… Meditate On These Things Philippians 4:8Commentary of the Sunday of Forgiveness and Fasting (abridged)
“For a soldier in battle, the first rule is not to surrender to the enemy. A lonely, hungry, cold and naked soldier will be greatly tempted to give himself up to the enemy. The cunning enemy will make use of his predicament in all possible ways. The enemy may himself be hungry, cold, ragged and naked, but he will, to show an illusion of the abundance that he has, throw the soldier a little bread and some piece of clothing.
Satan is constantly seeking men, right from the day when he deceived the first man. He seeks to draw Christ’s soldiers to himself with every possible delusion, luring him with false promises and showing him his illusory wealth. There is none hungrier than he, but he shows bread to the hungry, calling on them to surrender. There is none more naked than he, but he attracts men to the colors of his false and illusory clothing. There is none poorer than he, but he, like a magician at a fair, rubs two coins together and skillfully shows the onlookers the millions he seems to have. “He is a liar; and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and all his power and all his possessions have only an illusory existence. Pointing out to His followers all the devil’s deceits and weapons, the Lord Jesus showed them, by both word and deed, how to resist and with what weapons to fight.
Christ Himself is the main weapon for us His followers; His presence with us and His power within us are our chief weapons. But, apart from Christ’s own presence and power that are our main weapons in the battle against the evil spirit, the Lord Jesus, with His aid, has offered other sorts of weapons. These weapons are: constant repentance, constant almsgiving, constant prayer, constant joy in the Lord, fear of the Judgment, willing endurance of suffering for His sake with faith and hope, the forgiving of insults, looking on this world as it is as though it has no existence, partaking in His holy Mysteries, vigils and fasting.
When fasting is understood in a true, Christian sense it is not legalistic or pharisaic. There is very little value in abstaining from food without abstinence from [sin] and the illusion of earthly riches. The hypocrites are they who fast, not for the sake of God, nor for their own souls, but because of men, that men should see their fasting and praise them for it. They have indeed received their reward.
The most important regulation that we are given about fasting is that we do so for the sake of God and for the salvation of our soul. And this means: fast from all evil thoughts. Do the same with your tongue. Do the same with your heart. Do the same with the will of your soul. In other words: bridle and restrain your inner man, who is of priority and importance, from every evil, and incline him to everything that is good.
Keep your senses from everything that is superfluous and dangerous. Restrain your eyes from constantly wandering; restrain your ears from listening to anything that does not serve the soul’s salvation; restrain your nose; restrain your tongue and your stomach; restrain the whole of your body from becoming over-refined and demanding of you more than it needs for survival. This is fasting that leads to salvation. This is the fast that Christ recommends, a fast free of hypocrisy, a fast that drives out evil spirits and brings man a glorious victory and many fruits, both in this life and the next. How could a Christian not rejoice when he arms himself with this fasting against his soul’s most fearsome opponents?
So let us open our eyes while there is still time. Let us be firmly convinced that the final victory will belong to Christ, our King and Commander. Let us, then, hasten to take up the victorious weapon that He has offered us for the battle – the precious fast – the weapon that is, when rightly borne, fearsome and deadly to our enemy.
Let us refrain from excessive eating and drinking, so that our hearts do not fail us (Luke 21:26) and drown in corruption and darkness. Let us refrain from choosing earthly treasures, so that Satan may not separate us from Christ and suggest surrender to us. And when we fast, let us not fast for the praise of men but for our soul’s salvation and the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”