Friday, March 14, 2008

A True Fast

From St Anatoly of Optina's A Collection of Letters to Nuns:
Peace to you, S! Once more I greet you with the fast!

With the true fast! You have already tasted fasting food, which maybe isn't much to your liking. But what to do. Even meat-eating beasts and predatory hawks and how many other innocent animals, small and great – and how many countless thousands of them there are – also fast. They say that sometimes wolves don't eat for a week and more at a time. So how can we Christians, heirs of the eternal Kingdom, not fast? And now is the most appropriate time. Behold, now is the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2).

"It is the gladsome season of the Fast; wherefore, having abundantly taken our fill of radiant purity, sincere love, enlightened prayer, and all manner of virtue, let us cry out joyously: O all-holy Cross of Christ, which hast blossomed forth the bliss of life, count of all worthy to worship thee with a pure heart!" [From the Stichera for "Lord, I have cried," Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent.]

Do you see, Seraphimochka! You are no longer a worldly young girl but are numbered among the monastics – among the brides of Christ. And so, you should know not the letter only but also the mysteries of the Kingdom. For not to eat bread and not to drink water or anything else is not yet fasting, for neither do the demons eat or drink anything at all. And yet they are evil and hateful to God. But fasting for us is, as the Church chants, "the estrangement from evil, restraint of tongue, refraining from anger, separation from lust, slanders, lies and false oaths. Abstinence from these things is a true and acceptable fast." [From the Vespers Aposticha, Monday of the First Week of Lent.] But S. and I are lacking not only in these great virtues, but even in patient endurance of what God sends! Yes, Seraphimochka, in your impatience you have entirely taken after me. Life is hard for such people. That I know from experience. It is all true. Nevertheless, I will also be telling the truth if I say that by God's mercy I have somehow managed to live in the monastery for a quarter century. Who knows, maybe you will live in one even longer, despite your impatience. Yes, you will. You will for sure, if you humble yourself – that is, if you say to yourself and to God, "I am weak; I cannot be a nun, for I am just too weak, but I do want to be a nun – help me, O Jesus!" And call upon the Most-holy Mother of God as often as possible – and you will be saved. As for external sorrows and unpleasantness – they will fly off like dried-up mud from your clothes...
St Anatoly's letters to nuns make for extremely soothing reading, inasmuch as he was consoling sensitive nuns complaining of the hardships of community life. The Elder again and again consoles them to be patient, to remember the Jesus Prayer, and to be sensitive to the needs of others. Fr Serge Cherverikov, in his introduction to the original Russian version in 1909, write sthe following about St Anatoly:
He knew how to touch in an affectionate, fatherly way every ailing, distraught human soul, which understood neither itself nor others – how to soothe it, clear before it the path of the spiritual life, and show it where and how to go. And in all justice one may term him, as well as his contemporary and friend, Father Amvrosy, a true healer of souls in affliction and perplexity.
How anyone could not be deeply moved and comforted by reading these letters is really quite beyond me; they are some of the most tender works of spiritual advice I've ever encountered.

No comments: