The joy of fasting.

Homily 587 – 1 GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 24, 2024
Epistle – (329-ctr) – Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
Gospel – (5) – John 1:43-51

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

During this time of Great Lent, we are asked by the Church to deny ourselves of things that provide us pleasure.  We are also asked to examine, in some detail, where we are spiritually and even physically, and to go to confession to seek the healing and change which is from God.

And the inevitable questions that arise – why are we subjecting ourselves to this?  Why aren’t we doing something differently?

Which, put another way, is that we say, “That rule makes no sense.  It defies logic.  Therefore, I conclude that I should do something different.”

To answer that question, we should turn to the book of Genesis, chapter 3, and look at what happens when we ask why, and derive the answer from our own logic:  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Human logic is not the same as God’s logic.  We don’t know God’s logic.  We only know one thing about God’s logic – it is given to us as instructions out of His unfathomable Love for us.  It is our logic that leads to death and destruction.

In verse 17 of the same chapter, God tells Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you.”  Not because of God’s will, not because of God’s logic – because of ours.

I tell you this to say that many of our struggles with fasting, and with self-denial and asceticism, could be minimized if we quit fighting and questioning and just accepted what is given to us.

To take it even further, St. Basil in his first homily on fasting tells us to approach fasting not with gloom, but with joy!  Joy because we are being healed!  He says, “It is absurd not to rejoice in the soul’s health, and rather to sorrow over the change in food and to appear to favor the pleasure of the stomach over the care of the soul.”

And yet, we face fasting and self-denial with a dread and foreboding sadness.  Why is that?  Isn’t it because we don’t prioritize, or even consider, the state of our soul?  We are so desensitized to our soul that we only value that which is part of our bodies.  Our bodies – which will die and return to the dust.

We feed that which will die, because it is necessary.  We take that need for food and convert it to pleasure, which is a feeling of our fallen selves.  We convert a need into a vice.  All of which passes away.

Fasting allows us the opportunity to see food for what it is – fuel for what passes away.  St. Basil goes further:  “Now if all were to take fasting as the counselor for their actions, nothing would prevent a profound peace from spreading throughout the entire world. Nations would not rise up against one another, nor would armies clash in battle. If fasting prevailed, weapons would not be wrought, courts of justice would not be erected, people would not live in prisons, nor would there ever be any criminals in the deserts, any slanderers in the cities, or any pirates on the sea.”

Amazing, right?  If fasting were the norm, the saint says, “nothing can prevent us from passing our life in profound peace and tranquility of soul.”  And that, brothers and sisters, is what we pray for in this life.  Not to be entertained, nor to have our bellies full, nor to offer ourselves pleasure and comfort.  But to have what is greater, immensely greater, than all of those things.  The presence of God with us.  Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is exactly why St. Paul tells of those in the Old Testament who refused to allow their desire for comfort and pleasure overcome their desire for God’s presence.  And they are all here with us now – and in every place, and always.  Praying for us, encouraging us, supporting us.

So what does all this have to do with our self-examination?

First, we want to ensure that our priority is not pleasure and comfort, but God’s presence.  We have to decide – and we decide day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment.  We have to decide to follow what God tells us and lay aside all earthly care.  This means we don’t think about the necessities of life, because the necessities of life are of the earthly life, not the heavenly one.  God knows what we need, and will provide our needs, in conjunction with our effort – our labor.

What we need may not be tasty, nor appear beautiful to the eyes.  It will be what sustains us, within our mortal flesh.

Once we decide that, we need to look at no one other than Christ.  We can’t examine or notice our neighbor, as that is deceptive.  Who compares themselves to one who is sick in order to be healed?  The fact that my cancer is less advanced than someone else’s doesn’t provide me any insight for my health.  The fact that my broken bone is a hairline fracture while others have a compound fracture doesn’t mitigate my need for treatment.

St. Gennadius of Constantinople writes, “To judge sins is the business of one who is sinless, but who is sinless except God? Who ever thinks about the multitude of his own sins in his heart never wants to make the sins of others a topic of conversation. To judge a man who has gone astray is a sign of pride, and God resists the proud. On the other hand, one who every hour prepares himself to give answer for his own sins will not quickly lift up his head to examine the mistakes of others.”

So we cannot even look at anyone or anything to compare ourselves other than Christ.  We have the canons of the Church which tell us what a Christian life looks like.  We have the 10 words from Mt. Sinai to tell us what our life should be.  We have the Beatitudes, the blessings, of Christ to offer what we should strive for.

We have to keep our full attention on Christ, and not be distracted by our neighbor.  Or those we see on television or in the media.

Keeping our full attention on Christ is what it means to follow Him.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.