Catechetical Letter

 

FIFTH WEEK of the GREAT FAST

Today’s Saints: Sts. Theodolus & Agathopodes  +  Ven. Plato Studite  +  Ven. Theodora

April 05, 2006

 

Notes on the Great Fast

 

Is Fasting a Good Idea?

 

The question with which we’re often greeted by non-Orthodox observing our abstinence during the Great Fast is more or less whether fasting is a good idea. To such questions, we really have nothing to say in any language that would make sense while their presuppositions are presumed intact. First of all, Holy Orthodoxy does not submit itself to external tests of rightness or wrongness; there is no reference standard apart from Holy Orthodoxy by which it can be evaluated or judged. “Truth”, as C.S. Lewis has said, “is its own justification.” References to fasting as healthy, etc., first of all reduce fasting to a decontextualized cultural phenomenon that can be studied sociologically, such that attempts to evaluate it from without mean not objectivity, as Vladimir Lossky observes, but failure to understand. Some things can only be understood objectively from within. Secondly, these justifying attempts pander to notions of an external source of validation imposed upon Orthodoxy by an external culture, in which Orthodoxy, it is incorrectly presumed, is situated. ‘This is Orthodoxy,’ we must say. It is reality. It is subject to no other criteria and is impossible to scrutinize from outside.

 

Idolatry, Murder, & Witchcraft

 

There is only one sin, that of despising anyone. – a desert father

 

Rage is idolatry. When I rage, I play God. Rage is delusion. The raging person treats his own dissatisfaction not only as another’s crime, but a crime of such magnitude as to cease to see another person as valuable. In fact, in rage, one ceases to see the other person as a person, and so really ceases to see the other person at all. Rage is blindness. It blinds me even to myself and to all other things, leaving me in a room of shadows. Rage is the exaltation of my convenience and comfort to the most important thing in life, the interference with that as the greatest crime, and the Violator of this presumed ‘divine’ law as the ultimate criminal. It is then a form of human sacrifice on the altar of my own ego. Rage is satanic murder. When I rage, I am guilty of blood in my own name, and all blood is innocent by comparison.

 

Anger is murder. Anger is the loss of vision of another person as a person. It is therefore an abandonment of the angry person’s own humanity. To become angry is to become bestial, killing wildly and indiscriminately, affirming and making me responsible for the death of all mankind and so of the death of all things. St. John Cassian explains that there is no righteous anger either; to become angry is to be possessed of the passions and lose any pretense to righteousness. It is casting off the likeness of God, and repelling the Holy Spirit. In anger I become simply wrong, no matter what the perceived cause. I must say then with the Centurion, “By my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.” If I fall into anger, I must recognize it as a fall, and must not let the sun go down upon my anger. I must realize the rift between myself and God that is wrought by anger, and leave my gift at the altar, and go and be reconciled to my sibling, which every person is, owning the wrong, and not accusing him, but taking the responsibility. I must do this, even if the other person is not Orthodox, and must not fail to do it because someone is close to me and presumably should understand and tolerate my faults. There can be no blaming the victim for murder, no excusing the murderer because he knew or did not know the victim.

 

Defiance is witchcraft. To defy what is right, or rebel against those exercising rightful authority over me, or thumb my nose at those to whom I must submit, even when that submission is mutual, is false religion. I commit false religion when I rebel, and defiance makes my religious actions a mockery. For this reason, the Lord would not suffer Saul, who could not rule himself, being a subject of his own passions, to be the Lord’s anointed to rule over Israel. The prophet Samuel said to King Saul that “To obey is better than sacrifice,” but that the Lord had rejected Saul as King “for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” To the degree that I might rightly expect others to submit to me, to yield to me, to prefer me, unworthy as I am, I must rule myself and submit to others, yielding to and preferring them whom I must see as more worthy than I. Anything less is illegitimate, and is false power, the kind of power that amounts to witchcraft – the raw power of my will and influence over others. It is the magic of dominance, which has no part with Him who does not overcome my will, though He created it.

 

When I struggle with these faults, I must pray for help. I must not give way to these passions, but actively fight against them. I must not let them wash over me and rule me and control my life. We were not meant to be slaves to so crude an aberration. I am a pawn of the enemy and slaves of death if I do not overcome, conquer, subdue these passions, and live in synergy with Christ. Salvation, as St. Seraphim says, is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. I must not defy, quench, and repel Him with rage, anger, or defiance. I am set free in Him.

 

We must each defy Death, repel the Enemy; conquer ourselves, in triumph over the passions, destroying the power of the Serpent who led us in the garden. We must freely choose the grace of the Trinity. When we feel the temptation to justify ourselves, we must realize this is the path of blindness and deafness. If we feel the temptation to shift blame, we must realize we are about to be lost and turn back again to the Lord. When we are lured by the notion that this is ‘normal’ or ‘only human’, we are about to fall into heresy, denying the Incarnation, and must quickly turn to Christ who became man, so that our minds are not darkened.

 

The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian: O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.  But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.  Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages.  Amen.

 

The Constant Awareness of Saints

 

It is easy to think of the Saints as distant, as inhabiting another time, or a kind of special world. This can feel as though it exempts us from the call to be Saints, but we are each, individually called to that, and the Lord, the angels, and all the Saints have that expectation of us. If the Saints were truly distance, we could not model ourselves after them, or pray to them, or hope to be saved by their prayers. If they inhabited some other world, we would not venerate their relics. Christ is the ultimate example of this, He who made the world inhabited it, and He whom man did not know, made Himself man and lives as man so that men might live as Saints. To mention a few: St. Seraphim is a man, and St. Raphael of Brooklyn likewise one of us, and St Alexis Toth ate and drank with us also. And along with many others we venerate, who know us better than we know them, and pray for us, there are countless of the glorified whose names we do not know. We are meant to be Saints along with all of these, along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the angels. This is entirely within the realm of possibility. Let us strive to become glorified. The Saints have lain out for us the way, as Christ has. Let us find ourselves within their company, their disciples, striving to become them, their next generation. And let us not cause others to falter, because it is the will of God that these too be glorified.

 

Fasting in Holy Week

Orthodox Church in America

On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week [of the Great Fast]. On Holy Thursday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e., olive oil). On Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset, or at any rate not until after the veneration of the [Epitaphion] at Vespers. On Holy Saturday there is in principle no meal, since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of St. Basil the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.

 

More at: www.oca.org/OCFasting.asp

 

Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God. -- St. Isaac of Syria

 

PRAYERS IN HOMES

 

Sunday Vesperal Prayers:

Saturdays 6—8pm

* 8th: A or Mis

* 15th: Lazarus Saturday

 

Sunday Hours: 9-11am

* 9th: Of St. Mary of Egypt

* 16th: Palm Sunday

 

CALENDAR

Holy Week This Year:

16 Palm Sunday

Matins (PM) of the Bridegroom

17 Great & Holy Monday

Hours and Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, Matins (PM) of the Bridegroom

18 Great & Holy Tuesday

Hours and Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, Matins (PM) of the Bridegroom

19 Great & Holy Wednesday

Hours and Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, The Mystery of Holy Unction

20 Great & Holy Thursday

Washing of Feet, Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil the Great,

Matins (PM) with 12 Passion Gospels

21 Great & Holy Friday   +

12 Passion Gospels & Royal Hours (read night before), Royal Hours, Vespers & Epitaphios Service, Matins & Burial Service

22 Great and Holy Saturday

Lamentations and Acts of the Apostles, Paschal Vigil & Liturgy

23 The Glorious Resurrection

of Christ, the Pascha of the Lord

 

 

Fish

 +   Complete Fast

 

 

 

Let all of us who wish to attract the Lord to ourselves draw near to Him as disciples to the Master, simply, without hypocrisy, without duplicity or guile, not out of idle curiosity. He Himself is simple and not composite, and He wants souls that come to Him to be simple and guileless. For you will surely never see simplicity bereft of humility. -- St. John Climacus, from The Ladder of Divine Ascent

 

 

 

Hold faith and humility fast within you; for through them you will find mercy, help, and words spoken by God in the heart, along with a protector who stands beside you both secretly and manifestly. Do you wish to obtain these things, which are a fountain of life? From the very onset take hold of simplicity. Walk before God in simplicity and not with knowledge. Simplicity is attended by faith; but subtle and intricate deliberations, by conceit; and conceit is attended by separation from God. – from The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian.

 

 

A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you'll seek God and with simplicity you'll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heavens gate with ease. -- Elder Amphilochios Makris

 

 

 

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If you should think of me, in my unworthiness, pray Christ have mercy and save me.

– the unworthy