18 November 2006

The Nativity Fast--An Instruction

The Byzantine Nativity Fast began last Wednesday (15 Nov); the Nativity Fast for Western Rite Christians begins on Advent Sunday (3 Dec). Like all fasts, the Nativity fast is designed "given for us to grow, not to crush us." So states Fr Matthew Jackson in an instructive post on fasting.

I concur with the good priest's analysis that this is the heart of the matter:
The purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. We don’t fast because it pleases God if His children don’t eat, "the devil never eats" (Lenten Triodion). We don’t fast in order to afflict ourselves with suffering and pain, that doesn’t make God happy. Neither do we fast with the idea that our hunger and thirst can somehow serve as a "reparation" for our sins. This understanding is never given in the Scriptures or the writings of the Saints which claim that there is no "reparation" for man's sin but the crucifixion of Christ. Salvation is a "free gift of God" which no "works" of man can accomplish or merit. We fast, therefore, and must fast, only to be delivered from carnal passions, to be delivered from our bondage to sin and to our own desires. We fast to make ourselves receptive to the operation of grace in our lives. So that we can become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
I commend to you the entire message.

5 comments:

oratiomom said...

Thank you for linking to the entire post.

----Not only in fasting, but in prayer, in following the commandments of Christ, we’re allowing our nous to be healed. In doing the things God asks, in focusing on trying to follow His will and trying to draw closer to Him, our ability to see Him begins to be healed. This is one of the most important aspects of fasting—by rejecting our will, by following the will of another, and by striving to love God, we begin to heal our nous. As we become more like God, we gain the ability to truly see Him, because the part of our soul that’s made to see God is being healed.----

Is that the Orthodox belief of Divinization? I have just begun reading -Introducing the Orthodox Church- (as in have 'just' begun and some ideas are very new to me! Thank you for your blog!

priestmatthewjackson said...

Firstly, thank you for the kind words about the post. To address oratiomom's question--yes, this is basically the Orthodox doctrine of theosis/divinization/deification. By God's grace, He allows us to participate in all that He is (but in doing so, we are never confused with God--we always remain ourselves). But to do this means that we must be like Him! So we're healed by purifying the nous of all earthly passions, and then we're able to see and truly know God. The Orthodox understanding of knowledge is experience--and to know and experience God, we must be like Him and able to percieve Him.

FredricJEinstein said...

If I may respectfully contradict Fr. Jackson on one point. In his sermon on fasting, he does not stress clearly enough the concept of "we fast because our Father in Heaven commands us to fast and nothing more".

What Fr. Jackson stresses in his sermon are the REWARDS that our God graciously grants to us by our following His commandment, not the REASON for fasting.

God (and I include the entire Trinity -- the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit in His teachings to the Holy Catholic Church through the councils and the teachings of the Church Fathers) commanded fasting, so we do it. We fast not for the rewards that are promised to us but ONLY because we are God's Church and we do what the Lord commands us to do.

We don't achieve closeness to, and a deeper understanding of the Heavenly Kingdom by "taking fasting upon ourselves" (indicating that it's some merit of ourselves), we do it because God created the world and mankind to follow His commandments and we, as members of His chosen race are duty-bound to perform His commandments.

I thank God for the rewards and manifold kindnesses that He bestows undeservingly upon us. If He chooses to reward me for following the commandment of fasting, I am like an excited child receiving a treat from my father. If not, I still must fast because that's what my Father commands me to do.

priestmatthewjackson said...

Quoted from the post on fasting...

"The command for the Christian Church to fast comes directly from Christ. In the Old Testament, there were prescribed fasts. So we can see that God has always required fasting from His people...And Christ’s response is that when He is gone, His disciples will fast. He doesn’t leave it as a choice, He says that they will fast. In another place Christ says that some forms of evil cannot be overcome without prayer and fasting. So we can see that Christ expects fasting from His Body..."

And I would clarify that the cleansing of the nous and the mastry over the passions are not viewed as REWARD that we somehow earn--whatever God gives He does in His mercy. But in His dispensation He has provided fasting, by His command, that has a purpose. The commands of God are set--but are not without reason. Thank God for the wisdom of the Fathers, who can unpack more of the glory of God's way for man.

fredricjeinstein--this is not to contradict or argue, simply to clarify. From your post, we certainly have differing views on multiple aspects of theology-I just want what I am saying to be properly understood.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The flip side of it, Frederick, is that God, Who is pure Love, requires nothing of us for His own benefit (as if He had anything to gain from us) but the very reason He commands us to do anything is for *our* benefit -- you might say to reap the reward of doing it.

"Reward" is not the best way of putting it. If I go to aerobics class faithfully, it's not that the instructor rewards me by assigning a certain weight loss to my account. Nor does she award me a lower blood pressure or stronger heart.

Anastasia