Fasting – It’s Not Just Food

We usually think of fasting as not eating. When I’m fasting, I’m not eating. If I fast from sun up to sunset, I don’t consume any food during that time. Maybe I won’t even drink water for a more extreme fast. Either way, fasting is about going without food. But is that all it is?

We give up food when we fast for a variety of reasons, among others because it teaches us humility, it reminds us of the poor and destitute, the homeless. We may renounce food in order to bring us closer to God, which may sound counter intuitive to those who have never tried it, but the act of fasting certainly enhances ones prayer. For me, fasting is a way to empty myself that God may come in. It is an opportunity to drop away the worries of the world that I might be better prepared for God’s voice.

St. Basil said “True fasting lies is rejecting evil, holding one’s tongue, suppressing one’s hatred, and banishing one’s lust, evil words, lying, and betrayal of vows.” This really strikes at the heart of what fasting really is. When I am fasting, if I just concentrate on not eating, on getting through my period of time without food, and think of nothing else, than all I’m really doing is dieting. Fasting for me has to be more than just not eating.

The last several months have been periods of intense fasting for me. Beginning at the end of December into January and February, I went through a very rigorous series of fasts for the purpose of discernment and personal introspection. I had never fasted to such a degree before and it was quite the learning experience. I learned a lot about discernment, about myself, and about fasting.

But it wasn’t enough to just give up fasting. I had to remove those things from my life that I felt were distracting me from being truly empty enough that there was less me, more God. Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes. One of the primary things I gave up was the majority of social media and electronic communication (outside of what was necessary for work). The problem with that is when you communicate with most of your friends and family through social media, you loose touch, they think you’re ignoring them and they all end up being upset. So, take it from me, let people know in advance if you’re dropping off the face of the earth for a while.

Regardless, what I took away from the last few months, what I am still processing is how much fasting really prepares you for receiving God, for hearing His voice. We have to give up those things that distance us from Him while we are fasting, we have to abstain from the evils of the flesh, from gossip and lying, from hateful speech or action, from lustful thoughts, and so much more. We also have to embrace positive action, that is, we need to replace bad with good. Faith without acts is a dead faith. If we are fasting, and not doing anything good during the fast, we are not truly carrying out a fast for the Lord. Pray more, give more, help more, serve more, whatever it is, we need to insure that our time during fasting, the activities we participate in, truly please our Lord.

There can be no doubt that fasting is one of the most powerful spiritual tools available to the Christian and when combined with prayer, with reading Scripture and spiritual material, there is no better combination for us as believers.

Unfortunately, we’re a society that has become spoiled, that is used to instant gratification and never going without. Because of that, fasting is a hard sell in many circles, it may even scare many people thinking they may go hungry and starve. But it really isn’t that hard. Just do it.

Fasting appears gloomy until one steps into its arena. But begin and you will see what light it brings after darkness, what freedom from bonds, what releases after a burdensome life.

-St. Theophan the Recluse.

Prayer Before Reading the Bible

I am a huge believer that we should always pray before reading Holy Scripture. The following is one of my personal favorites.

Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom Before Reading or Listening to the Word of God

O Lord Jesus Christ, open Thou the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me, but open mine eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Thy law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom. On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou shalt enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them; that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting. For Thou art the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from Thee cometh every good deed and every gift. Amen.

Diet, Body, and Soul

Like most people, the past month has been horrible for my mid-section. From Thanksgiving, through Christmas and into New Years, the holiday season is one full of family gatherings, large meals, too many pies, and very little exercise. For the sake of honesty, let me say that my personal level of exercise over the past 45 days has dropped to pretty much nothing and there has been almost no sense of accountability concerning what I’ve been eating. I slipped off the bandwagon and and now it’s time to get back on track. But something has been nagging at me a bit lately and I want to share a few random thoughts on the junction between diet and spirituality.

Now, you will never hear me say anything about how being vegan or vegetarian is more spiritual, nor will you see me touting the latest ‘Bible-based’ diet craze. It’s all ridiculous. I’m a fan of the Mediterranean diet, but I like bacon and red meat so it’s hard to really be serious about it. Paleo is great, unfortunately I love bread way too much. Especially a nice fresh warm sourdough smothered in butter. But I wonder if we haven’t lost something, some sense of our relationship with food. Extreme dieting for example, I am quite certain is not good for us. I am reminded of Saint Paul who, in his first letter to Timothy exhorts him to not drink just water but to have some wine for his health. I sense that St. Paul would not have been a fan of extreme or silly diets that hurt our health, because our health is vital to our life as Christians.

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The Creed

The Creed is the Orthodox confession of faith adopted by the first two Ecumenical Councils, in Nicea in 325, and in Constantinople in 381. The Creed is a brief, yet complete summary of Christian Orthodox doctrines.

  1. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
  2. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by Whom all things were made;
  3. Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from the Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man;
  4. And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried;
  5. And rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures;
  6. And ascended into the Heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
  7. And He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end;
  8. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life; Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the Prophets;
  9. In One, Holy, Catholic*, and Apostolic Church.
  10. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
  11. I look for the resurrection of the dead,
  12. And the life of the world to come. Amen.

* The True Meaning of the Word “CATHOLIC” in the Creed: “In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

The word “catholic” means “universal” as referring to the Church of all times, peoples, and places, Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11).

A celebrated definition of “catholic” in the early Church was given by St. Vincent of Lerins, the 5th century monastic Father of Gaul, who in his Communitorium says: “Every care should be taken to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. That is truly and properly ‘catholic,’ as indicated by the force and etymology of the name itself, which comprises everything truly universal” (ch. 2, Fathers of the Church edition, pg. 270).

The name of “catholic” has been kept from early times in the “Roman Catholic” church, but the teaching of the early Church has been preserved in the Orthodox Church, which even to this day can be and still is called “catholic.”

The Roman Catholic (Western) church separated from the True Church in the year 1054 after changing the Creed and wrongly claiming supremacy of the Bishop of Rome (Pope) over the other bishops.

Drifting further from its origin, the Western church was then shattered into a myriad of sects by the Protestant Reformation. However, in Greece, Russia, the Balkans, Middle East, and elsewhere, the True Apostolic Church continued to flourish, preserving the Faith of Christ pure and unchanged.

Today this Church is known as the Orthodox Church and it is a haven for those seeking Christ’s truth

For more information OCA has a good article here.

Rethinking Seminary

How many capable men have been denied opportunities to serve in the Church because of the difficulty of attending seminary? How many men have left Seminary with extreme debt due to the astronomical costs? How many marriages strained? How much time lost? I would suggest that we need to really begin rethinking the seminary model. Education of course is vital to anyone entering the priesthood, and even more so for those who may be called to serve in an episcopal office, but is the manner of the modern seminary really ideal? I would like to propose several reasons why I believe the average seminary is not ideal for most people and then offer a suggestion for implementing a different seminary model.

First consider the current state of education in the West. Rampant, godless liberalism is sweeping across the West like an out of control forest fire – consuming everything in its path. And I do not mean the liberalism of our forefathers, that economic approach that gave us Social Security or opposed blanket warfare, the liberalism of American Presidents like John F. Kennedy or Harry Truman. Rather I am concerned about the liberalism that denies any sense of right or wrong, the liberalism that says anything goes as long as it feels right. The liberalism that has arisen in the past twenty years or so and is now destroying college campuses and educational institutions everywhere. This rampant evil that is infecting everything it touches and is slowly making inroads even into the most conservative colleges and seminaries. Taking control of our education, insuring that it is directed toward the glory of God and His Church, has to be a primary focus of rethinking the education of our future leaders in the Church.

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Sola Scriptura

In the Vanity of Their Minds

by Fr. John Whiteford

Webmaster’s Note: Father John Whiteford is a former Nazarene Associate Pastor who converted to the Orthodox Faith soon after completing his B.A. in Religion at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. He first encountered Orthodoxy as a result of his involvement in the local Pro-Life (Rescue) movement, which also included Father Anthony Nelson and several of his parishioners. After over a year of searching the Scriptures and the writings of the early Church; and through the love, prayers and patience of Father Anthony and the Parishioners of St. Benedicts, Fr. John was received into the Holy Orthodox Church. When he wrote this article he was serving as a Reader at St. Vladimirs in Houston, Texas and is continuing his studies. He has since been ordained a Priest and serves St. Jonah of Manchuria Orthodox Church (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), in Houston, Texas.

AN ORTHODOX EXAMINATION OF THE PROTESTANT TEACHING

Introduction: Are Protestants Beyond Hope?

Since my conversion from Evangelical Protestantism to the Orthodox Faith, I have noted a general amazement among many of those who have been raised Orthodox that a Protestant could be converted. This is not because they are uncertain about their own faith, usually they are just amazed that anything could break through a Protestants stubborn insistence on being wrong! What I have come to understand is that most Orthodox people have a confused and limited grasp of what Protestantism is, and where its adherents are coming from. Thus when “cradle Orthodox” believers have their run-ins with Protestants, even though they often use the same words, they do not generally communicate because they do not speak the same theological language — in other words, they have no common theological basis to discuss their differences. Of course when one considers the some twenty thousand plus differing Protestant groups that now exist (with only the one constant trait of each group claiming that it rightly understands the Bible), one must certainly sympathize with those that are a bit confused by them.

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Discerning my Vocation in the Church

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4:1

I am writing this as we enter 2019 and as I enter a period of intense introspection and discernment. I will be devoting the next month to working out my calling in the Church. To that end I wanted to write a bit about my understanding of the process of discernment and what a vocation is.

The word vocation comes from a Latin word that means a calling or summons; specifically we use it to mean a calling to serve God.  Vocations can come in many forms but most typically we think of a vocation as a calling to marriage or a calling to the religious life. For this article I am specifically focused on discerning the call to religious life, to the priesthood, as that is what I am really praying about this month.

First, how do we know we have a calling to the priesthood? The easiest way to begin is with the idea that I am thinking about it. Obsessively thinking about it. It’s an inner voice that never goes away. It’s a desire that I have had for two decades and, while it has waxed and waned at various points in my life, it has never gone away. Unfortunately I made the mistake of pursuing a very dubious ordination to the priesthood and episcopate when I was younger, ordinations that I seriously doubt were valid therefore I find myself having to be very careful about how I proceed. It is important to me not to repeat that mistake, to insure that I am not pursuing ordination for the wrong reasons. In other words, do I want the religious life for the right reasons.

I have to be very careful examining my motivations. Do I want to be a priest because it’s cool? Because I want some sort of recognition or special treatment? Do I think it will somehow make me more spiritual or holy? Of course, none of these are true. But they are examples of what I need to seriously consider when asking myself – why do I want to be a priest?

Am I fit to be a priest? Do I have the constitution, the temperament, that is necessary to be a good priest. Am I suited for the life of a priest? Can I balance the needs of family life, of marriage, of work, with the calling to a sacramental vocation. It’s not enough to just ‘try it out’ to see if the life fits. Apostolic ordination to the presbyterate is a life long commitment and one I have to be sure of before committing myself. There are no canonical impediments but is there anything else in my life that is not suited to a religious vocation?

So what steps do I take to actually make a decision? To begin with I need to do some serious praying about the decision. Some long, serious, deep prayer has to be my first step toward discerning, to making a final prayer, concerning the call to the priesthood. I will be spending dedicated time every week, and most days, in silence; that is prayer free of any outside distractions. In conjunction with that I will also be spending some associated time meditating on Holy Scripture, specifically those portions that deal with our callings to serve God.

I derive a great deal of joy in thinking about the priesthood, that I might one day be used by God in this capacity. I am fortunate to have a very loving and supportive wife who I have no doubt will be pleased with walking beside me on this journey. The opportunity and the challenge to start an Orthodox mission in my hometown might bring a bit of trepidation when I consider the obstacles before me, but with God all things are possible.