These days we enter the spiritual stage of the blessed Lent. The Holy Lent is a period of prayer, a period of repentance, tears, the transformation of a person, a period that elevates it to a new level of spiritual life. Our Church, as a caring mother caring for her Christian children, established the period of the Great Fourth Covenant as a time of a particularly intense spiritual struggle, trying to help us get rid of vices, purify ourselves and approach God in order to be honored to meet the Great and Bright Feast of the Resurrection of Christ.
Long ago Christians, and especially monks, paid much attention to this spiritual stage and considered it sacred, for this period presupposes both spiritual and bodily struggles. It is the struggle of abstinence in food, the struggle of the all-night vigil, the struggle of purification and the struggle of spiritual duties, which are much greater than the rest of the time. There is a spiritual rebuilding of a person who listens more attentively to the voice of conscience in order to correct what he may not have previously paid due attention to, and to grow spiritually.
The Church helps us in this not only by touching troparia and services, but also by instructions, in order to anoint us and strengthen us in the battle for the purification of our soul.
Such are the beautiful evening Divine Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts. Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts bring great benefits. Their Cherubic song is full of spirituality, theological depth and angelic presence. Therefore, it is all the more necessary for us to pray with these special services at these Lenten services. Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, how should we be pure and undefiled, how righteous are spiritually and physically, so that God's grace can have a beneficial effect on our soul and body! Therefore, in life, we must be vigilant. And in our cell, and in the temple, we must wash our face with tears, so that they wash our soul, making it worthy of the sacrament. Of course, often the devil deprives us all, and me, first of all, of emotion. And then tears do not come to us, and instead of them bad thoughts are often. Bad thoughts, only they appear with the accompanying sinful images, must immediately be expelled. If we are overpowered by evil thoughts or if we conceal evil in our soul against our brother, then we can not approach the God of Love, so Pure and Holy.
Throughout this time, at each Lenten service, the prayer of the Monk Ephrem the Syrian is read: "Lord and Master of my belly, the spirit of idleness, despondency, lust control and idle talk, do not let me. The spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love grant me, your servant. She, Lord, King, grant me to see my sin and not condemn my brother, for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen".
In these words, the saint lets us know that, in addition to other virtues, special attention should be given to what is mentioned at the very end: self-incrimination as opposed to the condemnation of the brother, for without love for our neighbor we can not move one step towards the spiritual purification. If you do not follow the thoughts, the words and your heart, abstinence in eating will not be of use. Abstinence in food is beneficial only if it is accompanied by love for our neighbor, and only when we do not condemn others. When we do not blame our brothers, but we condemn only ourselves, we receive love for our neighbor and love for our soul, care for cleansing and fulfilling the great covenant of love for God and for our neighbor. Love for God and for the brother are two great virtues on which the whole spiritual building is based, if they are not, then all other virtues are left without foundation. "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4: 16).
Another thing, to which one must coerce oneself with all sorts of zeal, is prayer. We must pray in the name of Christ without neglect, without wasting time. And during our all-night vigil in the cell, make every possible effort to prevent us from being overcome by a dream or laziness, or negligence, but to give ourselves with all spiritual preparedness. Only waking up, first of all, turn to prayer, and then proceed to the canon, to prayer by prayer, to the study of Holy Scripture and to theology. It is necessary with special willingness to go to the temple to live this period, having acquired for the soul its rich and good fruits.
Fasting along with physical labor contributes to the forgiveness of sins and purification. "See my humility and my labor, and forsake all my sins." (Look at my labor, Lord, and my humility, for I can not do anything without You, and forgive me all that I have done to You.) Struggle in abstinence from food, in prostrations, in prayers, in the labors of the heart and mind, for this work in the name of God is holy and will receive a multiple recompense from the Lord, for for him a man is awarded the crown of honor and glory. Demons are especially afraid of fasting, for fasting drives them out. "This kind (that is, the kind of demons) is cast out only by prayer and fasting," said the Lord (Mt. 17: 21). And therefore the holy fathers certainly began their work in the name of God from fasting. They believed in the great power of fasting, arguing that the Holy Spirit does not overshadow a person with a full stomach. However, any Christian who is thirsty for purification must begin with his foundations, which are fasting, prayer and sobriety. Combining fasting, prayer and sobriety, a person ascends to the higher levels.
In the old days, the holy fathers had one pious custom. Before Lent they left the monasteries and retired to the depths of the desert, where they lived in severe penance until Lazarev's Sabbath, when they returned to the monastery, so that all together celebrate Palm Sunday. Some took with them only the most necessary food, while others only ate wild grasses, in order to further strive in asceticism and desert life. Then, on the Great Passion Week, they spent 24 hours a day at the temple, eating only a little dry bread and a few nuts a day. The Lord vouchsafed and blessed us to meet with the true ascetics, who not only throughout Lent, but all year round struggled in fasting and penance.
Such was my blessed memory, my spiritual mentor, the elder Joseph Peschnik, who received his name because he lived in the caves where I first saw him. The Elder in the days of the Great Fourth Covenant imposed a most severe post. He imposed the same post on us. From Monday to Friday, that is, five days a week, was not supposed to eat anything, except for a porridge of 80 grams of flour on clean water. And that was all. A tiny bowl of food for the whole day. And this is against the backdrop of heavy physical work with carrying weight on the shoulders of the day and hundreds of prostrations and hours of prayer round the night away. The goal of all this was to purify the inner world of man, to make him more righteous and honest in the sight of God, that he might find boldness for God and be able to pray for the whole world. For the world needs prayers of saints and especially ascetics. No wonder Antony the Great supported his whole universe with his prayers.
There is no doubt that in observing fasting, we must strive according to our strengths, to varying degrees, for we are all not the same. "The good, done not in a good way, is not good anymore." That is good, not happening in a good way, that is, at a good time, in a good way, with good means and at the capabilities of everyone, will bring not good, but evil. Fasting is a necessity, there is a good, but it is a means, not a goal. And the purpose of this means is humility. Therefore, we should arrange everything at the discretion of a spiritual instructor, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The confessor will tell you how to fast, when to partake, how to defeat the enemy of the human race, what you should do here, and what is there, and so, at the discretion of the spiritual guide, you have to arrange yourself. Do not do anything higher than necessary, because the measure is needed in everything, because without measure there will be no benefit. Therefore, fasting is holy, but it is only a means. Therefore, we establish it for ourselves in accordance with the instructions of the confessor and our bodily and psychic powers. It is enough to have a good intention. For, according to Basil the Great, there is such a big difference between the bodily endurance of different people, like between iron and hay.
Holy Synclytics in the last years of her life suffered from tuberculosis of the throat. Her blessed throat, incessantly proclaiming the Word of God, was covered with pus from the inside. Her mouth was saved by countless souls. And this is the one who asked permission to test the devil, and the Lord allowed him to infect her with the disease of tuberculosis. From pus she began to spread such a strong stench that even nuns could barely take care of her. They were forced to use strong incense, in order to alleviate her suffering for even a few moments. And these lips, who, being healthy, shouted and bore good, were even more instructed during the illness. What did the silent and festering lips say? They silently preached great patience and humility in the trials of God. The saint led a great struggle to repel the impatience of impatience, grumbling, fatigue and the anguish of illness. And why did she have a fast then? And therefore the disease is considered involuntary austerity. Some suffer from cancer, some from diabetes, another from various other diseases that undergo many trials. How can these people be cleansed? How to see the Light of God for them? They will see him, struggling with patience and thanks to the Lord. For patience and gratitude fill the fast, which they can not observe due to illness, although they do ten times more difficult feat than abstinence in food.
In the Lenten period, we must make every effort to purify ourselves. From the ascetic tradition we know about the ascetics who have lived all their life in the wilderness in harsh and difficult works, in strict fasting, in tears, in mortification of the flesh and in abstinence from all other pleasures. And all this work, together with spiritual abuse, with various thoughts, a barrier to rising desires, gave rise to sanctification. Therefore, any Christian, even if he is not a monk, but wants to achieve purification, has the right to work on this path and receive a reward for his labors. Immaculacy has great boldness in the face of God, for our Lord is blameless, and the Most Holy Theotokos was undefiled, and St. John the Theologian harbored his virginity, and many other saints. The whole beauty of the Church is based on purity and integrity. When our heart is pure and beautiful, it will exude perfume and beauty. On the contrary, a person with dirt in the heart will pour it out. Let us also strive to purify the contents of our vessel, our heart, in order to be clean and pleasant in the eyes of God.
In the History of the Church we find numerous examples of people who have become pleasing to God and have gained true greatness.
Abba Paphnutius, the great ascetic, once, praying to God, said:
"My God, who did you put me with?" To whom am I equal in virtue?
And he heard a voice saying to him:
- There lives in Alexandria in the basement a poor man, a shoemaker by profession. To him you are equal in virtue.
- How can I, an ascetic who has been struggling in the wilderness since his youth, be equal to a layman, and even a married man?
"I tell you, you are equal to him."
The next day the saint took his staff and bag, put a little dry bread there and went to Alexandria. When he reached the city, he found that layman and said to him:
"My brother, what are you doing here?"
"You see, Father, I am a sinner." There is no worse man than me in the whole world.
- Can we talk?
- We can.
"What is your virtue, how do you work?"
"What virtue have I?" Can not you see me? In the world I live and part of the world is. You have virtues.
- No, in some ways you are struggling.
- Yes, nothing I do not struggle with.
"The Lord pointed out this to me, and so you can not deceive me." By my prayer He has indicated to you as an equal to me in virtue. You know something.
"Forgive me, Father!" If what I'm doing is really counted for something, I'll tell you about it. I married and from the moment I laid the crown on myself, said to my wife: "If you love me, then let's live in purity, like a brother and sister, in order to fight for the sanctification of our souls. "Do you agree?" "I agree," my wife answered me. Since then, we live in purity and virginity.
The Monk Paphnutius fought in the desert and asceticism and abstinence in the senses sought to gain purity, which was also contributed by the conditions of his life. The same person lived a clean life together with a woman and in the world, among all the temptations of the world, but with God's help reached the same degree of holiness. And his struggle was more difficult than the struggle of the ascetic. But he proved his greatness in the face of God.
Then that's what happened to that shoemaker. Once a Christian came to the Monk Paphnutii and said to him:
"Father, I quarreled with one priest, and I do not know if he cursed me or said a bad word, but he already passed on, and we did not ask each other for forgiveness." How am I supposed to be now?
"I can not help you in your case, but I can advise you one holy man who will help you."
"Who is he?"
"Go to Alexandria, there and there, in the basement, you'll find one shoemaker." Tell me that I sent you this. Tell me about your business, and it will help you.
And the Christian thought to himself: "Lord, have mercy, can it really be, if the ascet can not, the layman will cope?" But he obeyed for good and found that shoemaker and told him about everything. And the shoemaker answered him:
"Wait here until it gets dark."
He waited until dark, and as soon as it was dark they went together to one of the city's temples. The shoemaker said to him:
And he himself, this holy and pure Christian, went to the main gate of the temple, inscribed them with the cross of the cross, and the gates opened themselves. Inside, the temple was shining with light, and angelic singing was heard. The shoemaker went into the temple, looked and went out again. And he says to that man:
"Go into the temple and look around at the choirs, maybe you'll find your priest there."
He went into the temple, and went out, said:
- There he sings on the left choruses.
- Come with me.
They went in, the holy Christian stepped forward and said to the priest:
"Father, forgive this servant of God, for he sinned like a man." You, as a holy person, grant him forgiveness.
- Forgiven and released in peace!
When they came out, the shoemaker said to him:
"Do not you dare tell anyone about what you saw." Go with God and be saved.
See, my children, what does ascetic work do? What does spiritual warfare do? What did this layman do to purify his soul? Was it only the case that he offered the girl he married to live like a brother and sister? Of course, no, they also fasted and prayed at night together, and they bowed their earthly obeisances, and read the gospel, and read the creations of the holy fathers, too, and went to the temple and confessed, and received communion and exorcised bad thoughts-and so they fought together . And therefore they were honored by holiness in the world.
This story points out to us that in the world, if a Christian enters into a voluntary struggle, the grace of God does not blow. However, clinging to prepositions, we justify ourselves by the fact that we live in peace and can not. Desires overwhelm us. What do we need? We need this struggle, both physical and spiritual. We need to control our thoughts. As soon as evil thoughts, sinful fantasies, pictures, faces, idols and scenes come to us, we will expel them immediately with a prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." For if the mind wanders and does not let anything like this, armed with the Divine Weapon, the Name of Christ, then every enemy of our soul is stricken to death, whose name is the devil, whose name is a sinful fantasy whose name is a sinful thought. And thus protecting our soul, our mind and our heart, we will keep all our inner things blameless and pure.
Let us enter into the spiritual struggle, my children, with even greater force, and we shall receive great benefits from this. Without bothering, you will not attain Grace. A farmer who has not cultivated his arable land will not see the fruit. Fasting, accompanied, strengthened and fringed by prayer, reading of Holy Scripture, sobriety, participation in worship, confession, holy communion, good deeds and charity works, prepares and decorates the soul for the meeting of the Great Passion Week. And then we feel more deeply the Great and Honest Passions of Christ, for our heart will soften, be transformed and will know how infinite is the love of God for man. And then we will feel the joy of the Holy Resurrection in our soul, we will celebrate it with all due reverence and be honored to celebrate the Holy Easter together with the angels. Amen.