February 26, 2011

St. Theodore the Studite: Friday of Meatfare

By St. Theodore the Studite

On Self-Mastery and Our Present Confession

Delivered On Friday of Meat Week

Brethren and fathers, most people call the present days ‘feasts’, because they get drunk and debauched during them, not understanding that these days demand abstinence from meat, not indulgence in drunkenness and intoxication. That is proper to a pagan feast; it is the business of Christians to exercise self-control ‘and not to satisfy the desires of the flesh’,[2] as the Apostle teaches. Nevertheless evil has progressed into law and leads the world as it wishes. But let us, brethren, flee intemperance even in partaking of things that are permitted, for we know that intemperance is the mother of sin. For our forefather Adam, as long as he abstained from the forbidden food in Paradise, rejoiced and was made glad by divine visions and filled with divine revelations; but when he acted intemperately and partook of the tree of disobedience, he was at once exiled from the delight of Paradise and intemperance for him became the begetter of death. So too the inhabitants of Sodom behaved wantonly ‘with food in abundance’,[3] and drew down upon themselves the anger of God and were overwhelmed with fire and brimstone. So too Esau the hated, entrapped by gluttonous eyes, exchanged his birth right for a meal.[4] ‘But the people of God sat down to eat and drink, and arose to play’.[5] These are the sort of things that are going on during these days; for revels and inebriation, shouting and demonic leapings require not only the day but most of the night as well. So intemperance is an evil, and through it death entered the world. But we should give thanks to God, brethren loved by the Lord, because he has rescued us from such empty behaviour and transferred us to this blessed life, in which there is not intemperance, but moderation; not drunkenness, but vigilance; not disturbance, but peace; not hubbub, but tranquillity; not abuse, but thanksgiving; not wantonness, but purity, holiness and temperance. From this it was that our inspired fathers sprang up,[6] who with God trampled down the passions, expelled demons, rivalled angels, performed signs from God, attained heavenly glory, were a cause of wonder in the world. One of them was the blessed Antony, whose life we have been reading; and we have learnt how God magnified him in this world under heaven, so that the kings of the earth thought it important to write to him and to hear from him a written voice.

And so we too, humble wretches, follow their way of life; and that we imitate it our monastic profession bears witness, our denial of the world, estrangement from fatherland, race, friends and intimates, our subjection, our obedience, this present confession, for which we have also been persecuted. Accordingly, let us rejoice and congratulate one another that we have been given these gifts of grace by God, and that we are leading a spiritual life, in which it is always open to us to keep festival every day, should we so wish, and to rejoice with unlimited[7] joy. Therefore I beg you, let us hold mightily to our ascetic practice and this confession, for a word has gone out that the Mighty[8] is keeping an eye on our affairs and doubtless a royal official will suddenly arrive.[9] But don’t be scared at what has been said. ‘If God is on our side, who is against us?’[10] And if he helped us in the past, how would he not help in the future? Only let us stand nobly, only let us attend[11] without faltering, and he himself will give power to all who lead to the end a life that is well-pleasing to him to gain the kingdom of heaven in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be the glory and the power with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] This Instruction is suggested for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son by the current Slavonic Triodion from Moscow, which only gives Catecheses for the Sundays of these weeks.

[2] Rom. 13:14.

[3] Ezekiel 16.49.

[4] Cf. Genesis 25:29-34 and Mal. 1: Esau I hate.

[5] Exod. 32:6.

[6] The verb anatello means to ‘rise up’, sometimes of the sun, at others of plants, and is used metaphorically of people with either image understood. In this passage the idea of plants is the one of which St Theodore is thinking.

[7] This adjective, amuretos, is not in the lexica. The Greek editor suggests, ‘incorruptible’, ‘unending’, though he gives no reasons.

[8] That is to say the Emperor. St Theodore plays on the words ‘mightily’, krataios, and ‘mighty’, kraton.

[9] This echoes the troparion from the Midnight Office, ‘The Judge will come suddenly and the deeds of each will be laid bare’. St Theodore implies that it is not only the just Judge who arrives suddenly.

[10] Romans 8:31.

[11] St Theodore in these two clauses deliberately echoes the deacon’s invitation at the beginning of the anaphora. Hence my somewhat unidiomatic translation of prosechomen. The present subjunctive of continuous action here contrasts neatly with the aorist of immediate action in the Liturgy.