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March 5, 2010

Sermon for the Third Friday of Great Lent

CATECHESIS 61: That We Must Not Submit Ourselves in Temptations, and About Fasting.

by St. Theodore the Studite

Given on Friday of the 3rd Week.

Brethren and fathers, yesterday a tempest and today calm; yesterday a disturbance and today quiet; but blessed is God, who has also dispelled the trial and given you power to remain unmoved in the expectation of threats. This is the way of true Christians, this is the way of authentic monks, to hold themselves always in readiness in the face of dangers on behalf of virtue and to consider nothing more precious that the commandment of God. Those who came said what they said, and they left not so much amazed as ashamed; while to you may the Lord grant the perfect reward in return for your having chosen to be persecuted for his sake; and being rich in mercy he knows how to crown from the intention alone the one who chooses the good. But in fact the trial has not been dispelled, but again and again it continues, and particularly because everywhere there are edicts of the rulers that no one is to lag behind from having a share in heretical fellowship. And so let us hear the Apostle when he says, "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech be always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each one" [Col. 4:5-6]. By this he teaches us that we should not submit just anyhow to trials, nor should we pass God’s word over in silence, for he says, "My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who draws back" [Heb. 10:8; Hab. 2:4]. But that’s enough of these matters.

Already the fast has advanced and lays on us, brethren, the task of pressing on eagerly again and again to what follows as each has chosen, not reluctantly or under constraint; for "God loves a cheerful" faster [1 Cor. 9:7; St Paul, of course, has ‘giver’]. Except that the coenobitic rule does not let each one act according to their own will; but this is the common limit of self-mastery for those living in obedience: the cutting of their own will. Fasting then is good, because it tames the passions and subjects the flesh to the spirit; weeping is good, because it wipes clean and washes the heart of sins and sets it pure before the Lord; prayer is good, because it gives the mind wings and makes it a companion of God; love is good, because it disregards what concerns itself for the advantage of the neighbour; zeal is good, because it lightens toils and makes the spirit young, as it makes the elder young again. Therefore let us become cheerful, let us be eager. The moment for psalmody? Let us advance keenly. The moment for work? Let us work earnestly. The moment for stillness? Let us be still reasonably. The time for talk? Let us talk suitably. And to speak simply, doing "everything decently and in order"[1 Cor. 14:40], as we have been instructed; let us remain outside tumult and all idle chatter. Let the measure of genuflexions be completed and the customary recitation be fulfilled, according to each one’s power, while watch is kept over the body’s health. And would that the God of peace might bring us to the queen of days, to the resurrection of Christ, and make us worthy of the kingdom of heaven, where there is "no food and drink, but justice and peace and joy," as it is written, "in the Holy Spirit" [Rom. 14:17]. Would that we might share in them richly, 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.