Thursday, February 25, 2010

Self-Control is Important in Fasting






The challenge of a spiritual life is to gain self-control.  This is one of the requirements of fasting, so by participating in the fast we learn this all important skill for an Orthodox Way of LIfe.

Saint Gregory Palamas reminds this that this issue goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. 
Lack of self-control is actually an evil both ancient and modern, though it did not precede its antidote, fasting. By means of our forefathers' self-indulgence in paradise and their contempt for the fast already in existence there, death entered the world. Sin reigned and brought in the condemnation of our nature from Adam until Christ. 
 A lack of self-control led to the Great Flood, the destruction of Sodom, Esau's plight, and the death of Eli's sons.  Saint Gregory says,
The flood covered the whole earth because of the self-indulgence of Adam’s descendants in this world of ours and their disdain for the chastity which came before. In those days God said to Noah, "My Spirit shall not abide in these men, for they are flesh" (cf. Gen. 6:3 LXX). The deeds of those who are flesh are none other than unlimited eating, drunkenness, sensual pleasure and the evils that spring from them. Because of the abominable depravity and self-indulgence among the men of Sodom, fire fell on them from heaven (Gen. 19:24). "Behold", says the prophet Ezekiel, "this was the iniquity of the men of Sodom, in fulness of bread they committed abomination" (cf. Ezek. 16:49-50). By means of this abomination, ignoring human nature they fell into unnatural unions. What deprived Esau, Isaac's firstborn, of his birthright and his father's blessing? Of course it was lasciviousness and an unreasonable demand for food (Gen. 25:25-34; 26:34-35, Heb. 12:16). Why were Eli's sons condemned to death, and why did he meet a violent death at the news of the death of his children, whom he had not disciplined with proper care? Surely it was because they took the meat from the cauldrons before the time and used it (1 Sam. 2:12-17; 4:11, 17-18). Also, the whole Hebrew nation, while Moses was fasting on the mountain for their sake, were indulging themselves to their own detriment. They ate and drank and rose up to play, as the Scripture says (Exod. 32:6), and their sport was worshipping an idol, for it was then that the incidents surrounding the fashioning of the calf took place among them. 
The benefit of fasting is greater self0control which leads us to greater virtue.
Sensual pleasure causes ungodliness as well as sin, but fasting and self-control result in the fear of God as well as virtue. Fasting must be accompanied by self-control. Why? Because eating our fill, even of humble foods, is a hindrance to the purifying mourning, godly sorrow and contrition in our souls, which bring about unswerving repentance leading to salvation. For without a contrite heart we cannot really lay hold of repentance. It is the restriction of self-indulgence, sleep and the senses according to God's will that crushes our hearts and makes us mourn for our sins. 
When that rich man in the Gospel said to himself, "Eat, drink and be merry" (Luke 12:19), the wretch made himself fit for the eternal flames and unfit for this present life.
Saint Gregory gives us this final encouragement:
Let us, on the contrary, brethren, tell ourselves to be temperate, to fast, to keep watch, to be restrained, to be humble and to suffer hardship for our salvation. Then we shall finish this present life in a good way pleasing to God and inherit the blessed life without end. 
May we all attain to this by the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory, might, honor and worship, together with I lis Father without beginning and the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
From Homily Six - To Encourage Fasting  - Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, trans. Christopher Veniamin, Mount Thabor Publishing, Waymart PA, 2009 


More on fasting and the complete homily

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the posts on fasting. I struggle with this. I have so little self-control. I get grumpy when I'm hungry and come up with a thousand excuses to eat a non-fasting diet during Lent and on other feast days (ie: I'm grumpy because I'm hungry so I'm short-tempered with my family; therefore, it's better not to fast so I can be more patient with my 5-year-old). My husband is not Orthodox, so I use that as an excuse, as well. But, my son is beginning to ask questions about Lent and fasting. I know that, besides my need before God to keep the fast, I must set an example for my son. Lord, have mercy.

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  2. What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for this encouragement. Kali Sarakosti!

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