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March 2, 2015

St. John of Kronstadt on Fasting

By St. John of Kronstadt

- To what end do fasting and penitence lead? For what purpose is this trouble taken? They lead to the cleansing of the soul from sins, to peace of heart, to union with God; they fill us with devotion and sonship, and give us boldness before God. There are, indeed, very important reasons for fasting and for confession from the whole heart. There shall be an inestimable reward given for conscientious labour.

- By feeding largely, one becomes a carnal man, having no spirit, or soulless flesh; while by fasting, one attracts the Holy Spirit and becomes spiritual. When cotton is not wetted with water it is light, and if in a small quantity flies up in the air; but if it is wetted, it becomes heavy and at once falls to the ground. It is the same with the soul. O, how important it is to preserve it by fasting!

- Fasting is a good teacher: (1) It soon makes everybody who fasts understand that a man requires very little food and drink, and that in general we are greedy and eat a great deal more than is necessary — that is, than our nature requires. (2) Fasting clearly shows or discloses all the infirmities of our soul, all its weaknesses, deficiencies, sins, and passions; just as when muddy, standing water is beginning to be cleaned it shows what reptiles and what sort of dirt it contains. (3) It shows us all the necessity of turning to God with the whole heart, and of seeking His mercy, help, and salvation. (4) Fasting shows all the craftiness, cunning, and malice of the bodiless spirits, whom we have hitherto unwittingly served, and whose cunning, now that we are enlightened by the light of God's grace, becomes clear, and who now maliciously persecute us for having left their ways.

- Man is dear to the Lord, the whole world is obedient to him. The Son of God Himself came down from heaven on earth to save him from everlasting torments, to reconcile him with God. All fruits, the various flesh of animals, were given to him for food, and various drinks were given to him to please his taste — but not to excite his passions, not for his only enjoyment, for the Christian has great, spiritual, Divine enjoyments. Carnal delights must be always made subject to these higher ones; they must be restrained or completely suppressed when they hinder spiritual delights. This signifies that it is not to afflict man that food and drink are temporarily forbidden him by the Church, not to limit his freedom, as worldly people say, but it is done in order to afford him true, lasting, and eternal delights; therefore meat or flesh food, and wine and spirits, are forbidden (during Lent), specially by reason of the fact that man is very dear to God, and in order that his heart should cling to God alone, and not to anything perishable, unworthy of him. But man, perverted by sins, easily attaches himself to earthly pleasures, forgetting that his true enjoyment, his true life, is the eternal God, and not the pleasant excitation of the flesh.

- The incorporeal enemy enters the heart of man through satiety and drunkenness — this can be felt by anyone who is observant. This is the reason why, with the growth of drunkenness, the inclination to drunkenness increases so terribly (because the power of the enemy over the man increases) — this is why you notice in drunkards a power involuntarily drawing them to satisfy their passion or their inward craving for wine. The enemy is in the hearts of these unhappy people. How can the demon of drunkenness be driven out? By prayer and fasting. The enemy enters the hearts of men because they have given themselves up to a carnal mode of life — to gluttony, and because they do not pray. It is, therefore, natural that he can be driven out from them by opposite means — that is, by prayer and fasting.

- Lord! as it is natural to the Prototype to attach, to assimilate to Itself Its images, to abide and to live in them, so, likewise, it ought to be natural to those who are created after Thine image to yearn with all their love, with all their ardour, after their Prototype, and to attach themselves to It. But our greedy, sensual flesh, gross and inert, withdraws us from Thee. Fasting and abstinence are necessary for us whilst we crave after sensual gratifications. Strengthen us in abstinence.

- This very flesh which we cherish, rest, gratify, and adorn so much, is — the enemy of our soul, a very crafty and dangerous enemy; it continually resists the love of God, the will of God, the commandments of God, and longs to fulfil its own will, and nearly always succeeds in doing so; unless the Lord God, in His merciful and wise providence for our salvation, opposes a powerful obstacle to this. We must ever crucify this flesh with its passions and lusts, and not cherish it; we must mortify it by fasting, by watchfulness, prayer, work; and exercise the soul by reading the Word of God, by pious meditation and prayer.

- Begin to fulfil the commandments relating to small things, and you will come to fulfil the commandments relating to great things: small things everywhere lead to great ones. Begin by fulfilling the commandment of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, or the tenth commandment relating to evil thoughts and desires, and you will eventually learn to fulfil all the commandments. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." [72]

- Moses' fast was for the intemperance of the Israelites. The sufferings of the saints were for our effeminacy; their fasts and privations for our intemperance and luxury; their fervent prayers are for us who are so slothful in prayer. The fast of our Lord Jesus Christ was for our intemperance. His hands were stretched out on the cross for our hands stretched out towards the forbidden tree and to everything forbidden by the commandments of God.

- People say that it is not a matter of importance if you eat meat during Lent, for Lent does not consist in food; that it is not a matter of importance if you wear costly, fine clothes, frequent theatres, evening parties, masquerades; if you provide yourself with expensive plate, china, furniture, costly equipages, spirited horses; if you amass and hoard money, and so forth. But what is it that turns away our heart from God, the Source of life; through what do we lose eternal life? Is it not through gluttony, through expensive dress, like the rich man in the Gospel! Is it not through theatres and masquerades? What is it that makes us hard-hearted to the poor, and even to our own relatives? Is it not our attachment to carnal pleasures in general, to our belly, to dress, plate, furniture, carriages, money, and so forth.? Can a man serve God and mammon; [706] be a friend of God and a friend of the world, work for Christ and for the Devil ? It is impossible. Through what did Adam and Eve lose Paradise, through what did they fall into sin and death? Was it not through food alone? Let us consider well what makes us careless about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dear; what makes us add one sin to another; what makes us fall continually into opposition against God, into a life of vanity. Is it not attachment to earthly things, and especially to earthly delights? What makes our heart gross ? What makes us become flesh, and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not attachment to food and drink and other earthly goods ? How after this can it be said that to eat meat during Lent is unimportant? To say so is nothing but pride, sophism, disobedience, want of submission to God, and estrangement from Him.

- Those who reject fasting forget from what the falling into sin of the first men proceeded (from intemperance), and what means against sin and temptation were indicated to us by the Saviour, when He Himself was tempted in the desert (He fasted forty days and nights); they do not know, or do not wish to know, that a man most frequently falls away from God through intemperance, as was the case with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and with Noah's contemporaries — for intemperance is the cause of every sin in men; those who reject fasting take away from themselves and from others the arms against their flesh, with its manifold passions, and against the Devil, both of which are especially powerful against us through our intemperance; therefore they are not soldiers of Christ, for they throw down their arms and give themselves up willingly as prisoners to their sensual and sin-loving flesh; lastly, they are blind and do not see the connection between the causes and the consequences of acts.

- I thank my all holy, all merciful, and most wise Mother, the Church of God, for salutarily guiding me during this temporal life, and for educating me for the heavenly citizenship; I thank her for all the offices of prayers, for the Divine services, for the sacraments and rites; I thank her for the fasts so beneficial to me both in spiritual and bodily respects (for through them I am healthy both in spirit and body, calm, vigilant, and light; without the fasts I should feel extreme heaviness, which I indeed experienced when not fasting);

- If you see a drunken man, say in your heart: "Lord, look mercifully upon Thy servant, allured by the flattery of the belly and by carnal merriment; make him understand the sweetness of temperance and fasting, and of the fruit of the spirit arising therefrom." When you see a man passionately fond of eating, and finding all his happiness in this, say: "Lord, Thou art our sweetest Food, that never perishes, but leads us unto life eternal! Purify Thy servant from the filthiness of gluttony, so carnal and so far from Thy Spirit, and grant that he may know the sweetness of Thy Life-giving, spiritual food, which is Thy Flesh and Blood, and Thy holy, living, and acting word.

- The enemy is in the hearts of these unhappy people. How can the demon of drunkenness be driven out? By prayer and fasting. The enemy enters the hearts of men because they have given themselves up to a carnal mode of life — to gluttony, and because they do not pray. It is, therefore, natural that he can be driven out from them by opposite means — that is, by prayer and fasting.

- The carnal man considers the Christian's freedom as slavery; for instance, attending Divine service, fasting, preparation for the Sacrament, confession, communion, all the Sacraments, and does not know that all this is a requirement of his nature, a necessity for his spirit.

- "We sing the angelic hymn to Thee, O Mighty One! Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God! Through the Mother of God have mercy upon us." [349] You thus praise God together with the angels. [350] You are one assembly, one church, one family of God's with them by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore you ought also to live like the angels, in constant watchfulness over yourself and the souls of the spiritual children entrusted to your care. You must unceasingly praise and thank the Lord; you must be always striving after holiness; you must live in abstinence and fasting, in all humble-mindedness, obedience, and patience. May it be thus with you, by the Lord's grace!

- But our greedy, sensual flesh, gross and inert, withdraws us from Thee. Fasting and abstinence are necessary for us whilst we crave after sensual gratifications. Strengthen us in abstinence.

- God's Saints are great through their spiritual disposition, through their faith, their firm trust in God, and their burning love to God, for Whose sake they despised all earthly things. O, how null we are, compared to them; how unlike unto them! They are great by their great deeds of abstinence, vigilance, fasting, unceasing prayers, their diligence in studying the Word of God, and in pious meditation. O, how unlike we are to them! How deeply we must venerate them! With what reverence we must ask for their prayers for us! But in no case must we regard them lightly, irreverently, remembering their godliness and their union with the Godhead.

- It is a wonderful thing that, however much we trouble about our health, however much care we take of ourselves, whatever wholesome and pleasant food we eat, whatever wholesome drinks we drink, however much we walk in the fresh air, still, notwithstanding all this, in the end we are subjected to maladies and corruption; whilst the saints, who despised their flesh, and mortified it by continual abstinence and fasting, by lying on the bare earth, by watchfulness, labours, unceasing prayer, have made both their souls and bodies immortal. Our well-fed bodies decay and emit an offensive odour after death, whilst theirs remained fragrant and flourishing in life as well as after death. It is a wonderful thing: we, by building up, destroy our body; whilst they, by destroying, built up theirs; they, by only caring for the fragrance of their souls before God, obtained the fragrance of their bodies also. Brethren! understand the problem, the purpose of your life. We must mortify our body with its many passions, or our carnal passions, through abstinence, labour, prayer, and not animate it and its passions through dainties, satiety, and slothfulness.

- When the heart is pure, then the whole man is pure; when the heart is unclean, the whole man is unclean: "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies . . ." [711] But the saints all acquired pure hearts by fasting, vigilance, prayer, pious meditation, by reading the Word of God, martyrdom, labour, and sweat; and the Holy Spirit abode in them, cleansed them from every impurity, and sanctified them by eternal sanctification. Strive also, above all, for the cleansing of your heart. "Make me a clean heart, O God." [712]

- It is necessary for a Christian to fast, in order to clear his mind, to rouse and develop his feelings, and to stimulate his will to useful activity. These three human capabilities we darken and stifle above all by "surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life." [776] Through these we fall away from God, the Source of life, and fall into corruption and vanity, perverting and defiling the image of God within us. Surfeiting and sensuality nail us to the earth, and cut off, so to say, the wings of the soul. But look how high was the flight of the souls of the ascetics and abstinent! They soared in the heavens like eagles; they, the earth-born, lived by their intellect and heart in heaven, and heard there unspeakable words, and learned there Divine wisdom. And how a man lowers himself by gluttony and drunkenness! He perverts his nature, created after the image of God, and becomes like unto the beast, and even worse. O, woe unto us for our attachments, for our iniquitous habits! They hinder us from loving God and our neighbours, and from fulfilling God's commandments; they implant in us criminal carnal self-love, the end of which is everlasting destruction. Thus the drunkard does not grudge money for the sake of gratifying his flesh and stupefying himself, while he grudges giving a few pence to the poor; the smoker flings away tens and hundreds of roubles, and grudges pence to the poor, which might save his soul; those who love to dress luxuriously, or are lovers of elegant furniture or china, spend enormous sums upon dress, furniture, and china, and pass by beggars coldly and contemptuously; those who like to fare sumptuously do not grudge spending tens and hundreds of roubles for dinners, while they grudge a few coppers to the poor. It is also necessary for a Christian to fast, because, with the incarnation of the Son of God, human nature became spiritualised and made godly, and now we hasten towards the kingdom of God, which is " not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." [777] "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them." [778] To eat and drink — that is, to care for sensual pleasures — is only natural to heathenism, which, not knowing spiritual, heavenly delights, sets the whole life in the pleasures of the belly, in much eating and drinking. This is why in the Gospel the Lord so often reproves this destructive passion. Why, therefore, shall we darken and stifle our souls and kill their last spiritual powers?

- The material objects to which we attach ourselves in our hearts, which we passionately desire or grudge others, kill the soul by withdrawing it from God, the Source of life. The heart ought to be always in God, Who is the inexhaustible Source of spiritual and material life: for who is the author of the existence of all creatures, and of organic, vegetable and animal life, of the existence, order and life of all worlds, both great and small ? The Lord God. We must look upon everything material as dross, as unimportant, as nothingness, as transitory, destructible, corruptible, and evanescent, and pay attention to the invisible, single, immortal soul which cannot be destroyed: "To despise the flesh, for it passeth away, and to take care for the soul, the thing immortal." [1032] Prove this by your deeds; fast, gladly bestow charity upon the poor, entertain guests heartily; do not grudge anything to those who belong to your household, zealously read the Word of God, pray, repent, lament your sins, strive with all your might after holiness, meekness, humility, patience, and obedience.

- If you greedily eat and drink much, then you will be flesh; whilst if you fast and pray, then you will be spirit. "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." [1355] Fast and pray, and you shall accomplish great things. The satiated man is incapable of great works. Have simplicity of faith, and you shall accomplish great things; " for all things are possible to him that believeth." [1356] Be watchful and zealous, and you shall do great things.


[72] St. Luke xvi. 10.
[349] From the Troparia to the Holy Trinity in the Morning Prayers.
[350] Speaking of a Priest.
[706] St. Matthew vi. 24.
[711] St. Matthew xv. 19.
[712] Psalm li. 10.
[776] St. Luke xxi. 34.
[777] Romans xiv. 17.
[778] 1 Corinthians vi. 13.
[1032] Troparion to a Venerable Man.
[1355] Ephesians v. 18; 1 Thessalonians v. 6-8.
[1356] St. Mark ix. 23.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God.