Posted 01 March 2014 - 06:55 AM
Saint Matthew 6:14-21 Gospel for the Fourth Sunday before the Great Fast: ‘of Forgiveness’
Jesus taught His disciples, saying,
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they
disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have
17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where
thieves break in and steal;
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where
thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
March 2, 2014,
The Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare)
Three Essentials of Fasting: Matthew 6: 14-21, especially vss. 17-18: “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place. . . .” In this passage the Lord outlines three conditions of true fasting: forgiveness (vss. 14-15), accountability (vss. 16-18), and readiness for combat with the enemy (vss. 19-21).
Two matters concerning forgiveness must be settled prior to commencing the Lenten Fast: our need to be forgiven and our need to forgive. The aim of the fast is to assist us in embracing the Lord’s “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2) which does cleanse “from all unrighteousness” (vs. 1:9). God calls us to repent and confess (Acts 3:19), for He forgives when we forgive. And “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:15).
This very evening, at Forgiveness Vespers, we have an opportunity to begin the Fast by cleaning the slate – seeking and offering forgiveness. If we do so, we shall profit from the days of the Great Fast with their self-examination, repentance, and confession.
As for accountability, we must remember that we are called to fast by our Master. He defines the Great Fast and how we carry it out. We must not blur His goals and procedures. The Lenten fast is a secret between us and God. For this reason the Lord commands us to “anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting” (vss. 17-18).
If we exhibit penitence and contrition – if we “appear to men to be fasting” (vs. 16) – we fall into temptation from Satan. Displaying our ascesis realigns our motives in the direction of seeking the approval of our peers. Let us purify ourselves and labor where God alone sees, in the hidden areas of our heart.
“Do the Christian hypocrites . . . think that they . . . live hypocritically?” asks Saint John of Kronstadt. “They do not think so.” His words on prayer also apply to fasting: “They [fast] daily, perhaps at length; but . . . out of habit . . . not with their hearts, without heartfelt contrition, without a firm desire for amendment, and only in order to fulfill the established rule, and [they] ‘think’ they ‘do God service,’ whilst in fact they only incur the wrath of God” (Spiritual Counsels, p. 39).
In this world, the Lord warns, “moth and rust destroy and . . . thieves break in and steal” (vs. 19). Moths lay eggs in woolen fabrics unless we guard against them. As the larvae hatch, they eat into the cloth and destroy the covering that protects us against the elements.
What does this mean for us spiritually? We must prepare to combat Satan and sin! When we allow sin’s larvae into our hearts and minds, they eat away the truth that shields us from lies and delusion. Only by confession and contrition do we attract the grace of God, which alone has the power to kill these deadly and voracious hatchlings of sin within ourselves.
Similarly, what functions like rust in our daily lives? Surely it is the corrosive power of secular life. The world curries our passions with self-serving lies, fads, and distortions. Secularism, unless sealed out with the chrism of the Holy Spirit, will corrode our devotion and our worship. When we fast, let us heed the Lord’s sure and gentle voice, for He alone assists us in countering the corrosive rust of the world.
Finally, the demons are the thieves who seek to break into our hearts by any means to steal our souls for Satan’s perverse kingdom. Beware when these enemies encourage us to “adjust” the terms of the fast or to shrug at Christ’s Mysteries! If we listen to them, we serve ourselves (and many devils) instead of God.
Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O good One. – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom