Just like any spiritual labor, we fast for ourselves, not for God—in the sense that God doesn’t need it; it’s man who is healed, because it’s not God Who is sick, but infirm man. Infirm man is the one in heed of healing, inasmuch as he’s wounded by his own passions and sins.
Many people, especially young people, have several objections to fasting: What benefit does it bring? Why do I have to fast and what is the meaning of this present Fast?
Of course, the Fathers of the Church have given many good interpretations on this issue, especially in terms of Great Lent, which is considered the Fast par excellence in the Church. It’s established by the sacred canons of the Local and Ecumenical Councils and is generally considered the strictest of all the Church fasts. Many interpretations—both theological and practical—have been given to explain why a man fasts.
There are those heretics who doubt fasting and say there’s no commandment from God anywhere in the Gospels or Scripture saying we should fast. Thus, they cancel fasting and accuse Orthodox Christians of supposedly keeping human traditions and commandments that aren’t present in Scripture.
The Fathers say that the first commandment that God gave man was a commandment about fasting. When God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from every tree in Paradise save the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, this was nothing other than a commandment about fasting. In other words, God didn’t permit man to eat from one specific tree—he was to abstain from it in order to observe God’s commandment.
The essence of the violation of the commandment
The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services, and is associated with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline, when it is serialized) and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read).
There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations. Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments. One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.
The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul.
The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.
A canon is an ancient liturgical hymn, with a very strict format. It consists of a variable number of parts, each called an “ode”. Most common canons have eight Odes, numbered from one to nine, with Ode 2 being omitted. The most penitential canons have all nine odes. Some canons have only three Odes, such as many of the canons in the “Triodion” (which means “Three Odes”).
In any case, all Odes have the same basic format. An “Irmos” begins each Ode. This is ge
Dear God, get me out of this sewage
The feeling of holiness is inherent in man regardless of whether he wants it or not. Another thing is how exactly he treats holiness and holy relics—with love and respect, in other words, having the fear of God, or with infernal fear and hatred. Heaven forbid we should experience the latter—this is exactly how, I think, man forfeits the likeness of God and puts himself at the disposal of the power of darkness. The consequences will come, be it for the man himself or for the whole nation. I think that’s what we are reaping in our days.
“You are right, Father Andrew,” I responded. Our spiritual state is not the best right now. I wonder, could we view this unenviable state as our cross and treat it accordingly?
Batiushka suggests exploring this issue further:
“I often tell my parishioners, “You acted according to your spiritual capacity, right? You didn’t set out to do wrong, did you? You always try to do good, but it just doesn’t work that way. But why is that? It happens because you didn’t have enough spiritual strength. In other words, you acted as well as your spiritual strength allowed it. But this “good” is seen as “bad” in your spiritual estimation. We tend to overestimate ourselves a little. We always think we could do better, and yet we don’t. Why is that? It is because of our spiritual state. Remember when the apostle Peter said, “Even if everyone else abandons you, I certainly won’t”. But he did! The odds were against him; it was beyond his spiritual strength. He was unable to stand strong. And the Lord saw that he wouldn’t be able to. Therefore, we must remain critical of ourselves and never overestimate. As for self-loathing, discouragement, feeling desperate—no, we mustn’t do that. We should switch to a positive self-programming: I must do better, and I will try to do things better. I know a priest, and he is a truly spiritually enlightened and experienced priest, who people think of as an elder. Once, someone repented before him of a repeated sin. Batiushka tells him, “Look! Do you really think our spiritual life progresses from victory to victory? Please! Give me a break! We fall and get up, and then we fall to get up again. But the idea here is that we always rise back up towards the Lor