By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
The period of Holy and Great Lent which we have once again entered this year by the grace and philanthropy of God, is not only a period of fasting and abstaining from certain foods, but it is primarily a period of fasting from the passions, that they may be changed by the uncreated grace of God into virtues, and be beneficial to both ourselves and our neighbors.
This is why Basil the Great describes true fasting as "being a stranger to vice, controlling the tongue, abstaining from anger, distancing oneself from lust, evil speech, lying, perjury."1
Further, it is a period in which we have to deal with ourselves and experience the forgotten virtue of self-knowledge. If we get to know it, then we will indeed be led to repentance and the vision of God.
Saint Isaac the Syrian is characteristic on this point: "He who senses his sins, is greater than he who raises the dead with his prayer. He who is made worthy to see himself, is greater than he who is made worthy to see angels."2
Self-knowledge will also free us from the evil spirit that gives birth to sinful and morbid situations within our souls, such as sloth, vain curiosity, love for power and idle talk, which are especially spoken of during this period, since they are referenced in the well-known prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian.
What is sloth?
First, sloth is idleness and inaction. "The one who is slothful and lazy, does he leave anything foolish unsaid, anything bad unheard?"3, asked Basil the Great, and he added, "Inaction without fear of God is a teacher of evil and wickedness to those who spend their time without purpose. Sloth is the foundation of wickedness."4
Therefore, when someone is not engaged in a creative work, being idle and inactive, they begin to think and do sinful and wicked things, plot against their brothers, slander and accuse, as the wise Solomon reminds us: "Every slothful man desires, but the hands of the active are diligent."5
Second, Saint John Chrysostom describes sloth as the greatest evil. "There is no greater evil worse than laziness, none greater than sloth."6
It is the source of all evil,7 since it teaches all evils, "and those who love it become from the beginning teachers of wickedness."8 And to show how dangerous a state sloth is, he highlights: "There is nothing, absolutely nothing that is not destroyed by sloth. Even stagnant water becomes spoiled, but that which runs and goes everywhere retains its properties... And uncultivated land can be seen to possess nothing good, except wild grass and thorns and shrubs and fruitless tress, but that which is cultivated is full of fruit."9
Hence, sloth eventually leads to spiritual death, which is the separation of the soul from God, which is why the Fathers of the Church, being anatomists of the soul and experienced physicians, rightly rank it among one of the deadly sins.
It is what condemned the five foolish and senseless virgins in the Gospels, since they completely lose the Kingdom of God and are outside the bridal chamber.10
Finally, in the Parable of the Talents, sloth caused Christ to speak sternly yet justly to the third servant of the parable, calling him "wicked and lazy", while praising the two other servants for the diligence and care they showed.11
It is time, therefore, that we become spiritually active and diligent in the feeding of our immortal souls.
It is time for us to hasten to the Sacred Mysteries of the Church to purify ourselves of the dirt of our sins.
It is time we showed the spirit of work to our fellow people, to the unfortunate, to the sick and to all those in need.
It is time that we lived within the worship of the Church, within the spirit of love, to teach what is good, that we may bear much fruit, and that this fruit remain for eternity.
1. Vespers of Clean Friday, Idiomelon Aposticha.
2. Isaac the Syrian, Discourse 34, On Repentance.
3. Basil the Great, Homily 8, Hexaemeron.
4. Basil the Great, Homily 9, Hexaemeron.
5. Prov. 13:4 (LXX)
6. John Chrysostom, Homily 35, Acts.
7. John Chrysostom, Homily 16, Ephesians.
8. John Chrysostom, Homily 19, On the Statues.
9. John Chrysostom, Homily 1, Greetings to Priscilla and Aquilla.
10. Matt. 25:1-13.
11. Matt. 25:14-30.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.