Orthodoxy & the period of Great Lent

The period of Great Lent is a period
to prepare for the Feast of feast – Pascha,
in which we re-clothe ourselves like
at the moment of our Baptism in Christ.
That’s why the Church calls us
to prepare ourselves by prayer and fasting.

The teaching of fasting and prayer seems
strangely out of place in our time.
Fasting is connected to sports, to get a restored body good-looking to others, instead of a method
to come near to our [inner Christian] principles.
Even most Christians have lost the habit of prayer and fasting
and most of our young believers are never well-educated to fast.
This is a catastrophe that saddens our Lord, Who is always waiting
for our coming-home.

For when we were in the flesh,
the motions of sins, which were by the law,
did work in our members
to bring forth fruit unto death
“.
Rom.7: 5

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting,
you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself ?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58: 1-5

Fasting helps us reduce and conquer
the longings and requests of the flesh.
The body makes a wonderful servant, but a very poor master.
Fasting brings the carnal nature into
subjection so that the body becomes the servant
and the Spirit becomes the master.
We have to fast to control the flesh.

For I know that in me [that is, in my flesh]
dwells no good thing:
for to will is present with me;
but how to perform that
which is good I find not
“.
Rom.7: 18

God is disappointed because He knows that prayer and fasting
make us powerful in the spirit; the adversary delights
because without the Power of the Holy Spirit [Grace]
we are unable to offer him resistance.
Why have the mainstream of believers have abandoned
the practice of prayer and fasting?
Some of the believers have abandoned prayer and fasting
because they didn’t seem to be getting
the domino effects they were looking for.
They expected cash on the nail [dutch: butter with the fish] as real commercials;
They positioned the problem to God.
It’s not our attitude that we first look to ourselves,
it’s more easy to empty the blame on the other side.
When we pray and fast and do not experience a breakthrough, we are not used to blame ourselves.
We don’t ask ourselves:
Is there something in your life that needs to be dealt with?
Maybe our motives for fasting are wrong!

As children of God, we have to know the will of God for our lives.
Many countries in East & West are founded upon Godly principles.
Despite the infiltration of immorality and debauchery into the very heart of modern culture, a majority of people is still very religious.
We want to see positive changes in our society,
but we seem to do it in the wrong way.

“They ask me for just decisions
and seem ready for God to come near them
“.
Isaiah 58: 2
The people in the time of Isaiah also asked
– why God was not hearing their prayers;
– why God was producing no visible results
after their prayers and fasting.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Isaiah 58: 3

These people thought they were serving God.
They thought they were believing His Word.
They were continuing their religious traditions
and working for social justice in their days.
Yet, when they quoted the promises and exercises their Faith, nothing happened.

The answer God gave them may surprise even our Russian or Greek Christians:
Yet on the day of your fasting,
you do as you please
and exploit all your workers“.
Isaiah 58: 3

If the people of Isaiah’s days were getting nowhere spiritually
because they were pleasure seekers, we are really in trouble in our times.
A great percentage of our time, our effort and our money
are now spent for things that bring us pleasure.
To most of us nothing is more important than our jobs
– nothing else than related to our jobs and the gathering of
over-luxury-income, more, more, and more only to consume.
We have more important things to do than prayer and fasting;
fasting is simply not in the schedule.
There is no time for it.

If God is not answering our prayers, something is wrong.
Our approach is wrong; our perception of God is wrong.
If we really put God first, He will never fail to put us first.
But if we put Him third, He is not owing a favour to us first;
he is not obligated to answer our very impulse and fancy.
If having fun is more important to us than having God’s favour on our lives,
there is not much hope for our spiritual future.
If our jobs and the results of it are more important to us than doing the will of God,
we are serious in trouble.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
“.
Isaiah 58: 4
Those who fasted actually had an evil purpose in doing so;
[collecting money or an admired dignified look of the bystanders].
God declared that this was not the fast He had chosen.
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58: 5

Prayer and fasting is not for the purpose of showing off.
It’s very a very personal act performed unto God, not to men.
The fast which God has chosen is very different.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter . . . . .
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58: 6-7

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You want something but don’t get it.
You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.
You quarrel and fight.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get
on your pleasures.
James 4: 1-3

Fasting is not a tool to twist the arm of God
so that He will give you exactly what you want.
Fasting has a spiritual resolve, and that resolution is
to get your flesh out of the way
so that the Spirit of God [Grace] can enter into your life.
Fasting removes the barriers to communication with God
and allows the spirit man to commune directly
with the Heavenly Father – without any disruption.
When a person makes a determination to fast,
he is making a determination to remove obstacles in his life
to total submission to the Will of God.
No wonder that the adversary [the Satan]
is strong-minded to destroy this practice!
The adversary [the Satan] wants you to be poor,
to give free rein to your appetites . . . . .
until he consumes you.
The food-industry, the illegal drug industry
and the entertainment industry have much in common. They are all connected to the run-away appetites of our society.
Much of the poverty of our backlog neighbourhoods [ghettos] and their social projects are a direct result of this almost total loss of control.
Most of us who live comfortable in the prosperous nations have problems
with prayer and fasting because everything around us is designed
to charm to our flesh and its carnal desires.

But when we seek the Face of God through prayer and fasting, we push the flesh aside, denying the appetites the control they seek over us,
and allow our spirit man, who desires God,
to develop a strong relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Man is a triune being made up of body, soul and spirit.
It’s the spirit that came from God and longs to be
re-united with Him, as our Father.
When we give our spirit the opportunity he will reach out to God.
God will say: “reach out, I will be there” [a popular hit in my youth from the Bee Gees];
and we will communicate with Him.
These three parts of a person, however, strive [play progress] for influence.
Your spirit can influence your soul and your soul can influence your flesh.
If you are accustomed spiritually with God, your soul has no choice but to delight in the decisions of
your spiritual life.
Your flesh submits to the authority of your soul.
When the angel Gabriël appeared to the Theotokos, she reoonded immediately:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
Luc.1: 46-47
               If your soul is magnifying the Lord, your flesh will bow in submission.
If your flesh has risen to authority in your life, however,
it will struggle with your spirit for dominance,
and the soul will obey the lusts of the flesh.
Fasting sets your spirit free to worship and serve God.
Fasting enables you to break the hold of the flesh
and brings your appetites into control.
It places you in submission to the Holy Spirit of God.
When this happens, you get answers to your prayers.

February 15th – Saint Anthimos of Chios [† 1960]

Saint Anthimos, who in the world was
known as Argyrios K. Vagianos, was born on July 1, 1869
to devout peasants, Konstantinos and Argyra, in
Chios in the region of Saint Lucas Leivadion.
He left elementary school early to become a shoe mender.
At the age of nineteen he visited the Skete of the Holy Fathers founded by the monk Pachomios, who
had been the spiritual counselor of Saint Nektarios.
With the blessing of the elder, Anthimos returned home and
built himself a small hut and dwelt in it.
His only help in his spiritual contests was  an icon of
the Mother of God given to him by his mother later
known as Panagia Voithia [the Helper], which soon
began to work miracles, drawing many to his hermitage.

He had returned home to relieve the suffering of
his parents and help the poor of his village as well.
After a time he retired to the Skete, and
it was here that he became a monk and
took the name Anthimos given by Elder Pachomios.
He fell ill there and his abbot sent him home to
his parents for the sake of his health.
At home, despite the fact that he was caring for his aged parents and practicing his shoe mender’s trade,
he continued to live as a monk, spending nights on end in prayer and sometimes living only on bread and water for extended periods.
He took his inspiration reading about the lives of the great ascetics, and in this way he was able to conquer every assault of the devil.

Increasing numbers of visitors came to his hermitage and wonder-working icon of the Theotokos, and
in 1909, at the age of forty, he received the Great Schema by the successor of Pachomios,
Hieromonk Andronikos.
The people of Chios wanted him to be ordained to the priesthood, but his bishop refused due to
the Saint’s lack of education.
At the prompting of Anthimos’ godfather,
the Bishop of Smyrna ordained him instead in 1910.
After a pilgrimage to Mount Athos in 1911, he returned to Chios, where he became chaplain to a leper hospital.
Soon the hospital, which had fallen into corruption,
became a spiritual center, as much like a monastery as                                                                a hospital.
Saint Anthimos tended many of the sickest with his own hands,
working many miracles of healing;
some of his recovered patients became monks or nuns
– such as Venerable Nikephoros the Blind.

With the notorious ‘Exchange of Populations’ of 1922-1924, refugees poured into Chios, many of them destitute nuns and girls.
In response to a vision of the Mother of God,
Saint Anthimos built a monastery in 1930, which opened with thirty nuns and grew rapidly, despite the opposition of many who
said that setting up such a community was out of date.
The Monastery of Panagia Voithia, as it came to be known, soon
housed eighty nuns and was known throughout Greece as
a model of monastic life.
Father Anthimos served as priest to the nuns, and
continued to receive the many faithful — often sixty or seventy per day — who
came to him for prayer or counsel.
He carried on this ministry for more than thirty years,
working many miracles of healing.
When he was too old to work with his hands,
he retired to his cell and prayed that
he be enabled to serve his neighbour until his last breath.

On January 27, 1960 Saint Anthimos celebrated his final Divine Liturgy.
He reposed in peace at the age of ninety-one on February 15th,
mourned and revered by the whole island of Chios.
The remains of Saint Anthimos are in the church inside of
the monastery he founded and still work miracles along with
the holy icon of Panagia Voithia.
He was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on August 13, 1992.

Orthodoxy & the inner interchanges

Heavenly King,
the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere and fills all things;
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life
– come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls, O Good One“.
Prayer to Holy Spirit

Prayer
“… prayer … actualizes our ascent to and
union with the Deity…
when our prayer, through its fervent compunction, transcends the passions and conceptual thoughts; for the intellect,
while still passion-dominated, cannot be united to God.
Thus so long as the intellect when praying remains in a passion-charged state,
it will not obtain mercy; but to the extent that it can dispel distractive thoughts it will experience inward grief, and in so far as it experiences such grief
it will partake of God’s mercy.
And if with humility it continues to savour this mercy
it will transform entirely the aspect of the soul that it accessible to passion

Saint Gregory Palamas – On Prayer and Purity of Heart

Keep your heart with all vigilance;
for from it flow the spring of life
“[Prov. 4: 23].

For from within, out of the heart of man,
come evil thoughts
“[Marc.7: 21].

So shun youthful passions and aim at
righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along
with those who call upon the Lord
from a pure heart
“[2Tim. 2:22].

In its biblical concept, the heart is the source of all the potentiality of the spiritual and physical life: “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the spring of life“. Prov. 4: 23
This applies not only to good potentialities but to evil ones as well: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander“. Matth.15: 19
So the heart has become the expression of the final condition of man, whether he be good or evil: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil“[Luc.6:45].
This means that the inclinations of the inmost heart set the tone of the whole man – they colour his thoughts, his words, and his deeds.
Man’s speech thus inevitably betrays the nature of his heart: “For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks“[Luc.6: 45].
So man’s words usually testify to the state
of his heart.
They can justify him or condemn him:
For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned“. [Matth.12: 37]
The relationship between one’s heart
and one’s lips is defined by the Apostle Paul as follows: “For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved“[Rom.10: 10]. So when the heart believes, the lips must confess what kind of faith is in the heart.

However, the Bible tells us that it is possible for
two kinds of hearts to exist side by side in man,
one expressing his true nature and another falsifying his thoughts, words and deeds.
In the latter case, a person talks of good deeds and actually does them to give people the false impression that he is virtuous, while in fact he is wicked:
You brood of vipers! How can you speak of good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks“.
Matth.12: 34
From the words of the Lord, we learn that it is impossible for man to speak good words out of himself while being wicked. Good words coming from an evil source could only occur with the help of an auxiliary power – or of another heart implanted by the devil to mimic good deeds. We can infer this from the way our Lord describes those who counterfeit good deeds as a “brood of vipers“.
The viper is a symbolical expression of the devil. Here the intention behind showing off virtue is to safeguard evil and guarantee its lasting effect – which is the very work of the devil. The devil’s work, with regard of the heart, is not merely confined to contaminating it with evil desires. It is not just that he makes the devil treasured up in the heart produce evil. He even adds to this the possibility of giving man another heart from which he can speak gilded words. This he does to keep the evil intent and make sure that it is carried out.
As for God’s work concerning the heart, it is the complete removal of the evil heart and the creation of a new one that he implants into man. Thus, when man’s heart is transformed into a new heart, man of necessity is turned into another man:
Then the Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy with them and be turned into another man . . .  When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart“.
1Sam.10: 6,9
In the Bible, the good News, the reality of creating a new heart for man goes hand in hand with three basic actions:
1.] contrition of the sinner’s heart;
2.] man’s complete cleansing or purging from within; and
3.] the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
These three actions we find most clearly expressed in Psalm 50 of the Prophet David:

Have mercy upon me, o God, according to Your steadfast Love;
According to Your abundance Mercy blot out my transgressions.
wash me thoroughly from my iniquity . . .

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,
and I shall be whiter than snow . . .
Create in me a clean heart. O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence, and
take not Your Holy Spirit from me . . .
A broken and contrite heart, o God, You will not despise”.

However, the creation of a new heart for a person in the Old Commitment [O.T.] was an exceptional and individual case. In the New Commitment [N.T.], the act became universal, not merely to create a new heart, but for creating a whole new man.
We find these three actions implied in the Mystery of Baptism. We find within it the image of cleansing and inward purging: “[He] cleaned their hearts by Faith“[Acts 15: 9]. This takes place during the burial in water in the Name of Christ. However, cleansing and purging cannot happen except through contrition of heart. It calls for genuine repentance a complete ˂-turn from sin. It is on account of this that forgiveness is granted; “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“[Acts 2: 38]. That is, by thorough cleansing and purging through Faith and Repentance, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. It has thus become possible for every man to obtain the new creation and the new heart – by water and the Spirit, through Faith and Repentance.

However, purification of the heart through faith and repentance is one thing, but the acceptance of a heart newly created and purified by the Holy Spirit is another.
There is a crucial distinction between the two.
Purification of the heart is a necessary and vital activity in which we should be intimately involved.
But the creation of a new and a pure heart is an action that transcends our nature and belongs to God alone. God’s work should be adjoined to our own.
To the extent that we purify our own hearts from evil by faith and repentance, we become able to embrace the new heart created within us in God’s image.
In other words, insofar as we hate wickedness, are distressed by evil passions and thoughts, and abhor acts of sin, we become able to embrace the power of holiness.
This power dwells in us as a new nature, with the activity of divine love and the promptings, or intimations, of righteousness. Not only that, but as we strive to purify our hearts from the darkness of sin, which blinds our spiritual sight, we become able to face the truth, letting it live within us and penetrate to the very roots of our being. In other words, the more we can emerge in the power of the new, divine man: “Seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after te image of the creator“[Col.3: 9,10].
We thus enter the sphere of ascetical theology.
Ascetical theology makes out man’s labor and struggle, which are sustained by Grace, an essential basis for the gifts of God.
Such gifts, however, transcend human action and nature.
The ascetic fathers in general set purification of the heart as a vital basis for Salvation.
It qualifies us for the revealing of the new man, that we may live in the newness of live as spiritual men in Christ.

In its patristic concept, the heart, [η χαρδια], is identical with its biblical concept.
The fathers of the Church consider the “heart” in its spiritual and patristic sense corresponds to what medical jargon calls the brain.
This is true both of its characteristics
and its activity.
It may even be more than that.
It is the centre of faculties, talents, intelligence, insight, volition, wisdom, vision – all of which emanate from it and pour into it:
In the same way the heart has a captain in the mind, the conscience, which tests the thoughts that accuse and defend
Saint Macarios, the Great [In the fifty Homilies; 43-7] – Intoxicated with God.
In the same homily, Saint Macarios describes the heart as a “workshop of justice, righteousness, unrighteousness“. He also says that though the heart may be the meeting place of all evils,
it may be a meeting place for God and His Angels:
And when Grace gives pasture to the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts“.
For there in the heart, the mind abides as well all the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes.
This is how Grace penetrates throughout
all parts of the body [Spiritual Homily 15-20].

From this, we infer that the Fathers of the Church
see Grace pervading all our faculties: the mind, the will, the conscience, and the physical members of the body.
But all this depends on Grace
reigning first and foremost over the heart.
In other words, if Grace reigns over a person’s heart,
it changes its very nature
the result is a new spiritual nature.
This is where the value of the purification of the heart [received by Baptism]
is clearly shown; it is a preparation
for the indwelling of Grace.
Saint Macarios the Great insists that the evil heart contaminates the will.
It corrupts the natural inclinations and instincts of a man. Without his knowing of, everything that such a person sees and touches becomes impure for him:
So, on the contray, as many as a sons of darkness, sin has control over their heart and infiltrates into all his members.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts“[Matth.15: 19].
And thus diffused throughout sin covers man with darkness . . . Just as water runs through a pipe, so also sin runs through the heart and the thoughts.
All those who deny these statements are refuted end ridiculed by sin itself, which is always intent on victory.
For evil tries to hide itself end remain undetected in man’s mind [Macarios the great Homily 15-21].

Hence, first among man’s struggles and concerns is to purify his heart.
His endeavour is to overcome the deviations of the will and to correct the inclinations and instincs that have been subjected to the rule of evil.
This means that he has to confront the tendency of his heart toward evil activity.
He has to bridle it, curb it and finally destroy this tendency.
In his fifteenth homily, Saint Macarios describes the heart as “The place of Christ in which He retires” . He also describes it as “the Captain [who] rules and directs all the sailors“. Also, “it is like a chariot.
The reins, horses, and the whole apparatus are under one driver. When he wishes, he drives the chariot at high speed. When he wants, he stops it. Wherever he wishes to steer the chariot, there it goed. For the whole chariot is under the power of the driver. So also the heart
“.
Saint Macarios thus expresses the crucial rule of the heart as a captain of the ship of our life. It is the driver of the chariot that our bodies pull. If the captain is ignorant or foolish, what will become of the ship?  Or, if the driver is careless or crazy, what will the end of the chariot and its horses be?
If the house is impure how can the King dwell or rest in it?

Mattá al-Miskīn – Orthodox Prayer Life: “The Inner Way“.