What The Fathers Have To Say About Fasting
Father Antonious Henein
Note: Many of the following sayings and quotations deal with forgiveness of others and reconciliation with them. This is because Lent is a sacrifice offered to our Lord, and since He ordered us before offering a sacrifice to: "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Mt 5:24) This is also why the Church chose the reading of Mt 6:14 for the Pre-Lent Sunday, where it says: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
Some Quotations from
Ancient Liturgical Lenten Hymns:
"The grace of abstinence has shone forth, banishing the darkness of demons. The power of the Fast disciplines our minds. Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness. Daniel and the three children in Babylon were strengthened by fasting; one stopped the mouths of lions, while the others extinguished the flames of the furnace. As Thou saved them, save us also, O Christ our God, for Thou art the Lover of mankind."
"Before the time of the saving Cross, sin ruled over all the earth, impiety prevailed, people reveled in the pleasures of the flesh. But since the Mystery of the Cross was accomplished and the torture of demons was destroyed by the knowledge of God, the heavenly life of virtue has reigned upon the earth. Therefore the Fast is honored! Abstinence shines in splendor! Prayer is strengthened! The Lenten season testifies to these things, given to us by our God, the crucified Christ, for the salvation of our souls."
"The door of divine repentance has been opened. Let us enter with fervor, having cleansed our bodies, observing abstinence from foods and passions in obedience to Christ Who has called the whole world to His heavenly kingdom, offering to the Master of all this tithe of the year, that we may look with love upon His Holy Resurrection."
"The Grace of the Lord has shone forth, the grace which illumines our souls. This is the acceptable time; the time of repentance is here. Let us put aside the works of darkness; let us put on the armor of light, that passing through Lent as through a great sea we may reach the third-day Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls."
"Let us enter the Fast with joy, O faithful. Let us not be sad. Let us cleanse our faces with the waters of dispassion, blessing and exalting Christ forever."
"Let us begin the Fast with joy. Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts. Let us cleanse our souls. Let us cleanse our flesh. Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods, taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit and accomplishing them in love that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy."
"O come ye faithful, let us work the works of God in light. Let us walk honestly as in the day, let us cast away from ourselves every unjust writing against our neighbor, and not put a stumbling block as an occasion for his falling on the way. Let us put away the pleasures of the flesh; let us increase the graces of our souls; let us give bread to those in need; let us draw near to Christ in penitence, crying out: 'Have mercy on us, O our God!' "
"Why are you idle, O my soul? And why do you dedicate yourself to sin? Why are you weak and not come to the Physician? Now is the fruitful time, and now is the real day of salvation. Arise! Wash yourself in the tears of repentance and enlighten your lamp with the oil of good works, that you may obtain from God forgiveness and great mercy."
"Soul, in vain do you rejoice in not eating! For you abstain from food, but you are not purified of passions. If you are not purified of passions, if you have no desire for improvement, you will be spurned as an untruth in the eyes of God. You will be likened to evil demons who also never eat! If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast; Therefore, engage in constant striving so that you may stand before the Crucified Savior, or rather, may be Crucified with Him Who was crucified for your sake."
"A Lenten spring has come, the light of repentance...Let us receive the proclamation of Lent with joy! For if our forefather Adam had kept the fast, we would not have been deprived of Paradise..."
Some Sayings by St. John
"...we need to practice all the divine laws alike, and more especially that which bids us to consider no man as an enemy, nor retain resentment long, but forthwith to be reconciled."
"If you forgive few things, He forgives you few! If you forgive many things, He forgives you many!"
"Let us not procrastinate till tomorrow. For we 'know not what the next day may bring forth,' nor let us say, 'we shall conquer this habit little by little,' since this little and little will never come to an end."
"To you He has given charge simply to pray for the one who has injured you; but how to deal with him, He has ordered you to leave for Himself."
"If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you."
"For nothing so fills the mind with impurity, as anger remaining constantly within."
"How can you ask your Lord to be mild and merciful to you, when you have been so hard and unforgiving to your fellow-man."
"This do with regard to your brethren; when you see them cut off from your friendship, make all haste to recover them."
"We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil."
"The spirit of meekness settles not where wrath or passion exists."
"The making an enemy a friend, will render God propitious and favorable towards us, and will easily set us free from our sins."
"Has your neighbor wronged you and grieved you. ...Yield the matter to God, and He will dispose of it much better than you can desire."
"Have you been wronged much and robbed and slandered and injured in matter of the first importance; and do you wish to see your enemy punished? Yet even for this, it will be of use to you to pardon him."
"For where there is enmity and strife, there can be neither fast nor festival."
"Lo! I forewarn and testify and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear…Let no one who has an enemy draw near the Sacred Table, or receive the Lord's Body."
"At length the season moves towards the Lent of the Great Fast, and therefore, we ought the more earnestly devote ourselves to holiness."
"Let our enemy too understand that we have taken much pain, in order to do what is well-pleasing to God."
"For if the work be laborious, reflect that it is for God's sake you undergo all this, and you shall receive sufficient consolation."
"It is not said merely, forego wrath; but retain it not in your mind; think not of it; part with all your resentment."
"Let no one rest merely on the fast; while continuing unreformed in evil practices."
"God bids us to do all things...and all things should be secondary to His commands."
Some Sayings by St. John
of the Ladder:
"Gag your mind, over busy with its private concerns, and thoroughly prone to criticize and condemn your brother, by the practical means of showing your neighbor all love and sympathy."
"Be zealous within your soul, without showing it in the least, either by visible sign or word, or by hint. And you will only do this when you stop looking down on your neighbor."
"Curb your tongue with rages to leap into arguments. Seventy times seven in the day wrestle with this tyrant."
Some Sayings by St.
Basil the Great:
"Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting."
The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian:
"O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, 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 errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen."
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