February 17, 2019 – LUKE 18:10-14
The Lord said this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We’ve watched it happen to those around us – a self-absorbed professional athlete gets cut from a team. An egotistical actor or performer flops in his or her newest effort. Or an arrogant politician loses an election. We call this “being taken down a notch”. We observe someone who is overconfident and bombastic – they are selfish and proud, we call it full of themselves and then they get put in their place by circumstances or even as a result of their own pompous behavior. It all catches up with them eventually. The truth of the matter is, much of our society today has convinced us that we too must be self-promoting and self-centered, or no one will notice our accomplishments. In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is teaching those with Him just the opposite. Matter of fact in Verse 9 we are told by St. Luke why Jesus told this parable. “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others”
What was the Pharisee’s sin? – fasting, tithing, keeping the commandments – No. His sin was lack of humility. We should fast. We should tithe. We should keep the commandments. The tax collector in today’s gospel lesson was humble. The religious leader, the Pharisee, was given as an example of how not to fast, tithe or keep the commandments. He was proud. He trusted in himself and despised others.
(The Meaning of Fasting in the Orthodox Church – by Fr. Milan Savich)
Fasting is as old as the human race. Fasting was practiced by pagan religions, Judaism and Christianity, and it was generally considered an important element of religious life, although with different practices and understanding. In the ancient religions of the East fasting meant a complete abstention from food for a certain period of time — one day or more. The origin of fasting as a moral discipline, especially among the old pagan religions is very obscure, just as their understanding of God was inadequate and vague.
The monotheistic, God revealed religion of the “Chosen People” knew about fasting. From the Old Testament we learn that God instituted fasting in Paradise when He said: “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) From this is clear that fasting existed before the “original sin” of Adam and Eve, and it was not ordered as a cure for their sin. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining of certain food — namely of “the fruit of the tree.” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was created by God as well as all other trees in Paradise and, as such, preceded Satan and his sinful conspiracies. God’s commandment to Adam and Even not to eat of the particular fruit was issued as a method of man’s discipline of self-control and spiritual growth. This means that the first man in Paradise was not perfect but was good and capable to improve and develop his spiritual and moral personality.
Fasting understood in this way was practiced both in the Old and New Testament and throughout the entire history of the Church. The noted Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann, speaking about fasting in the Old and New Testament, saw a great similarity and interdependence between two events in the Bible — one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other at the beginning of the New Testament. He writes: “The first is the ‘breaking of the fast’ by Adam in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us. Christ, the new Adam, — and this is the second event — begins by fasting. Adam was tempted and succumbed to temptation. The result of Adam’s failure is expulsion from Paradise and death. The fruit of Christ’s victory is the destruction of death and return to Paradise. It is clear, that in this perspective, fasting is revealed to us as something decisive and ultimate in importance. It is not mere ‘obligation’, a custom; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.” St. Basil the Great, confirms this statement by saying: “Because we did not fast, we were chased out of Paradise; let us fast now, so that someday we return there.”
We have many shining examples of fasting in the Old and New Testament. Moses fasted forty days before receiving from God the Ten Commandments. The prophet Isaiah has written about fasting centuries before Christ’s coming:
“Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him… then shall your light break forth like the dawn …” (Isaiah 58)
In the Old Testament fasting is sometimes preparation for the Feast days, but more generally it is a sign of humility before God. Fasting accompanied mourning and repentance. In time of necessity of danger, it was appropriate for an individual or the whole community to fast. Fasting, so to speak, reinforced urgent prayer. How seriously it might be taken up, to the extent that an earnest man of prayer might become weak and think through lack of nourishment, is shown by Psalm 109:24:
“My Knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.”
Fasting in the New Testament was introduced by our Lord Jesus Christ Who gave us a great example of fasting. After His Baptism in the river of Jordan He withdrew into the wilderness where He spend forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting in preparation for His sacred ministry. Jesus taught his disciples and followers to fast. He told them not to fast like the Pharisees, but when they fast bodily they should be completely natural in their behavior — humble and penitent.
“And when ye fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men, but by your Father Who is in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:16-18)
Here we should mention that fasting in the Orthodox Church has two aspects: physical and spiritual. The first one implies abstinence from rich food, such as dairy products, eggs and all kinds of meat. Spiritual fasting consists in abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds. The main purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. It is to give power to the soul so that it would not yield to temptation and sin. According to St. Seraphim, fasting is an “indispensable means” of gaining the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, and Jesus Himself taught that some forms of evil cannot be conquered without it. When the Apostles failed to heal a sick and suffering child, Christ explained that, “This kind (meaning devil) can come out only by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 12:21) Commenting on this St. John Chrysostom said: “That these are like two wings that carry a person to the heights of God.”
The Apostles of Christ continued in prayer and fasting, and commanded others to do the same. They fasted also as they accomplished their ministries by the power of the Holy Spirit and by prayer, as we read in the Acts:
“Now in the church at Antioch… while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul (Paul) 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. 13:13)
Today, I think it is safe to say, the practice and idea of fasting is largely ignored. Some people say that God’s people need not fast since we are saved by grace and not by works, and that fasting can easily become hypocritical, done merely for show and for the condemnation of others. Many others generally dismiss fasting as something old-fashioned, simple and naïve. “This is the twenty-first century; those rules were made for the past and simpler days.”
Nonetheless, in spite of the present practice of most people, we must take the practice of fasting seriously, if for no other reason, then out of respect for other people, throughout Christian history, who have taken it seriously. We all need to develop the habit of saying no to our carnal passions and desires. What we need is self-discipline and self-control. These are acquired only through regular spiritual exercise — namely through fasting.
Fasting is not at all an act of mortification for mortification’s sake. It is not a “little suffering” which is somehow pleasing to God. It is not a punishment which is to be sorrowfully endured in payment for sins. On the contrary, fasting for a Christian, should be a joyful experience, because fasting is a self-discipline which we voluntarily impose upon ourselves in order to become better persons and better Christians. The sin of not fasting is the sin of failing to employ a practice which is absolutely necessary to a sinful person in his struggle to overcome his sins and to gain the love and communion of God.
Fasting is an art fully mastered by the Saints. These holy men and women, who have taken their religion and fasting seriously, can be of great help to us. They offer a number of recommendations for fasting.
- Fasting is essential for us to regain control over our bodies. We live in a pluralistic and secularistic society where the Biblical idea of fasting is completely ignored and forgotten. “Gluttony has become a way of life for a fallen man and, it affects every area of life, leaving us wide open to all types of temptation. We all eat too much and fasting is the only way to end this unnatural obsession with food. Fasting puts food into its proper perspective. We must each in order to live, but we shouldn’t simply live to eat.” St. Isaac of Syria said: “The first commandment given to our nature in the beginning was the fasting from food and in this the head of our race (Adam) fell. Those who wish to attain the fear of God, therefore, should begin to build where the building was first fallen. They should begin with the commandment to fast.”
- Fasting simplifies our lives. “By eating less, we can pay attention to more important matters, such as our relationship with God.” Fasting is part of the spiritual life without which the soul perishes, suffocated by the flesh and choked by carnal pleasures. A human being must fast. The effort enlightens the mind, strengthens the spirit, controls the emotions and tames the passions. Thus “a man who strives for salvation… must not allow himself to eat to fullness …” says St. Gregory of Sinai. St. Isaac of Syria says, “Meager food at the table of the pure cleanses the soul of those who partake from all passion … for the work of fasting and vigil is the beginning of every effort against sin and lust … almost all passionate drives decrease through fasting.” An old man in the desert was asked why he was so severe on his body. He answered simply, “If I don’t kill it, it kills me.” By this the holy fathers taught us to be killers of passions and not killers of the body. Partake of everything that is permissible with thanksgiving, to the glory of God and avoid boastful arrogance; but refrain from every excess. (The Monks Callistus and Ignatius, 14c., Directions to Hesychasts.)
- Fasting “lightens our load” and makes it easier to pray. “For many people the refusal to fast is just one more excuse to cut themselves off from God. The person who wants to pray better should eat less. This makes the mind and the spirit less sluggish. We are then more capable of lifting our minds and hearts to God.” St. Isaac of Syria says: “As long as man’s mouth is sealed by fasting his mind will meditate on the repentance of his soul.”
- Fasting restores discipline to our lives. “How many of us can honestly say that we are disciplined in spiritual matters as we should be? Fasting may just be the beginning of our journey toward spiritual seriousness, but we all have to start somewhere. We can all see what the lack of real discipline has done to American moral life. The same happens to our own spiritual lives without discipline. Fasting is the beginning of this discipline.”
- Fasting ultimately brings about purity of heart. “The saints teach that for us to purify our hearts we must begin with the control of our bodily desires through fasting. As long as the flesh rules, purity of heart will not exist.” In the words of St. John Chrysostom fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins also. “The fast,” he insists, “should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.” It is useless to fast from food, protests St. Basil, and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: “You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother.”
- Fasting returns us to a “Paradise-like” way of life. Our forefathers Adam and Eve ate only plants rather than meat or meat products. (Gen. 1:30, 9:3) “When we fast, we voluntarily return to Paradise. We do this not because it is sinful to eat meat, but because we recognize our true homeland, the Kingdom of God, and we want to reinforce this truth in our lives.” Our fasting and self-discipline, then, “signifies a rejection of the world, only in so far as it is corrupted by the fall; of the body, only in so far as it is dominated by sinful passions.”
- Finally, fasting is the foundation of and preparation for every spiritual effort. “Spiritual effort presumes that we are in control of our bodies. Beyond this, fasting is the ideal preparation for spiritual celebration, such as Easter, Christmas, and other Feasts, because when undertaken properly, fasting fills our hearts and minds with the task before us. It concentrates our spiritual energies and makes them more effective.” Thus, when Moses fasted on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:28) and Elijah on Mount Horeb (Kings 19:8-12), the fast was in both cases linked with a Theophany. The same connection between fasting and the vision of God is evident in the case of St. Peter (Acts 10:9-17) He went up to the housetop to pray about the sixth hour, and he became very hungry and wanted to eat; and it was in this state that he fell into a trance and heard the divine voice. Such is always the purpose of ascetic fasting — to enable us, to “draw near to the mountain of prayer.”
Why do Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesday in remembrance of the betrayal of Christ and on Fridays in remembrance of His crucifixion and death.
We fast for our benefit, but we fast in secret. We fast humbly. Instead of responding to others around us about why we’re not eating a hamburger, we don’t go into a long thesis on Orthodox fasting and why we are better or stronger Christians because we fast twice a week just like the early church did, it might just be better for us to simply say that we only need a salad today or that we are learning the value of simplifying our lives. Guard your words. Fast as the Church prescribes but stay humble about your fasting.
No only was the Pharisee arrogant about his fasting but he was arrogant about his tithing.
How then should we tithe (give)? This Pharisee was an arrogant tither.
Tithing goes all the way back to Gen 14: 20 – Abraham was the first tither. He gave Melchizedek (priest of God Most High) 1/10th of everything he had.
OT – The law required they tithe – grain, herds, flock, seed, land, fruit, wine, oil, oxen, sheep, dough,
The prophets warned the nation of Israel to not rob God – Malachi 3:8-10 [Do Not Rob God] “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.”
We should not hold back from God what is His. It is our responsibility make it a regular practice to give to our church so we can collectively move forward in the founding of our mission here in Columbia.
Jesus spoke to His disciples and those following Him and commanded them to give generously – Luke 6: 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to the early churches exhorting them to give cheerfully – II Cor 9:6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
How do we give? We give secretly – Jesus said to (Matthew 6:6) “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
In our walk of faith, we must be humble. The tax collector wouldn’t even raise his eyes to God in his prayer because he knew his sin and felt unclean, sick and unworthy because of his sin. In our walk of faith, we must all not speak of or think of our efforts but humbly approach God being fully aware of our short fallings.
St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, “It says that the tax collector ‘stood afar off,’ not even venturing to raise up his eyes. You see him abstaining from all boldness of speech. He seems devoid of the right to speak and beaten down by the scorn of conscience. He was afraid that God would see him, since he had been careless in keeping his laws and had led an unchaste and uncontrolled life. You also see that he accuses his own depravity by his external manner. The foolish Pharisee stood there bold and broad, lifting up his eyes without a qualm, bearing witness of himself and boastful. The other feels shame for his conduct. He is afraid of his judge. He beats his breast. He confesses his offenses. He shows his illness as to the Physician, and he prays that he will have mercy. What is the result? Let us hear what the judge says, ‘This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.’”
I Peter 5: 5 “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
God resists the proud.
Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”
James 4:10 “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
God is faithful to lift up the humble and put down the proud. In all of our ways, actions and behavior it is our responsibility to repent from our errors and destruction and not promote ourselves. This is how we approach Great Lent. This is how we fast and this is how we give and keep the commandments of God – with humility. During lent we are asked to evaluate our walk of faith and make changes to our practice. How can we learn to trust God more in our fasting, giving and obedience to the commands of God? We must proceed with humility and then God will raise us up in His due time.
(Jude 24 & 25) – “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”