February 21, 2010

Sermon for the First Sunday of Great Lent (St. Theodore the Studite)

Catechesis 56: On Not Being Stretched Beyond our Power in Our Works of Zeal for God and About Nourishing the Soul with Spiritual Speculations

By Saint Theodore the Studite

Given on the First Sunday, which was not yet the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Brethren and fathers, since every beginning is difficult, the first fruits of the fast corresponding to the change of diet and of works of zeal produce a certain difficulty and roughness; but with persistence and practice it is soothed and softened; this is why it is written, "No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of justice to those who have been trained by it".

And so let us too, who have been allowed to traverse the first week of the fast, become more enthusiastic for the future through experience, knowing that enthusiasm strengthens both soul and body, making what is heavy light and what is difficult easy. The opposite is true: idleness makes what is light heavy and what is easy difficult. However let us not strive beyond our power in our works of zeal, but with our spiritual father keep a watch over our bodily health also. For what use is there in walking too hard from the start and falling down more quickly, rather than attentively keeping in view the extent of the dwelling. But since the day with exertion is accustomed to produce despondency, let us sustain the soul with good pursuits and spiritual thoughts, not with those of a worldly sort, in which are emptiness, confusion, wretchedness and bitterness, but in ones in which are sweetness and joy. "I remembered God," it says, "and I was glad." Our mind then should be on God, on heavenly sights, on the beauties of Paradise, on the everlasting dwellings, on the regime there, where the souls of the just and of sinners are now, on how the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will be, "in which", according to the sacred saying, "the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up"; then how each soul is going to take again its yoke-fellow the body, what a gathering that will be of every human from Adam to the final consummation, how great and fearful and more dazzling than the rays of the sun will be the face of Christ, what his voice that we shall hear, and last, what will be the final state of the just who are admitted into the kingdom of heaven and of the sinners who are sent away to eternal punishments.

These, brethren, are the things that we should be caring about and thinking about, with which we should be occupied, since we live out of the world, and since we have our home in heaven and our lives have nothing in common with those who live according to the world; with these it is possible to be moved to compunction, to weep and to be enlightened, both to lead a life of peace here and to have hope of attaining the eternal good things to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.