My September “Kandili” article encouraged the readers to join Fr. Paul, Fr. Evan and me in beginning each day of our new Ecclesiastical year focusing on Christ our Lord. After all, life is about Him, not us. Last month, we examined humility with a reminder of our Lord’s great challenge to be converted to become as “small children” if we desired to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mt. 18:1-5). Now, this does not refer to being “childish” with the immaturities of childhood. What it does refer to is to be childlike with a purity of faith, trust and love for God, our True Parent. A “conversion” here is necessary as following the Fall of Humankind, our tendency is to rely on self and not God. Quite simply, in order to say “Yes” to God and God’s Will, we must say “No” to our self and our will. Is this a challenge, or what?
We hear in the Lord’s Prayer, “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To become childlike is to place God’s Will above our own. What is practically necessary for us to do this? Humility is of course. Prayer and fasting are also absolutely necessary as they express our humility on the one hand and serve to deepen it on the other hand. Why are prayer and fasting absolutely necessary? They are necessary because they both redirect the focus in our life away from us and towards God, when done with the proper attitude. Orthodoxy teaches us that proper fasting provides a heart receptive to a genuine encounter with God. Just what is “proper” fasting? Simply it is a discipline to help us to learn to say “no” to certain things in our lives with a purpose to learn to say “no” to our wants and desires, to our self. Again, to say “yes” to God and God’s Will is to say “no” to our self and our will. Remember what our Lord said to His disciples? “Whosoever desires to follow me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” ( Mk. 8:34). Proper fasting helps us to conquer our own selfish desires. It is like a small “self-persecution”. Tito Colliander states, “Ultimately it is just this ‘self-persecution’ on which your warfare depends, for as long as your selfish will rules, you cannot pray to the Lord with a pure heart: Thy will be done. If you cannot get rid of your own greatness, neither can you lay yourself open for real greatness. If you cling to your own freedom, you cannot share in true freedom, where only one will reigns.” (Way of the Ascetics, pg. 12).
We must remember that this whole process is going against the post-Fall flow, against what feels natural to us and against what we are often taught and learn in the world around us. We learn to care for and focus on our self and our wants and desires. When we do go against the flow and move out of our self, who do we encounter? Bishop Theophan answers, “We meet God and our neighbor. It is for this reason that denying oneself is a stipulation, and the chief one, for the person who seeks salvation in Christ: only so can the center of our being be moved from self to Christ, who is both God and our neighbor. This means that all the care, concern and love we now lavish on ourselves is then quite naturally and without our noticing it transferred to God and thereby to our fellowmen.” (Way of The Ascetic, pg. 20).
This November, as we celebrate the Entrance into the Temple of the Theotokos on November 21, the Feast of our Patroness, St. Catherine the Great Martyr, November 25, let us allow their great example of sacrificial love to encourage us to live the same way. On this Thanksgiving Day, the 24th of the month, let us offer thanks to our Lord for life and all of our blessings by loving Him and one another. Let’s say “no” to our self by saying “yes” to God in all we do.
With the Lord’s blessings,