Fasting and Repentance

Author: H. H. Pope Shenouda Ill.

Those who fast and receive no benefit from it must have fasted in a wrong way; in this case, what is to blame is not fasting itself, but the method followed. Fasting is a period of concentrated spiritual activity, a period of loving God and adhering to Him.

As a result of this love, one who fasts is lifted above the level of the body and its concerns. He soars above worldly matters, to get a taste of the heavenly. It is a period of sacred feelings towards God, and ultimately, it harbours the feeling that one is close to, and familiar with, Him.

It is a period of being spiritually content with the self and with God, and of standing against the Devil. Days of fasting are specifically for spiritual energy, and are a period of storage. From the depths of spirituality acquired, through fasting, one who fasts receives spiritual energy which supports him during his non-fasting days.

Thus, he who is honest in his spiritual activity during Lent, for instance, receives a spiritual stock that strengthens him throughout the following fifty sacred days, during which there is neither fasting nor metanoias.

If one wants to fast in a spiritual fashion, one must bear in mind the following remarks:

1. Fasting must be spiritual in its target and motives. It should not be performed as an obligation, for praise, or out of custom. In fasting, one must place the love of God above materialistic and bodily things, in order to allow the soul its chance.

2. Fasting should be a period of penitence and purity of heart. In fasting, the person must lead a holy life, acceptable in the sight of God, in which he confesses his sins and repents, then partakes of the holy sacraments.

3. Fasting should be a period of spiritual nourishment, and it should follow a strong spiritual schedule. While fasting, all the spiritual media should be taken care of, and spiritual, rather than bodily, matters should be concentrated upon. One should always place before oneself, not merely the kind of food for fasting, but the sanctity of fasting days and what is proper for them, so that one’s spirit may become strengthened in them.

  • Fasting leads to the strength of the spirit, and the strength of the spirit leads to fasting. In fasting there are virtues that are related to each other.
  • Fasting helps one to stay up late, because of the lightness of one’s body, and staying up late leads to reading and prayer. Spiritual reading also helps one to pray, and it is a source of contemplation, which, in turn, strengthens prayer.
  • Fasting is related to metanoias, which lead to humility and the meekness of the heart. The humbling of the body, through fasting, also leads to a humbling of the soul.
  • Fasting is connected with virtues that are related to the purpose of fasting. There is a fast, such as that of the Apostles, that prepares one for service, while another fast, such as that of Nineveh, aims at repentance.

The purpose of some fasts, such as Esther’s, aims at saving people, and there are those who fast for others, and their fast includes love, sacrifice, and cooperation.

These are all fasts that are mingled with special virtues. We should remember in our fast that the Lord Jesus Christ fasted while He was filled with the Spirit, but as for us, at least let us fast so that we may become filled with the Spirit.

Fasting should be accompanied by repentance.

  • Fasting days are sacred, and man lives them in holiness. During these days, the mind, heart and body must also be sacred.
  • Fasting is a training period during which one attempts to approach God, while at the same time being pulled away by sin. Therefore, one must escape from sin through repentance in order to draw one’s self closer to God. While fasting, the body abstains from food, and the soul abstains from every earthly lust, every worldly lust, and all lusts that pertain to the body.

Thus, through repentance, one approaches God. Therefore, ask yourself: Are you on this track?

Without repentance, God does not accept your fast, and thus, you gain neither heaven nor earth, and you make yourself suffer in vain. If you want God to accept your fast, check yourself, as far as all your sins are concerned, and revoke them.

On this matter, we may take the clear example of the fast of Nineveh. The Bible says that the people of Nineveh turned, “every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. ” (Jonah3 :8) For this reason, God did not destroy them when He “…saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. ” (Jonah3 :10) It was not said that, `when He saw their ascetic garb or their fast,’ but when he saw their repentance, which was a principal element in their fast. In the Book of Joel, we see an example of repentance that accompanies fasting. The Lord addressed the people through His prophet, saying: “Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful” (Joel2 :13 12). It is clear here that fasting is accompanied by repentance and weeping.

Therefore, fasting is not mere abstinence from food, but rather, it is the true yearning of the heart for God. In his fast, Daniel, the prophet, gresented the repentance of the whole population. He fasted and confessed to God, saying, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts… O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but unto us shame of face… O Lord, to us belongs shame of face to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against You. ” (Daniel9 :5-8) Therefore, be reconciled with God in your fast.

Do not say: “How long will You forget me, O Lord : for ever?” (Psalm13 :1) You should rather say. `How long will I forget You, O Lord? For ever? Until when will I hide my face from You?’ Purify your souls then, and sanctify them. Prepare for a meeting with these days. Become ready by making God reside in your hearts, and not be merely abstaining from food.

If you are in sin, be reconciled with God, and if you are reconciled with Him, deepen your love for Him. If you have done away sinfulness during a fast, continue on in the same manner.

Repentance is not confined to fasting alone, but it is made fit through fasting. Man becomes trained in it, his heart is purified, and he keeps this purity as a lifestyle. In all this, be ready to strive against the Devil. Joshua, son of Sirach, told his son that if he set forward to serve God, he should prepare himself for all trials. When the Devil sees your fast and repentance, he becomes envious of your spiritual acts. Thus, he fights you to deprive you of the fruit of your labour, and seeks every trick to bring about your downfaIl, saying, `I shall not leave you until you give up.’ Remember the words of Saint Peter who said, “Whom resist, steadfast in the faith. ” ( 1Peter5 :9 ) Thus, fasting is a period of spiritual warfare, as was the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Matthew4 . It is also a period of triumph for him who shares it with Christ.

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Hope

By H.H. Pope Shenouda III

  • He has hope that God will work with him in every spiritual act. He believes in God, in His goodness and protection, in His love and promises. This faith fills his heart with hope in God’s response. He is full of confidence that his request has entered into the presence of God and that God will do what is good.
  • In every affliction or problem he faces, he has hope that God will save him no matter how hard it is or how far God delayed or seemed delaying. This person has hope that God will come, even in the last watch of the night. Therefore, he never loses hope.
  • With this hope in him, he does not despair, does not know failure and does not accept the word impossible. With God there is hope, even in the smoking flax and the bruised reed. There is even hope for the barren woman who never gave birth.
  • God is the hope for those who have no hope and is the helper of those who have no helper. God is the comforter of the mean-spirited and the harbour for those who are in the storm.
  • This hope gives strength that springs from God, as the Lord says, “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and shall not faint. ” (Isa. 40:31).
  • It is a firm hope that does not shake because it depends on God who has no variation or shadow of turning…
  • Jonah the Prophet had hope, even when he was in the belly of the big fish.
  • Hope in God gives joy, “Rejoicing in hope.” (Rom. 12:12).
  • Hope is an incentive for work, for hope does not mean idleness, relying on God! No, but it is rejoicing in the work of God and this urges one to work with God, with full enthusiasm…
  • Live in the hope and wait for the Lord, rejoicing in Him and in His work.

 

There is nothing impossible in the life with God. There is hope whatever the sin and the troubles may be and however difficult the case is.

In the spiritual life, how nice are the sayings about hope in the Bible:

“… all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23).

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13).

If you are fought with hopelessness about your personal abilities, you should not be fought about God’s power…

If you do not have the ability, God certainly has: Even if you are not seeking Him, He seeks you as He sought the prodigal son and the lost coin. He stands and knocks at your door to open for Him. How great is this hope that God is seeking you and He does not wish the sinner to perish but to repent and live.

Satan, in keen insistence, does not lose hope to destroy the most saintly and continues fighting him. How more becomes our hope in God’s salvation of sinners.

God gave us hope through examples mentioned in the Bible, such as the numerous miracles among which was the resurrection of the dead, even the one who has been dead for four days.

The greater war by which Satan fights us is hopelessness.

Blessing and Affliction

By: Pope Shenouda III

How astonishing are the persons whom God gives blessing but they turn it into affliction!

Money is a blessing, beauty also is, art, freedom, knowledge, power, discipline are also blessings. But, practically it is so easy to find all these blessings turned into afflictions by different means!

Misusing such blessings may turn them into afflictions. Money buys and sells conscience and beauty becomes a means of enticement. Art turns into entertainment and frivolity and freedom becomes means of rashness and inattentiveness. Power develops into an instrument of tyranny and science is used in destructive and harmful inventions while discipline — through misuse — turns into routine and an

implement of delaying!!

These blessings — due to competition — may turn into afflictions!

For the sake of competition in the fields of money, science, power or art, it is so easy for a person to be at enmity with his brother, hatred and rumours spread, and fighting occurs — in which a person loses his humanity and love for others.

Moreover, what else may be said? Even the ministry, God’s ministry!! Satan can also penetrate into the sphere of ministry and change it into affliction. If there are differences of opinion, they will turn into disputes, and aspirations for improvement will change to destruction and defamation.

Also, there will rise competition for leadership as it is the case in the worldly affairs…!

And as one invention could be used for good and evil, likewise, all the other potentials could be.

So it all depends on the person himself, on the heart, the mind and the will through which a matter becomes either a blessing or a source of affliction.

At the martyrdom period, persecution seemed to be an affliction, but the saints changed it into a blessing which they received with crowns… The bloods of the martyrs became the seeds of faith. The Church grew in spirituality and became more attached to God and deeply involved in holiness in preparation for eternity.

Also, trials and diseases were accepted by the saints as blessings…

Therefore, do not say, such a thing is a blessing or such, an affliction, but say it can be changed into this or that.

A wise heart can transfer an affliction into a blessing, even sin!! He benefits from it: contrition, humility, keenness and sympathy for sinners.

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God’s Children are Strong

By His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

God’s children should be strong because they were created in His image and likeness (Gn 1: 26); and God is powerful.  We say about Him “Holy is the Lord God Almighty”; therefore, they should be strong like Him.

In the book of Numbers, when God ordered Moses to take a census of the people, this was restricted to young men who can go to war (Nu 1: 3).  When the Song of Solomon talks about the men around King Solomon’s throne, it describes them as valiant men; “They all hold swords, Being expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh, Because of fear in the night.” (Sgs 3: 8)

The following are a few examples of God’s strong children:

David:

When he was only a young lad keeping watch over his father’s sheep in the wilderness, a lion and a bear came and seized a lamb from the flock.  David said “I went after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.  Your servant has killed both lion and bear.”(1 S 17: 34-36)

Imagine a young boy pursuing a lion and snatching it from his jaws and then attacking it and killing it without any fear.  He killed both the lion and the bear.

Also, when he saw Goliath the giant challenging army, the people and the king, with everyone terrified of him, he presented himself and volunteered to fight him.  He told King Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” (1 S 17: 32) And in fact, David came forward with his sling and horse to fight a giant whose height was six cubits and the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam (1 S 17).  He told him, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel… This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you… for the battle is the Lord’s”.

David was strong of heart and faith, so he fought and won.

  • He also showed strength in his nobility. Saul attempted more than once to kill him and pursued him from one wilderness to another, and then finally fell into the hand of David.  His followers tried to persuade him to kill him saying, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.'” (1 S 24: 4)  But David answered, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” (1 S 24: 6)  David’s magnanimity caused Saul to weep and to tell him, “You are more righteous than I;”.  However, he persisted in his perfidy.
  • ·         In spite of all this, when Saul was killed in battle, David wept over him and gave an affecting eulogy of him and Jonathan and described them as “swifter than eagles”, and “stronger than lions” (2 S 1: 23)

David was strong in his love.

When he was mourning Jonathan he said, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me; Your love to me was wonderful; Surpassing the love of women.” (2 S 1: 26).  And he took care of his children and women.

When David sinned, he was very strong in his repentance.

He wept profusely in earnest and sincere repentance so that his tears were a drink to him night and day.  “I mingled my drink with weeping,” and “I drench my couch with tears.”  He reveals the depth of his repentance in psalm 6 and in Psalm 50.  He also says, “O Lord, hear my weeping” and “Put my tears into Your bottle;”.

David was strong in his repentance and in his spiritual life, in his prayers and in his psalms.  He prayed morning and evening and at noon.  “Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous judgments.” he says.  At night not only he says, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.”, but he also says “My eyes are awake through the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.”  Furthermore, he says, “O God, You are my God,… My soul thirsts for You,” “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.”

Moses the ProphetMoses the Prophet:

He was strong in his gentleness and in his patience.

It was said of him, “Now the man Moses was a very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” (Nu 12:3).

Nevertheless, he was exceedingly strong in standing up to Pharaoh.

He was strong as the leader of the people who numbered more than four hundred grumblers and complainers.  In spite of this he managed to lead them.

He was strong before the Lord, strong in his intercession. When the children of Israel worshipped the golden calf, God was angry with them and told Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!  Now therefore, let Me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.  And I will make of you a great nation.“  But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his god, and said ”Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people…  Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people.  Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants” (Ex 32: 9-12).

In his intercession, Moses even went to the lengths of telling God, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, … Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” (Ex 32: 31, 32)

Moses was as strong in his miracles as he was in his intercession.

He was strong in the ten plagues he brought on Pharaoh and his people.  He was truly strong when he told his people, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.  For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.  The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex 14: 13,14)  He hit the sea with his staff and it divided in two and the people marched in the middle.

He also hit the rock and it gave forth water so that the people could drink.

He caused manna to fall from heaven to feed them.

There were many miracles that God worked through him in the wilderness, just as He worked them in the land of Egypt.

The mighty miracles show that he had strong faith and a strong relationship with God.

God Himself mentions this relationship, rebuking Aaron and Miriam and telling them, “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all my house.  I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord.” (Nu 12: 6-8).

Abraham, the Father of the Patriarchs:

 

He was strong in his obedience and in his asceticism.

·         At the beginning of his call, God said to him, “Get out of your country, From your family  And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you.” (Gn 12: 1, 2)  He left not knowing where he was going (He 11: 8).  The strength of his obedience was derived from the strength of his faith and of his asceticism, for he left everything and followed the Lord into the unknown.

After waiting patiently many years for God to grant him a son, Isaac, when he was a hundred, God told him, “Abraham… Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall.” (Gn 22: 1, 2).  Abraham did not hesitate; he did not discuss it, but very early the next morning, he took his son Isaac, and fire and a knife.  And there on the mountain the Lord showed him the place.  Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  He laid his son Isaac on the altar on top of the wood and reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  What a strong heart this is!  And what strong faith, to raise his knife to slay the son for whom he had received the promises.

Abraham was just as strong in his generosity as he was in his obedience and faith.

This was manifested in his dealings with Lot, his nephew, who had left him in preference for the fertile land of Sodom.  Five kings went to war against 4 kings and the Bible tells us that “When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan… He brought back all the goods and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.” (Gn 12: 14-16)

Elijah the Prophet:

Elijah was strong in defending faith, in his holy zeal, and in his standing up to kings.

He was so strong that it was said of John the Baptist’s birth that he would “go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah… to make a ready people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1: 17).

In the days of Elijah, there were 850 false prophets of Baal and Asherah whom King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, protected and who ate at their table. (1 K 18: 19) Elijah went to meet King Ahab who told him, “Is that you, O you troubler of Israel?”  Elijah answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” (1 K 18: 18, 19).

Elijah addressed the prophets of Baal with power, “How long will you falter between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; But if Baal, follow him.” He challenged them to offer a sacrifice to their god while he offered one to God so that they could see which one would be consumed by fire from heaven.  Through the power of his prayer, fire from heaven descended and consumed his sacrifice.  Later, through the power of his prayer rain came down after it had been stopped fro over three years.

The rain had been stopped at Elijah’s word, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” (1 K 17: 1).  And indeed there was no rain or dew and there was a famine in the earth.

St. James says about this, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  (Jas 5: 16-18)

With Elijah’s strength in his dealings with heaven and the kings of the earth, he was also strong in his asceticism, for he wore the skin of animals (2 K 1: 8).  He lived in the wilderness or on Mount Carmel and John the Baptist resembled him in this respect for he too lived in the wilderness and “John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” (Mk 1: 6)

Joseph the Righteous

He was strong in understanding and in interpreting dreams.

There is no doubt that this was a gift of God and that the Lord was with him.

  • He was strong in management, for when he was in the house of Potiphar he succeeded in all that he put his hand to.  (Gn 39)
  • He was strong in his chastity, for he overcame the wiles of Potiphar’s wife and because of his chastity, the sinful woman plotted against him so that his master had him thrown into prison.

In prison, he gained the confidence of the officer in charge who left the management of all matters to him.  The prisoners came to him for advice and it is here that the power to interpret dreams appeared.  He interpreted the dreams of the chief baker and of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and what he told them was fulfilled.  Later, Pharaoh was informed of this ability.

When he interpreted Pharaoh’s double dream and told him what he had to do, Pharaoh told his men, “Can we find such a man as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God.” (Gn 41: 38). He made him the second man in his kingdom and the overseer of supplies.

Joseph was the most powerful Minister of Supplies Egypt ever had throughout its history.

With wisdom and authority, he was able to store food during the plentiful years and to distribute this in the lean years.  He was able to meet the needs of Egypt and the neighboring countries who came to Egypt in search of grain.

Joseph had profound and powerful wisdom in dealings with his brothers.

He had the ability to hide his identity from them and showed strength in disciplining them and in revealing the truth about himself.  He showed strong emotions towards his father and his brother Benjamin.

He was strong in forgiving his brothers who had sold him into slavery.

Thus, in the Old Testament, he was able to carry out the Commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, “Love your enemies,… do good to those who hate you,”  (Mt 5: 44)  He was good to them and their families and did not take his revenge on them.  He reassured them and removed their fear of him, especially after the death of his father.

He wept when they asked for his forgiveness saying, “We are your servants”.  Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good,… to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.”.  And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (to be continued)

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