Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dialogue With an Athonite Elder on Fasting

Mount Athos…

A fragrant-smelled saint-walkled land. Strewn from end to end with the relics of the saints. A meeting place of the descendants of Adam with their forgotten Creator. Here man is trying, he is struggling. God is constantly being offered. The same with man. Athos is a Holy Altar, a place of sacrifice. You move forward and the soul breathes. Every meeting is a spiritual education. You throw your nets and fish for spiritual food from the seas of paradise.

Bless Elder.

"The Lord bless you, my joy."

Are you on Mount Athos for many years?

"I’ve been here for sixty years, but what is sixty years to God; it is a breath.

Elder, I would like you to tell me a few things about fasting.

"In order to say something you must experience it, you must live it. Only one who was born near the sea or is a seaman can speak of the sea. But I will be obedient to your will and tell you what the Fathers said who were friends of fasting."

Elder, is fasting the aim?

"Fasting is not the aim, but the means towards it. See, it was your aim to come to Mount Athos, it was your destination. The boat which brought you was the means by which you arrived. Such is fasting; it is one of the means given to us by the love of God to crave for Him. God is our destination."

When did fasting appear?

"Fasting is commingled with humanity. In Paradise it was given to man by God, says Basil the Great."

But why did God give fasting? To reduce man?

"No, in order to free him! The Sacred Chrysostom writes that when God created man He took him and placed him in the hands of fasting, which is an affectionate mother and excellent teacher. He entrusted it for his salvation. Though fasting is a teacher, it does not limit but it cultivates man."

Is fasting necessary, Elder?

"Chrysostom will again reply to you: ‘If fasting was necessary in Paradise, it is much more necessary outside of Paradise. If medicine was useful before an injury, it is much more useful after an injury.’ Do you understand?"


"Fasting was given in Paradise as a precaution to not fall. Since man fell it is given therapeutically."

Then what is the purpose of fasting?

"Fasting withers evil desires, says Saint Maximus the Confessor; and Saint Symeon the New Theologian says it softens our hearts. Through fasting every good work is accomplished and perfected, says Saint Gregory Palamas. For all these reasons Sacred Chrysostom confesses his love for fasting: ‘I love fasting, because it is the mother of wisdom and the well of philosophical acts.’"

How should we fast?

"Fasting is a means and spiritual tool which is not limited to food, but the entire man must participate in it psychosomatically. Listen to what John Chrysostom says: ‘Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of greed. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fish, but bite and devour our brothers?’"

How do we bite and devour our brothers?

"With slander and criticism, which proceed from the lack of love for our brother."

Thank you, Elder. You have benefited me much.

"May we thank God for enlightening our saints."

Your prayers.

"Go in goodness, and may the Grace of God cover you, the Panagia protect you, and the saints accompany you. And don’t forget that fasting is primarily to hunger for God!"

Love Of God ( Saint Herman of Alaska )

Once the Elder was invited on board a frigate that had come from St. Petersburg. The captain of the frigate was a man quite learned, highly educated; he had been sent to America by Imperial command to inspect all the colonies. With the captain were some 25 officers, likewise educated men. In this company there sat a desert-dwelling monk of small stature, in an old garment, who by his wise conversation brought all his listeners to such a state that they did not know how to answer him. The captain himself related: "We were speechless fools before him!"

Father Herman gave them all one common question: "What do you, gentlemen, love above all, and what would each of you wish for his happiness?" Diverse answers followed. One desired wealth, one glory, one a beautiful wife, one a fine ship which he should command, and so on in this fashion. "Is it not true," said Father Herman at this, "that all your various desires can be reduced to one - that each of you desires that which, in his understanding, he considers best and most worthy of love?" "Yes, it is so," they all replied. "Well, then, tell me," he continued, "can there be anything better, higher above everything, more surpassing everything and in general more worthy of love, than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who created us, perfectly adorned us, gave life to all, supports all, nourishes and loves all, who Himself is love and more excellent than all men? Should not a person then love God high above all and desire and seek Him more than all else?" All began to say: "Well, yes! That is understood! That speaks for itself!"

"And do you love God?" the Elder then asked. All replied: "Of course, we love God. How can one not love God?" "And I, sinful one, for more than forty years have been striving to love God, and cannot say that I perfectly love Him," answered Father Herman; then he began to show how a person should love God. "If we love someone," he said, "we always think of him, strive to please him, day and night our heart is occupied with this subject. Is it thus that you, gentlemen, love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always think of Him, do you always pray to Him, and fulfill His holy commandments?" It had to be acknowledged that they did not! "For our good, for our happiness," concluded the Elder, "at least let us make a promise to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment we shall strive to love God above all, and fulfill His holy will!" Behold what an intelligent, superb conversation Father Herman conducted in society; without doubt this conversation must have imprinted itself on the hearts of his listeners for their whole life!

Saint Herman of Alaska 

 (Yanovsky, in Life of Monk Herman of Valaam, 1868)

Finding spiritual peace ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

The spiritual world is gained by sorrows. The scriptures say: "We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Ps. 66:12). For those who desire to serve God the path lies through many sorrows. How can we praise the holy martyrs for the sufferings which they bore for God, when we cannot even bear a fever?

Nothing so aids the acquiring of internal peace as silence, and as much as is possible, continual discussion with oneself and rarely with others.

A sign of spiritual life is the immersion of a person within himself and the hidden workings within his heart.

This peace, as some priceless treasure, did our Lord Jesus Christ leave his followers before His death, saying, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (John 14:27). The apostle also spoke this about it: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7); "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

In this way, we must direct all our thoughts, desires and actions toward obtaining God’s peace, and always cry out with the Church: "Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us" (Is. 26:12).

It is necessary by all means to try to keep one’s spiritual peace, and not to become provoked by insults from others. To do this, it is necessary always to restrain oneself from anger, and by careful watch to guard the mind and heart from unclean waverings.

Insults from others must be borne without disturbance; one must train oneself to be of such a nature, that one can react to insults as if they did not refer to oneself. Such an exercise can bring serenity to our heart and make it a dwelling of God Himself.

We see an example of such a lack of malice in the life of St. Gregory the Miracle-Worker. A certain immoral woman demanded payment from him, purportedly for a sin committed with her. He, not in the least angry with her, humbly said to one of his friends: pay her the price which she demands, quickly. The woman became possessed as soon as she accepted the unrighteous payment. The bishop then prayed and exorcised the evil spirit from her.

If it is impossible not to become indignant, then at least restrain your tongue according to the words of the Psalmist: "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (Ps. 77:4).

In this instance we can take as examples for ourselves St. Spyridon of Tremifunt and St. Ephraim the Syrian. The first bore an insult when he entered the palace by the demand of the Greek emperor: one of the servants present in the emperor’s chamber, taking him for a beggar, laughed at him, did not allow him to enter the chamber and even struck him on the cheek. St. Spyridon, being without malice, turned the other cheek to him, according the word of the Lord (see Mt. 5:39). The Blessed Ephraim, living in the desert, was once deprived of food in the following fashion. His pupil, carrying the food, accidentally broke the vessel on the way. Blessed Ephraim, seeing the pupil downcast, said to him: "Do not grieve, brother. If the food did not want to come to us, then we will go to it." And so the monk went, sat next to the broken vessel, and, gathering the food together, ate it. He was thus without malice!

In order to keep spiritual peace, it is necessary to chase dejection away from oneself, and to try to have a joyful spirit, according to the words of the most wise Sirach: "Sorrow has killed many, but there is no good in it" (Sir. 30:25).

In order to keep spiritual peace it is also necessary to avoid judging others in any way. Condescension towards your neighbor and silence protect spiritual peace. When a person is in such an state, then he receives Godly revelations.

In order not to lapse into judgment of others, it is necessary to be mindful of oneself, to refuse to receive any bad information from anyone and to be as if dead to others.

For the protection of spiritual peace it is necessary to enter into oneself more often and ask: Where am I? In addition, it is necessary to watch that the physical senses, especially sight, serve the inner person, not diverting the soul with mortal items, because the gifts of grace are received only by those who have inner workings and keep watch over their souls.

St. Seraphim of Sarov