The Arena
The Arena

Episode · 9 years ago

The Two Wings of Prayer and Fasting

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A Homily on Saint John of the Ladder (Father Luke Hartung). Learn more about Patristic Nectar Publications.

And we continue to remind the faithful and to remind ourselves every year, at this time of great lent, that this is a time and which we return to Paradise. We struggle to return to paradise. Those who strive to unite themselves to Christ begin by regaining that which was lost in the first Paradise and Eden of all, the first commandment that was given to man. We struggle to keep during this season of great lent, fasting, ancient faith radio and patristic nectar publications present the arena Sunday homilies and theological reflections with Father Josiah Trenne. Father Josiah is the pastor of Saint Andrew Orthodox Christian Church in Riverside, California. He is also the founder of Patristic Nectar Publications, a nonprofit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. For more information on patristic nectar publications, please visit our website at www dot patristic nectar dot org. And now, Father Luke, heartime and the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit won God in the beginning. God created all the radiant stars and the luminous planets which so Majestically Adorn the heavens and each heavenly body, are God fashioned out of nothingness and he carefully placed in the sky that they might illumine and guide mankind. The Sun to rule by day, the moon and the stars by night, the stars for seasons and signs, we are told in the book of Genesis, for days and for years, all of them being lights in the firmament of the heavens, to give light on the earth and to divide the light from the darkness to day. On this fourth Sunday of the holy fast of great lent, we celebrate the memory of a great luminary, not of the heavenly firmament, but of the Heavenly Kingdom of our holy Orthodox faith, a...

...brilliant and Shining Star who majestically adorns the church, a man whose profound life has served as a guide post to all mankind throughout the centuries, leading them swiftly along the path of life, and whose words are living, whose words are powerful and who penetrate the darkness more effectively than any two edged sword. I'm referring to our righteous and God bearing Father John of Cyani, John of the latter, as he is called, because of the remarkable work which he bequeathed to the church, entitled the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Hopefully you've heard of it. It contains thirty chapters which, like wrongs on a ladder, guide us on our spiritual ascent to God's heavenly kingdom. This book, brothers and sisters, is such a magnificent and saving instruction manual for all who seek to live as true Christians, all who seek to live that apostolic life which we read of in the book of acts, that this book is read every year during great lent and every monastery all throughout the Orthodox world. But don't think it's just for monks. Don't think it's just for monastics. It's not. It has proved to be one of the most influential books ever written on the spiritual life. But it's not just read by monks and nuns. It's read by singles, by married people, people living in the world, in the cities and villages all throughout the Christian East and West. If you don't have a copy, I would encourage you to get one. There's still time edify your soul you know why it's so good to read these soul profiting works, even of Loft, the mysticism, speaking about unceasing prayer of the heart, a type of repentance which we can only dream of, humility of the saints. It's so important that we read these books because, as Saint John...

Himself says, one of my favorite quotes, a horse, when alone, often imagines that it is galloping, but when it's with others it finds out how slow it really is. See that beautiful picture that he paints. He's a Master of these little parables. So we read these things and then suddenly we come to our senses, like the Prodigal we realize that we've been wallowing in the mire and the mock and the filth of sin and passions with pigs. He helps us to wake up, he helps us to get on our feet, to come to our senses and to want to return to our father's house. So, you see, it's not just for monastics. Now let me tell you a little bit about St John. St John Lived in the sixth century and, after receiving a good education, he left the world. He went to go live the contemplate of life, the monastic life, the angelic life, as it is called. At the age of Sixteen, Sixteen year old boy left home and went and put himself under obedience to an elder, just him and an older monk named Martyrius, Abba Martius, and this was in the region of Mount Sionai, that God Trodden Mountain where Moses received the Commandments. He was tauntured a monk at the age twenty by his spiritual father and he lived in obedience for twenty years. But he was just getting started because after his elder's death, he then went and withdrew to a little region called Fula, where he lived all alone for forty years in a cave in extreme fasting. They said he only ate some of the plants that grew and the sparse desert there. Extreme fasting, unceasing prayer, silence, of course, living alone like that and weeping sweet tears of repentance his cave. They say the cave that he lived in actually became known as the tear streaming place because of his profound repentance. They say that he wept so loudly that such loud, audible lamentation would come from his cave that people passing nearby could hear it, and so they, they caught, began to call it the tear streaming place. Now, each week, on the weekends, each Saturday...

...and Sunday, St John would leave his cave and he would journey by foot, or five miles, up to the cinematic monastery of St Catherine, the great martyr, Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Hopefully you all know of this, this ancient and renowned center of spirituality in our Orthodox Church. It has been there since the sixth century, was built by the Emperor Justinian the first, right on the place where the burning Bush was found by Moses. And so St John would then, on the weekends, go to be with the brethren. He would worship at the divine services with them, he would receive the holy mysteries, and then it was his custom to preach a profitable word to them, to speak to them. After forty years of living this way, forty years of living as a hermit alone in his cave, in the year six hundred, Saint John was unanimously chosen as their Abbot and he lived that way for four years, governing them in great humility. In fact, they say he didn't want to receive the position of Abbot. I want to tell you a little story about him. They say he was so humble that after becoming abbot, even though they unanimously chose him, right as soon as he actually became their Abbot and begin to give orders, to tell them what to do, some of the brothers began to speak behind his back, Gossiping, saying things about him, grumbling, murmuring about their abbot. So he said okay, and for a year he refused to speak even a word. Hopefully, Father Josiah would never do something like that, but he might if you're not careful. So don't grumble, don't Murmur. He was such an example of love and humility to his flock, teaching them not only by his words but by by his very life. Can you imagine the lesson they learned from their Abbot after he was silent for a year, after he refused to say a word for even a year? They never forgot that lesson. He eventually fell asleep in the Lord on March thirty. He's commemorated on March thirty and also the fourth Sunday of great lent and the year six hundred and five being eighty years old. We said many, many times in the past. We...

...priests and we continue to remind the faithful and to remind ourselves every year, at this time of great lent, that this is a time in which we return to paradise. We struggle to return to paradise. Those who strive to unite themselves to Christ begin by regaining that which was lost in the first paradise and Eden of old, the first commandment that was given to man. We struggle to keep during this season of great lent, fasting. We just heard from the mouth of our Savior himself, did we not? This kind cannot come forth except by prayer and fasting. Christianity, brothers and sisters, is ascetic by nature. To be a Christian is to be an ascetic, fasting in prayer, coming to the to the divine services. These aren't things for monks and nuns only. It's for every Orthodox Christian. Our Savior himself says, we heard in the Gospel last week, whoever's willing to follow after me, let him deny himself daily and take up his cross and keep on following me. The Christian life is a cross that we carry. We struggle to carry with joy, but it's a cross a recent hierarch of our church puts it this way. He says when we throw a stone up into the air. Imagine throw a stone up into the air. It continues to ascend until the moment when the force propelling it upward ceases. As long as there's energy behind it, the stone travels higher and higher on its ascent, overcoming even the worse of the Earth's gravity. But when the energy is exhausted and ceases to act, then the stone does not remain suspended in the air. Immediately it begins to fall, and the further it falls, the greater the speed of its fall. It's the same, and our spiritual life as a Christian gradually ascends. The force of spiritual and asthetic labors lifts us on high. Our struggle too fast and to pray unceasingly. These things lift US up. Brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus Christ said, strive to enter in through...

...the narrow gate. For many, I say to you, will seek to enter it and shall not be able. For why? It is the gate and broad as the way that leadeth, the way to destruction. And many are they who enter through it. But narrow is the gate and straight is the way that leadeth, the way through life, and few are they who find it. Few so if we're struggling to ascend a spiritual ladder and we cease from our struggle, if we seek to gold the broad way that the herd is taking, we won't remain in this former condition. Like the stone, we will begin plummeting to the earth faster and faster and faster, and we will drop to the very abyss of hell. It's very, very important that we remember this. People forget this. They forget that the True Path which leads to the heavenly kingdom is a thorny path. Elder Anthony of OPTINA, from that great lineage of Holy Elders in Russia, he has this to say about asceticism. He says, of course it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather bed, but what is required is to carry one's cross along the way. The narrow way is not all snuggled up in a soft feather bed, it's not a full stomach. The devil doesn't fight us, you know, shooting marshmallows. The devil fights us with real weapons which destroy in order to ascend the heights, we must prepare to renounce the ways of sin. That's what the season is all about, that's what true repentance is. We have to renounce our former way, we have to come to our senses and we have to begin making the journey back to where we belong. We have to be ready to really fight, to transform our pleasure loving, pampered, self centered life and to leave the world behind once and for all, not to look back, not to look right and left, not to return to the earth, to keep ascending towards the heights. How shall we journey with our savior come...

...holy week, from death into eternal life, shackled to the things of this world? How shall we ascend into the heights while our minds and our hearts wallow in the depths? So it's not too late. It's not even the eleventh hour. We still have time. We still have weeks ahead of us to cultivate fasting, to cultivate repentance, to come to the services which are often in this parish, to really struggle so that if we die with him, we might be raised with him. If someone has a legitimate health concern, nursing mother's pregnant mothers, of course they don't keep the same fast, but for the rest of us who are healthy, there should be no excuse. It's not just something that our savior recommends, right. He doesn't just say well, if you feel like fasting, he says when you fast, let not your fast be like when it's expected. We're expected to fast. It's shocking to priests when we talk to people and they they somehow have missed that as Orthodox Christians, or they think that they can just modify the fast without even talking with their priest. Well, this is what I'm doing, father. Well, I have to who did you ask? Did you get a blessing from your priest, your father confessor, your spiritual father? Who is your spiritual father? Did you just make up your own fast? That? That's just craziness. This is how serious fasting is. Okay, everybody knows Saint Sarah Him of sorrow, right. Anybody that has read Saints Sarah Him's life just falls in love with this saint because he was so overflowing with bubbling over with love. This is a saint who greeted everyone, no matter what time of year, with Christ is risen. The guy was just overflowing with the love of Christ. But this is what he says. Once, when a mother who was concerned about how she might arrange the best possible marriage for her daughter, she came to him and she asked Saints Sarah Him, he says, before all else, and sure that he, whom your daughter chooses as her companion for life, keeps the fasts. If he does not, then he's not a Christian, whatever he may consider himself to be.

He's not a Christian if he doesn't fast. See how one of the greatest saints of the Russian Church thought about fasting. It's not a joke. If we can't learn how to control our belly, what are we going to be able to control? It's a first step and learning how to control this. Let us remember these things. St John Gleimicus, who we celebrate today, has described the ladder of spiritual assent. Let us not forget that we are all on that journey, whether we think we are or not. We are all on that ladder. Some are higher than others, some maybe have a noose around their neck and are being yanked down by the demons, but our savior is waiting in the heights to receive us into his heavenly kingdom through the prayers of all of the saints, especially our most Holy Lady, the Theo Tokos. Let us begin to ascend like eagles. Let us become courageous and fearsome to the demons, like lions. Brothers and sisters, let us begin to fight violently, because the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Let us correct ourselves now, before it is too late, so that we continue in our ascent and not fall into the abyss St John Himself. Rights. Climb, brothers, climb, climb eagerly and be resolved in your hearts to climb run. I beseech you with him who said, let us hasten until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God, unto a perfect man, to the measure of the stature, of the fullness of Christ who, when he was baptized in the thirty year of his visible age, fulfill the thirty step and the spiritual ladder, that of divine love, since God indeed is love, and to him who is and who was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout endless ages, be praised dominion and power forever and ever. On that we hope that you have enjoyed and have been edified by this presentation offered to you by Patristic Nectar Publications, a nonprofit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. Until next time,.

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