by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
How will you nourish yourself in eternity when you have learnt here only to glut yourself with material foods and material pleasures which do not exist in heaven? What will you feed on in eternity when you have not tasted one of the good things of heaven? How can you eat and enjoy the good things of heaven when you have acquired no taste or sympathy for them, in fact have only acquired aversion for them?
The head or chief of the virtues is prayer; their foundation is fasting.
Fasting is constant moderation in food with prudent discernment in its use.
Proud man! You think so much and so highly of your mind, while all the time it is in complete and constant dependence on your stomach.
The law of fasting, though outwardly a law for the stomach, is essentially a law for the mind.
The mind, that sovereign ruler in man, if it wishes to enter into its rights of autocracy and retain them, must first submit to the law of fasting. Only then will it be constantly alert and bright; only then can it rule over the desires of the heart and body. Only with constant vigilance and temperance can the mind learn the commandments of the Gospel and follow them. The foundation of the virtues is fasting.
Newly-made man when placed in paradise was given a single commandment, a commandment concerning fasting. Of course, only one commandment was given because that was sufficient to have kept primitive man in his innocence.
The commandment did not speak of the quantity of food, but only prohibited a kind or quality. Let those who recognize a fast in quantity of food only and not in quality be silent. By devoting themselves to a practical study of fasting, they will see the significance of the quality of the food.
So important was the law of fasting declared by God to man in paradise that with the commandment was pronounced a threat of punishment for breaking it. The punishment consisted in the striking of men with eternal death.
And now a sinful death continues to strike the breakers of the holy commandment of fasting. He who does not observe moderation and due discernment in food cannot preserve virginity or chastity, cannot control anger, yields to sloth, despondency and sorrow, becomes a slave of vainglory and an abode of pride which gets into a man through his carnal state, which is caused most of all by luxurious and nourishing food.
The commandment to fast was renewed or confirmed by the Gospel.
“Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with excessive eating and drinking,” said the Lord.
Overeating and drinking impart corpulence or grossness not only to the body, but to the mind and heart as well; that is, they reduce a person to a carnal state of soul and body.
Fasting, on the contrary, leads a Christian to a spiritual state. A person who is purified by fasting is humble in spirit, chaste. modest, silent, refined in the feelings of his heart and mind, light in body, fit for spiritual labors and contemplation, apt to receive divine grace.
The carnal man is completely immersed in sinful pleasures. He is sensual in body, in heart and in mind He is incapable not only of spiritual joy and of receiving divine grace, but even of spiritual occupations. He is nailed to the earth, wallowing in materiality, spiritually dead while alive.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger!” (Lk. 6, 25).
Such is the message of the World of God to breakers of the commandment of holy fasting. How will you nourish yourself in eternity when you have learnt here only to glut yourself with material foods and material pleasures which do not exist in heaven? What will you feed on in eternity when you have not tasted one of the good things of heaven? How can you eat and enjoy the good things of heaven when you have acquired no taste or sympathy for them, in fact have only acquired aversion for them?
The daily bread of Christians is Christ. Uncloying repletion with this bread is the saving satiety and delight to which all Christians are invited. Be insatiably filled with the Word of God; be insatiably filled with the doing of Christ’s commandments; be insatiably filled with the table
“prepared against those who trouble you,” and be inebriated “with the strong chalice” (Ps. 22, 5).
“Where are we to begin,” says St. Macarius the Great, “we who have never engaged in searching our hearts? Let us stand outside and knock with prayer and fasting, as the Lord commanded; ‘Knock and it will be opened to you’ ” (Mat. 7. 7).
This work which is proposed to us by one of the greatest teachers of monasticism was a work of the Holy Apostles. From the midst of it they were granted to hear the Spirit’s messages.
“While they were serving* the Lord and fasting,” says the writer of their acts, “the Holy Spirit said: Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13, 2).
From the midst of their effort in which fasting was combined with prayer the Spirit’s command concerning the call of the Gentiles to Christianity was heard.
Wonderful union of fasting with prayer! Prayer is powerless unless it is based on fasting, and fasting is fruitless unless prayer is built upon it.