man. God brings illness for the health of the soul. Ascetic Discourse 8
Saint John Chrysostom (347–407)
The physician is not only a physician when he orders baths, adequate nourishment, and when he orders the patient to walk through flower gardens, but also when he burns and cuts…Thus knowing that God loves us more than all the physicians combined, we need not worry nor have any need to ask him to justify the means he employs. Rather, whether he wants to be indulgent or severe, let us abandon ourselves to him. For by either of these means, his desire is always to save us and to unite us to himself. Homily on the Paralytic
Saint John Climacus (6th Century)
Properly speaking, afflictions are not evils; but they appear to be such in the eyes of those who are struck by them for their own good…In fact, however salutary iron and fire may be for treating a gangrenous wound, and however charitable the hand of the doctor may be who uses them, in the eyes of the patient their use in an evil. Every teaching seems bitter at the time to those it is intended to form, just as the apostle declares: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Conferences VI.3.
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390)
Let us respect the illness that accompanies sanctity and offer homage to those whose sufferings have led to victory; for it may be that among these ill persons there is hidden another Job.
When those who are rich in the Holy Spirit, really having the heavenly wealth and the fellowship of the Spirit in themselves, speak to any the word of truth…it is out of their own wealth and their own treasure, which they posess within themselves when they speak, and out of this that they gladden the souls of the hearers of the spiritual discourse…But one who is poor, and does not posses the wealth of Christ in his soul…even if he wishes to speak a word of truth and to gladden some of his hearers, yet not possessing within himself the Word of God in power and reality but only repeating from memory and borrowing words from various parts of the book of Scripture, or what he has heard from spiritual men, and relating and teaching this -see, he seems to gladden others…but after he has gone through it, each word goes back to the source from which it was taken, and he himself remains once more naked and poor…For this reason we should seek first from God with pain of heart and in faith, that he would grant us to find this wealth, the true treasure of Christ in our hearts, in the power and effectual working of the Spirit. In this way, first finding in ourselves the Lord to be our profit and salvation and eternal life, we may then profit others also, according to our strength and opportunity, drawing upon Christ, the treasure within.” (Spiritual Homilies of Saint Marcius the Great – Translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Someone asked Abba Agathon, ‘Which is better, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance?’ The old man replied, ‘Man is like a tree, bodily asceticism is the foliage, interior vigilance the fruit. According to that which is written, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire” (Mat. 3:10) it is clear that all our care should be directed towards the fruit, that is to say, guard the spirit; but it needs bodily protection and the embellishment of the foliage, which is bodily asceticism.’ (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Abba Agathon: 8)
And indeed that which I am about to say is wonderful, yea it is of those things which are very miraculous; yet not far from the truth, as you may be able to learn from the sacred writings. That great man Moses, when fasting, conversed with God, and received the law. The great and holy Elijah, when fasting, was thought worthy of divine visions, and at last was taken up like Him who ascended into heaven. And Daniel, when fasting, although a very young man, was entrusted with the mystery, and he alone understood the secret things of the king, and was thought worthy of divine visions. But because the length of the fast of these men was wonderful, and the days prolonged, let no man lightly fall into unbelief; but rather let him believe and know, that the contemplation of God, and the word which is from Him, suffice to nourish those who hear, and stand to them in place of all food. For the angels are no otherwise sustained than by beholding at all times the face of the Father, and of the Saviour who is in heaven. And thus Moses, as long as he talked with God, fasted indeed bodily, but was nourished by divine words. When he descended among men, and God had gone up from him, he suffered hunger like other men. For it is not said that he fasted longer than forty days— those in which he was conversing with God. And, generally, each one of the saints has been thought worthy of similar transcendent nourishment. (Festal Letter 1)
For what is so fitting for the feast, a turning from wickedness, and a pure conversation, and prayer offered without ceasing to God, with thanksgiving? Therefore let us, my brethren, looking forward to celebrate the eternal joy in heaven, keep the feast here also, rejoicing at all times, praying incessantly, and in everything giving thanks to the Lord. I give thanks to God, for those other wonders He has done, and for the various helps that have now been granted us, in that though He has chastened us sore, He did not deliver us over to death, but brought us from a distance even as from the ends of the earth, and has united us again with you. I have been mindful while I keep the feast, to give you also notice of the great feast of Easter, that so we may go up together, as it were, to Jerusalem, and eat the Passover, not separately but as in one house ; let us not as sodden in water, water down the word of God; neither let us, as having broken its bones, destroy the commands of the Gospel. But as roasted with fire, with bitterness, being fervent in spirit, in fastings and watchings, with lying on the ground, let us keep it with penitence and thanksgiving.
We begin the fast of forty days on the sixth day of Phamenoth; and having passed through that properly, with fasting and prayers, we may be able to attain to the holy day. For he who neglects to observe the fast of forty days, as one who rashly and impurely treads on holy things, cannot celebrate the Easter festival. Further, let us put one another in remembrance, and stimulate one another not to be negligent, and especially that we should fast those days, so that fasts may receive us in succession, and we may rightly bring the feast to a close. (Letters 19.8-9)
St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397
And what is the intention of the Scripture which teaches us that Peter fasted, and that the revelation concerning the baptism of Gentiles was made to him when fasting and praying, Acts 10:10 except to show that the Saints themselves advance when they fast. Finally, Moses received the Law when he was fasting; Exodus 34:28 and so Peter when fasting was taught the grace of the New Testament. Daniel too by virtue of his fast stopped the mouths of the lions and saw the events of future times. Daniel vi.-vii And what safety can there be for us unless we wash away our sins by fasting, since Scripture says that fasting and alms do away sin? Tobit 12:8-9
Who then are these new teachers who reject the merit of fasting? Is it not the voice of heathen who say,
Let us eat and drink? whom the Apostle well ridicules, when he says:
If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantages it me if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 1 Corinthians 15:32 That is to say, What profited me my contention even unto death, except that I might redeem my body? And it is redeemed in vain if there is no hope of the resurrection. And, consequently, if all hope of the resurrection is lost, let us eat and drink, let us not lose the enjoyment of things present, who have none of things to come. It is then for them to indulge in meats and drinks who hope for nothing after death.
Rightly then does the Apostle, arguing against these men, warn us that we be not shaken by such opinions, saying:
Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Be righteously sober and sin not, for some have no knowledge of God. 1 Corinthians 15:33 Sobriety, then, is good, for drunkenness is sin. (Epistle 63: 16-18)
all that is not of faith is sin Rom.14:23,the fasting of those will be unprofitable and vain, whom the father of lying deceives with his delusions, and who are not fed by Christ’s true flesh… Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on so great a promise, be heavenly not only in hope, but also in conduct. And though our minds must at all times be set on holiness of mind and body, yet now during these 40 days of fasting bestir yourselves to yet more active works of piety, not only in the distribution of alms, which are very effectual in attesting reform, but also in forgiving offenses, and in being merciful to those accused of wrongdoing, that the condition which God has laid down between Himself and us may not be against us when we pray. For when we say, in accordance with the Lord’s teaching,
Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors Matt. 6:12,we ought with the whole heart to carry out what we say. For then only will what we ask in the next clause come to pass, that we be not led into temptation and freed from all evils : through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Sermon 46)