March 18, 2021

First Homily on Fasting (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, 
Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 23, 1947)

Great Lent is beginning and I want to speak to you about fasting. You will say: "Why is he talking to us about fasting, since we have been hungry for a long time, and we are going through an ongoing Great Lent?" So what, don't I need to talk about it? Indeed, it is needed very much!

The fast, which you have fasted until now, is a punishment from God, but the fast that begins tomorrow is a holy fast, established by the Holy Church, which is not a punishment from God, but a blessing of God, the mercy of God.

The fast which you have been fasting for a long time, will not give you any kind of reward, because the reward from God is only for good intention. If you fasted out of necessity, because you are unable to eat better, this is not your good intention.

God accepts good works that come from your will, from your intention. He accepts those good works that are done willingly with effort and difficulty. But in the fast that you observe, neither your effort, nor your willingness, nor the difficulty have a reward for the obligatory fast, for the fast that is sent by God for punishment. There is no honor in it. Delve deeply in this, remember this.

Of what true fasting will I talk about? Of the one instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, because we know that when the scribes and pharisees went and began to criticize Him because His disciples were not fasting, He answered them: "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matt. 9:15).

Long ago, many years ago, the Holy Bridegroom, the Bridegroom of the Church, Christ, the Head of the Church, was long ago taken up from us to heaven. His words are eternal, and if He said that His disciples would fast, then they must fast. But did He not set the example of fasting, did He not fast forty days and forty nights before beginning His Divine work for the salvation of mankind? Did not Moses and Elijah fast before they came into direct contact with God? Like the Lord Himself, they fasted for forty days and nights. Here is our example. The book of the holy Prophet Jonah confirms the power of fasting, its great importance. There was the city of Nineveh that was full of innumerable rich people, but their sins, the impurity of the Ninevites were lifted up to God, so that God decided the terrible punishment and condemned Nineveh to extermination. He sent the Prophet Jonah to the city of Nineveh, to tell the people that the terrible catastrophe, the extermination of the people, awaited them.

So how did the people of Nineveh receive this warning from the Prophet? The people became frightened and first of all the King of Nineveh, and they all understood that they must repent before God for their grave sins. According to the royal decree, a three-day fast was imposed, not only on all people, but also on all beasts. No one dared to eat or drink. The king took off his precious clothes, wrapped himself in a sack, sat on ashes and in tears repented before God, with rivers of tears asking for God's forgiveness. And this repentance saved Nineveh. For this fasting and repentance the Lord forgave Nineveh, He overturned the decision to destroy it. You see, how great is the power of fasting!

Can we behave carelessly in all that the Lord has established, much more with contempt, with forgetfulness? We cannot, because every word of Christ is the word of God, it is full of Divine power, full of absolute truth. Fasting is a great work, a work of salvation, pleasing to God.

You heard in the Gospel reading that when the Lord Jesus Christ came down after the Transfiguration, He saw the multitude of the people who were shouting and arguing. They said that His apostles could not heal the possessed young man. The Lord healed him. When the apostles asked him why they could not heal the possessed young man, He said to them, "This kind cannot go forth except through prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21). The demons run away from fasting. Fasting is against demons, fasting is unbearable for them, it is intolerable.

You will say, "Are there not a few people, for whom fasting is also hated, who welcome the beginning of fasting with grunts? How will they be deprived of food?" There are not a few among us who complain, who say that fasting is not necessary, that neither with food nor with drink they thank God, but rather do so with good works. This is gross hypocrisy. Those who do not fast and generally do not want to please God, all of them reject fasting. The unbelievers reject fasting, the Lutherans, the sectarians reject fasting.

But for us fasting should be the great and holy commandment of Christ. Is it possible to equate oneself with the demons who run away from fasting, for whom it is unbearable, intolerable? Rejection of fasting equates us with demons, with the demons themselves. Think about it! Bend your head down low and regret that you did not observe the fast.

You know what is happening in our city. Almost all people, without exception, have forgotten fasting. Only a small number of people remember and keep it.

How horrible that is! This therefore signifies disrespect for the Cross of Christ.

Has it always been so in our country? The old days were not like that at all. All the people fasted, starting with the old pious kings who were not absent from a single ecclesiastical service. At that time, the children were brought up with all the established ecclesiastical rules, they were instructed from the womb about fasting, about its holiness, about its importance, and young children fasted in parallel with adults.

Is there something similar now? The new generation that grew up atheist, does not know about fasting, does not want to hear about God.

But is it possible for your children, Christian children, to grow up like them? Does not the new generation need to grow up, raised in the fear of God, in the faith of Christ, in obedience to all that is established by the Church? Do not your children need to shine in the dark like bright stars? If you do not raise your children in this way, you will have a terrible defense before God.

Why is fasting necessary? In what is its power? By fasting, we abstain from those demands of our stomach, we abstain from what our stomach always seeks, from abundant and satisfying food.

When we begin to fast, we deny our belly the fulfillment of its requirements, we begin to eat as if impoverished, we begin the first degree of restraint.

And when we begin to abstain from the demands of the belly, we begin to abstain from the other demands of our flesh. This is because all our sins come from the flesh. The flesh pulls us to earth, prevents our soul from ascending to God, like chains, it fixes us on earth, to the material. If in the holy fast we get into the habit of abstaining from the demands of our insatiable belly, we start every other abstinence. We begin to hold our tongue that is ready for any filth, for insult, for malice, for reproach. We gain power over our tongue, power over the vigorous and shameful pursuits of our abdominal organs. We begin to abstain not only from apparent sin, but also from the sin and adultery that is on our minds. Starting with the curbing of a passion, with the constant asceticism, we gradually achieve the great goal which is the curbing of all the passions, of all the carnal desires. Isn't that a great and holy purpose?

We were created to become like God, we were created to be partakers of divine blessedness in eternal life. How will we be judged worthy of this blessedness, if we do not purify our hearts, restrain our insatiable flesh?

Fasting is the great school of all temperance, one of the most difficult and great human tasks. For every painful and big task we start gradually, with unceasing exercises. And here, we need to start curbing our flesh by curbing our belly. We gradually begin to wash with the holy bath of repentance, so that at the end of the fast, having cleansed our flesh with holy repentance, we meet on the great day of Christ's Resurrection clean and pure before God.

Fasting is the entryway of repentance, its necessary companion. When we fast, fasting reminds us of the need for holy repentance. If we understand the need to observe fasting and we all observe it, we will receive great blessings, we will understand how necessary is the fasting that motivates for great repentance.

We must know that all pure people, those who loved the Lord deeply, never faced fasting with denial. All the saints labored in fasting.

At the beginning of the fast they did not grieve, they did not mourn, as when it begins with dissatisfaction, but they rejoiced. And when such joy was manifested in their hearts, then they clung to fasting, and they fasted all their lives, because they sensed what kind of power of grace fasting gives.

The demons run away from fasting, they tremble before it, but the saints run towards fasting, they rush towards it, they rejoice with it, because fasting gives the deep joy that is not interrupted by anything, the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit.

May our Lord and God Jesus Christ find all of us worthy of this joy! Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.