In his Centuries on Theology St. Maximus the Confessor refers to the nexus of the dualism of pleasure and pain, which, by any standard, is an important subject. This means that we cannot discuss Orthodox Theology if we fail to face this crucial point, because the transcendence of pleasure and pain is, precisely, a prerequisite for correct Orthodox Theology. As St. Maximus the Confessor says, the transcendence of pleasure and pain proves that man has cleansed his heart from the passions.
As we pointed out above, the whole of modern life is governed by pleasure and pain, since, in our age, enjoyment and the gratification of the senses dominate, while at the same time deep grief, an inner pain, prevails. In reality, modern man tries to escape pain through the satisfaction of sensual pleasure. All contemporary problems, such as AIDS and drugs, are to be found in this connection. This is why I believe it is extremely important to see this link between pleasure and pain, as elaborated by St. Maximus the Confessor.
a) The origin of pleasure and pain
The world was created by God in Trinity. The most perfect creature is man, for he is the apex of creation, the microcosm in the macrocosm. Analyzing the issue of the creation of man and its relation to the birth and the origin of pleasure and pain, St. Maximus says that God the Word who created man's nature, made it without pleasure and pain. "He did not make the senses susceptible to either pleasure or pain." He insists on this point by saying: "Pleasure and pain were not created simultaneously with the flesh."
What forms of leisure are preferable in the Fast, to not lose your spiritual mindset? What to do if your name’s day or birthday falls during the Nativity Fast? Can we invite guests, and what should we feed them? Are the Fast and holidays compatible in general? Archpriest Pavel Gumerov, rector of the Church of the Holy Right-Believing Peter and Febronia of Murom in the Marino region of Moscow responds to these questions.
His answers draw specifically from his own experience in Moscow, but they can serve as examples and inspirations for Orthodox parishes, families, and individuals anywhere.
—Fr. Pavel, what is leisure? What should it be like?
—Leisure is free time that people can use at their discretion. We all have things we have to do—in service or work or connected with caring for our family and children, but leisure is a kind of pleasant bonus that someone has to comfort themselves, in many various ways. But for a Christian, it’s important that leisure isn’t connected with sin, especially now, in the days of the Nativity Fast. We must remember this.
Some good things are a long time coming. We know that in our own lives, relationships, and accomplishments at work, school, or elsewhere. The best things in life are worth waiting for and require our patience and preparation.
That is true of how salvation has come to the world through our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. The many generations of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament prepared His way. God’s messengers, the angels, instructed them through the Law and other announcements and actions. His prophets called the people to faithfulness in anticipation of the Messiah, the One anointed for the fulfillment of all the promises to Abraham both for his descendants and all the people of the world who respond with faith to the Lord.
Today we are one week away from the beginning of our time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah, for the birth of Jesus Christ. Neither merely an angel nor a prophet, He is truly God in the flesh. The Nativity Fast, which we often call “Advent,” begins on November 15, forty days before the great feast of Christmas (Ed. note: Orthodox churches that use the Old Julian calendar begin the Nativity Fast on Nov. 28) The weeks leading to the Nativity of the Savior do not have the bright sadness of Lent, as they are a joyful time of getting ready to celebrate Christ’s birth by receiving Him anew into our lives as we take our place with angels, shepherds, prophets, and generations of righteous people from all over the world who have rejoiced that the Son of God has become one of us, bringing broken and suffering human beings into the very life of God, Who made us in His image and likeness.