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March 18, 2021

"By Fasting, Vigil and Prayer One Obtains Heavenly Gifts" (A Homily of St. Anthimos of Chios)

By St. Anthimos of Chios

(Addressed to Nuns on April 16, 1946)

It is said: "By fasting, vigil and prayer one obtains heavenly gifts" ("νηστεία, αγρυπνία, προσευχή ουράνια χαρίσματα λαβών"). How beautiful, how comforting are these words spoken by our Holy Fathers, in order to fulfill us! They first of all mention fasting, the mother of virtues, to urge us to make the effort; and then vigil and then prayer.

We will also grab hold of fasting, sisters, so the commotions will cease; that the foolish disturbances and the fuss of the belly will cease. The days of fasting have come; the good fast. When someone wants to ask God for anything, they must fast in order for it to be given. Fasting is so fulfilling, so effective. It soothes the nerves, calms the passions, stores patience within the heart, cleanses the mind, weakens frustrations and scandals; for where fasting takes place, it calms every frustration and disturbance. It banishes arguments, does away with babbling, and one becomes more devout, calm, silent, and less moved to speak words. This is because the cutting off of food does not give the tongue the disposition to speak, and even good words are spoken with difficulty. One only engages day and night in entreaty before God, because after fasting will come vigil and then prayer.

The one who fasts does not forget any virtue, because fasting will bring them all. Fasting withers all the passions; it avoids all walks and sidewalks; it does not desire conversations. I am speaking of conversations with monastics, of those in here, since with other people I have nothing to say. When the belly is hungry, does it allow the mouth to speak? Does it allow the eyes to linger and scrutinize here and there? Does it allow the ears to freely hear? No! But it makes one entirely quiet; all one's members are calm and serene; then the grace of God will come.

This is why it is said: "By fasting, vigil and prayer one obtains heavenly gifts." Fasting does not make anything fun. Fasting humbles the body and quiets down the spirit; vigil refines the mind and makes it think all things heavenly. Prayer follows vigil, which entreats for the grace of the Holy Spirit to come.

And I, with this dirty and ugly body that you see in front of you, I tasted and saw these things at one time. One who fasts neither has fun talking, nor sleeping, nor cares for anything else; they only think about, they are only enlightened to, they only find ways to expiate God.

It is suitable, sisters, to work on these three things: fasting, vigil, prayer, in order to obtain heavenly gifts. You do not seek anything else when you have these, except to find some corner to sit in, with tied up hands, a united mind and body, inwardly shouting: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." Fasting seeks this day and night. Again, if you eat well and fill your stomach, all you will do is weigh yourself down and fall asleep. A full belly does not accomplish any virtue.

You know all this better than I do; but I want to give you some eagerness, I want to strengthen you; because we have come to the fast, sisters; vigils will increase, prayers will increase, and I want to shake you, somehow, to do them. Prayer is not an arduous task; it will not hurt your hands and feet and tire your body; it is an inner work; it is a warmth of the soul. But prayer needs to be united with fasting and vigil; it must be one body. But Satan will fight us in these, and alas if we are overcome by adversaries. Because fasting extinguishes passions, vigil kills them and prayer gives wings to man, raises him to the heavens, gives heavenly gifts.

But these are not simply given by chance. You will toil, you will labor, you will struggle, to enjoy them. The unclean must leave, because it is difficult for God's grace to come to the unclean heart. It is difficult for God to give His grace to the negligent and the crippled and those given over to the cares of life. The heavenly gifts are not given where these three do not exist: fasting, vigil, prayer.

Flee gluttony, sisters, and grab hold of temperance; not only in food, but also with the tongue and with the eyes and with the hands and with the feet and everywhere. We are not just to abstain and fast from food and then have a thousand and two things on our minds to confuse and worry us.

That's why we need to have a bridle everywhere. If you do not put a bridle above all on your tongue and mind, it is not easy to receive heavenly gifts.

May the God of peace and goodness send out the heavenly gifts; wither our passions and drive away temptations. Not to make them go away, because it is not good for temptations to go away, but to give us strength to fight and defeat them. May the Lady Theotokos, the help of the sick and the strength of the weak, give us strength and help.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.