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#21 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 12:06 AM

I should have known better that I would not be respected for this opinion, and I had a gut feeling I would get a bit of flack. :-(


Whoa! Simply because some people don't agree with you is not disrespect, merely disagreement. Are you equating the two? I respectfully request you reconsider.

I thought that if I help just one person, or if just one priest thinks about it and recommends it, it might be helpful so that fasting can be more successful, as it is so very necessary for our spiritual health.


You know, martyrdom is not considered particularly "healthy" either. The Church does not generically recommend it for everyone, but it does seem to make a big deal over those who become martyrs. Physical health is a good thing, but there are those who think it over-rated and not necessarily essential for spiritual health.

I only wanted to be helpful because I know alot about nutrition, and alot of persons (including physicians of the body) do not...so I was really just trying to help. Women have special needs for iron and calcium, for instance, that might not be met in fasting foods, so they need a multi-vitamin. I remember how one group of Greek-American Orthodox people I know who were cooking for a youth group, thought a fasting meal was spaghetti with sauce and a plain salad...without one source of protein (such as legumes) in it.


I do believe that I (for one) did say something about dispensations and checking with doctors and such, and that all extensive exercise regimes should be entered into with some caution and preparation, as have others.

In Greece, where the fast originated, healthy fasting is a no brainer. People always ate lots of legumes, seafood, dandelion greens, whole grains, etc...it comes as second nature and they love this kind of food. I have not found that to generally be the case in the States.


As long as we can differentiate between spiritual health and physical health and agree that the two are NOT synonymous (nor do they have to be mutually exclusive). One can be spiritually healthy while not physically healthy and one can be physically healthy without being spiritually healthy, and one certainly should not go out of their way to harm their physical health without a very good reason and a blessing.

Anyway, I won't say anymore. Sorry to sidetrack this thread. I fast very much, and very healthfully, but because 1200 calories a day (which is what I need to eat to maintain my weight and my health) wont cover most nutritional needs, even off the fast, I have found out the hard way, that vitamins are very necessary.


Vitamins are important to physical health. Agreed. There is no absolute requirement to sacrifice physical health for spiritual health. Agreed. Be careful not to harm yourself when fasting, spiritually or physically. Agreed.

#22 Nina

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 02:09 AM

Dear Herman and Nina,

My point was that even a healthy individual, after consulting with his SF and getting permission to fast, should take a multivitamin.

Alice


Yes! I agreed with you. I was super-healthy last year for Lent and thought to push the envelope when fasting without receiving the blessing first. And I was not taking multivitamin. And once a day consisted sometime of only tomato + cucumber + bread. So I agreed with you that one can get seriously ill if they do not take multiv. and do not take blessing for any heroic thing they try to embark on. I understood that my fasting was not due to my repentance, but due to my egotism.

#23 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:35 AM

I've read the recent exchange of posts on health and nutrition, vis-a-vis fasting, with interest. The practical matter of whether or not one should take a multivitamin, etc., or not, being set aside (that gets rather into questions of how healthy they really are, etc., which may not really be our interest - at least in this thread!), it does raise the more fundamental question of fasting and the sacrifice of health.

Herman, above, made the interesting quip: 'martyrdom is not considered particularly healthy either'. I raise the following not as a commentary or an answer-in-advance, but to provoke discussion: how are we to pair the quite prevalent approach today, that fasting is important but mustn't become 'unhealthy', with the many (many!) examples in patristic literature if fasting being a sacrifice of health, of physical well-being, etc?

Thoughts from the Fathers particularly welcome (perhaps someone has a moment to find and post for us a few examples?); but also of experience, etc.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#24 Rick H.

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 01:09 PM

As well, I wonder about any quotes and thoughts about how teaching of the Royal Road speaks to this issue.

#25 Michael Stickles

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 03:48 PM

... how are we to pair the quite prevalent approach today, that fasting is important but mustn't become 'unhealthy', with the many (many!) examples in patristic literature if fasting being a sacrifice of health, of physical well-being, etc?

Thoughts from the Fathers particularly welcome (perhaps someone has a moment to find and post for us a few examples?); but also of experience, etc.


First, a personal experience. When we joined the church and were getting guidance from our priest on fasting, he made a distinction between what we did as adults, and what we had the children do. For the children, we were to make sure their nutritional needs were satisfied even if it meant seriously relaxing the fast. For us, there was a "minimum" level we were expected to keep, but we could push as far beyond that as we wanted as long as we could do so without pride - nutrition wasn't even mentioned.

As for the Fathers, here are a few quotes that I found. First, Augustine had the following to say in one of his letters (#130, To Proba), where he seems to lean towards care for health:

Fasting, and abstinence from gratifying carnal desire in other pleasures without injury to health, and especially frequent almsgiving, are a great assistance in prayer; so that we may be able to say, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord, with my hands in the night before Him, and I was not deceived.”


Whereas Jerome, in his Life of St. Hilarion, praises the Saint's fasting with minimal regard to his own health:

From his thirty-first to his thirty-fifth year, he had for food six ounces of barley bread, and vegetables slightly cooked without oil. But finding his eyes growing dim and his whole body shrivelled with a scabby eruption and dry mange, he added oil to his former food and up to the sixty-third year of his life followed this temperate course, tasting neither fruit nor pulse, nor anything whatsoever besides. Then when he saw that his bodily health was broken down, and thought death was near, from his sixty-fourth year to his eightieth he abstained from bread. The fervour of his spirit was so wonderful, that at times when others are wont to allow themselves some laxity of living he appeared to be entering like a novice on the service of the Lord.


I think that St. John Chrysostom, in his first homily on the statues, strikes a somewhat balanced note. Apologies for the greater length of this one, but I can't think of a good way to summarize it further, and there's much of value there (I'd encourage everyone to read it in full, for themselves):

... permit me to say something of the virtue of Timothy, and of the loving care of Paul. For what was ever more tender hearted than this man, who being so far distant, and encircled with so many cares, exercised so much consideration for the health of his disciple’s stomach, and wrote with exact attention about the correction of his disorder? And what could equal the virtue of Timothy? He so despised luxury, and derided the sumptuous table, as to fall into sickness from excessive austerity, and intense fasting. For that he was not naturally so infirm a person, but had overthrown the strength of his stomach by fasting and water drinking; you may hear Paul himself carefully making this plain.

... Timothy ... knew that youth is an age of difficulty; that it is unstable; easily deceived; very apt to slip; and requires an exceedingly strong bridle. ... “Let the body,” saith he, “be infirm; but let not the soul be infirm; let the flesh be bridled; but let not the race of the spirit towards heaven be checked.”

... Paul did not at first, nor at the outset give this counsel. But when he saw that all strength was overthrown, then he gave it; and even then not simply, but with a certain prior limitation. He does not say merely, “Use wine,” but “a little” wine; not because Timothy needed this admonition and advice, but because we need it ... bidding him drink just so much as would correct disorder; as would bring health to the body, but not another disease. ...

For what reason then did God permit that such a saint, and one entrusted with the management of so many matters, should fall into a state of disease; and that neither Timothy himself nor his teacher had strength to correct the disorder, but needed that assistance which was to be had by drinking wine? ... For of the diversified and manifold affliction which befalls the saints, I have reasons eight in number to declare unto your love. ...

The first reason then is, that God permits them to suffer evil, that they may not too easily be exalted into presumption, by the greatness of their good works and miracles.

The second, that others may not have a greater opinion of them than belongs to human nature, and take them to be gods and not men.

The third, that the power of God may be made manifest, in prevailing, and overcoming, and advancing the word preached, through the efficacy of men who are infirm and in bonds.

The fourth, that the endurance of these themselves may become more striking, serving God, as they do, not for a reward; but showing even such right-mindedness as to give proof of their undiminished good will towards Him after so many evils.

The fifth, that our minds may be wise concerning the doctrine of a resurrection. For when thou seest a just man, and one abounding in virtue, suffering ten thousand evils, and thus departing the present life, thou art altogether compelled, though unwillingly, to think somewhat of the future judgment; for if men do not suffer those who have laboured for themselves, to depart without wages and recompense; much more cannot God design, that those who have so greatly laboured should be sent away uncrowned. But if He cannot intend to deprive those of the recompense of their labours eventually, there must needs be a time, after the end of the life here, in which they will receive the recompense of their present labours.

The sixth, that all who fall into adversity may have a sufficient consolation and alleviation, by looking at such persons, and remembering what sufferings have befallen them.

The seventh, that when we exhort you to the virtue of such persons, and we say to every one of you, “Imitate Paul, emulate Peter,” ye may not, on account of the surpassing character of their good works, slothfully shrink from such an imitation of them, as deeming them to have been partakers of a different nature.

The eighth, that when it is necessary to call any blessed, or the reverse, we may learn whom we ought to account happy, and whom unhappy and wretched.


In Christ,
Michael

#26 Mary M.

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 06:57 AM

Fr. Dcn, In reading the about the saints (by now a few of you have figured out that I read them quite a bit;) they seemed to vary in practice,and were so individual in their spiritual practices, that it seems that how harshly someone fasts or not depends on that person's spiritual and/or physical constitution.

According to the Synaxarion prepared by Hieromonk Makarios of Simons Petra (volume 2 November and Dec.),Venerable Father Marcian of Cyrrhus, Nov.2, ate about 12 oz of dried bread daily and

"preferred to keep to the same rule every day rather than fast for several days, as some people do, and then fill the stomach, making the body incapable of vigil and prayer."

Admittedly, this refers to non fasting seasons. Hermitress Photini of Palestine (?) led a very orderly life and ate more sparingly than lay people, but did not go to extremes in any way. Yet, I believe Simeon the Stylite hardly ate at all and his physical body was no less for the wear. In fact, he lived to a ripe old age.

I have serious calcium deficiencies and so eat yogurt every day,fast or no fast. I also take vitamins daily,but due to health problems I mainly abstain, and limit actual fasting to Sundays or presanctified liturgies.

During the last week of fasts I've found it especially beneficial to simplify my meals (less time in the kitchen) and try to adhere to the fast as strictly as possible. My prayer life intensifies and I truly benefit from the services.

Alice, I'm with you, that nutrition is important for most of us. Those that are physically stronger or will benefit spiritually without ruining their health may be able to pay less heed to it. The body is a gift too and few of us can afford to abuse it.



I've read the recent exchange of posts on health and nutrition, vis-a-vis fasting, with interest. The practical matter of whether or not one should take a multivitamin, etc., or not, being set aside (that gets rather into questions of how healthy they really are, etc., which may not really be our interest - at least in this thread!), it does raise the more fundamental question of fasting and the sacrifice of health.

Herman, above, made the interesting quip: 'martyrdom is not considered particularly healthy either'. I raise the following not as a commentary or an answer-in-advance, but to provoke discussion: how are we to pair the quite prevalent approach today, that fasting is important but mustn't become 'unhealthy', with the many (many!) examples in patristic literature if fasting being a sacrifice of health, of physical well-being, etc?

Thoughts from the Fathers particularly welcome (perhaps someone has a moment to find and post for us a few examples?); but also of experience, etc.

INXC, Dcn Matthew


Edited by Mary M., 06 November 2009 - 07:00 AM.
I said too much, and so removed two sentences


#27 Alexander Zhdanov

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 02:41 PM

Give the body as much food as it needs, and thou shalt receive no harm, even if thou shouldest eat three times a day. If a man eats but once a day, but undiscerningly, what benefit is there to him from that. The warfare of fornication follows excess in eating - and after this the enemy weighs down the body with sleep in order to defile it.

Saints Barsanuphius and John

Do not say to me that I fasted for so many days, that I did not eat this or that, that I did not drink wine, that I endured want; but show me if thou from an angry man hast become gentle, if thou from a cruel man hast become benevolent. If thou art filled with anger, why oppress thy flesh? If hatred and avarice are within thee, of what benefit is it that thou drinkest water? Do not show forth a useless fast: for fasting alone does not ascend to heaven.

Saint John Chrysostom

I think that St. Fathers understood fasting as curing of sinful bents, predispositions of a person, instead of killing a body that under the Divine law is a crime. So in one of the letters, St. Ignaty criticizing an unreasonable relation to fasting as to end in itself ,writes that if you need to eat fish-eat, if it is necessary to drink milk-drink and also eat meat,if it is necessary. Further he writes that had necessity during a Lent to eat a fish soup which was prepared for him by brotherhood. In this letter he cited the story with St. Spiridon of Trimifunt as a proof of his relation to fasting.

Bye for now,

Alexander

#28 Nina

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 10:10 PM

According to the Synaxarion prepared by Hieromonk Makarios of Simons Petra (volume 2 November and Dec.),Venerable Father Marcian of Cyrrhus, Nov.2, ate about 12 oz of dried bread daily and

"preferred to keep to the same rule every day rather than fast for several days, as some people do, and then fill the stomach, making the body incapable of vigil and prayer."


Dear Mary, we who are not monastics, are supposed to follow less strict rules. And Fr. Dcn. Matthew has always made sure in the past that we remember the difference in each aspect when we post quotes for monastics by monastics. Not that the lay people can't challenge themselves for higher spiritual achievements, but in general we are laity and we can't do the 12 oz bread only - and dried bread will ruin our teeth and then we have to go pay so much money to the dentist to fix them (unless someone does not care about physical appearance, which many saints and fools for Christ do not) instead of doing something better with the same money. I have read from Fathers that we daily even when we are not fasting is to eat moderately as not to make our bodies feel heavy and lazy (and interfere with prayer/prostration) but how much and what is up to the spiritual father's discernment.

Admittedly, this refers to non fasting seasons. Hermitress Photini of Palestine (?) led a very orderly life and ate more sparingly than lay people, but did not go to extremes in any way. Yet, I believe Simeon the Stylite hardly ate at all and his physical body was no less for the wear. In fact, he lived to a ripe old age.

Yes they are amazing aren't they! See we have all kinds of examples we can follow. And we can always try to sacrifice things during fast that give us pleasure. So I see why many monastics did not eat other than bread during Lent since one can be addicted to berries, or grape for instance and although these are Lenten food, those can still be addictive. Plus remember these Saints and Elders have powerful prayer. My prayer is so weak and could not sustain me when I tried to eat like a strict monastic.

I have serious calcium deficiencies and so eat yogurt every day,fast or no fast. I also take vitamins daily,but due to health problems I mainly abstain, and limit actual fasting to Sundays or presanctified liturgies.

You must if your Dr and your SF says so. And remember you have a family that is responsible for you. If you get sick from reckless behavior even in fasting you will be a burden for them - I speak from experience. :( And the money spent in the hospital without a real reason can be spent in more profitable ways spiritually.

During the last week of fasts I've found it especially beneficial to simplify my meals (less time in the kitchen) and try to adhere to the fast as strictly as possible. My prayer life intensifies and I truly benefit from the services.

This is all very good. Additionally, I think Elder Paisios said the lady who prays (Jesus Prayer esp.) when cooking sanctifies the meal and those who partake of it. Even if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen it is ascesis since you are laboring to serve your family, and you can always say prayers you know by heart and the Jesus Prayer.

#29 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 11:21 PM

If someone were to come up to me and say: "I am going to keep a strict fast, nothing at all for the first three days of Lent, and then nothing until after sundown, and then only some bread and boiled vegetables" I would first say "I hope you are not planning on driving or operating any heavy machinery". I would then also say "I hope you have a blessing from your confessor and your doctor."

I still cannot help but feel the "why" is more important than the "what". Strenuous fasting done for the wrong reasons causes harm, a "weak" effort done for the right reasons can be of great effect. Just like the widow's two mites, a little effort from those who are weak is going to be more efficacious than great feats from those who are strong.

One key, I suspect, might be not to become complacent, but to do always strive to do a little better, to keep challenging ourselves, under the guidance of our confessor, of course. Like any other form of exercise, there is danger in overdoing and not much good in under-doing. We are not doing it to "make God happy" but to make ourselves stronger athletes/soldiers for Christ.

#30 Nina

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 05:17 AM

St. Nectarios On Fasting

Why Fast?

St. Athanasios the Great on Fasting.



#31 R. Greene

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 06:14 AM

If someone were to come up to me and say: "I am going to keep a strict fast, nothing at all for the first three days of Lent, and then nothing until after sundown, and then only some bread and boiled vegetables" I would first say "I hope you are not planning on driving or operating any heavy machinery". I would then also say "I hope you have a blessing from your confessor and your doctor."

I still cannot help but feel the "why" is more important than the "what". Strenuous fasting done for the wrong reasons causes harm, a "weak" effort done for the right reasons can be of great effect. Just like the widow's two mites, a little effort from those who are weak is going to be more efficacious than great feats from those who are strong.

One key, I suspect, might be not to become complacent, but to do always strive to do a little better, to keep challenging ourselves, under the guidance of our confessor, of course. Like any other form of exercise, there is danger in overdoing and not much good in under-doing. We are not doing it to "make God happy" but to make ourselves stronger athletes/soldiers for Christ.


This is something that concerns me greatly. I mean, take Paul for instance. When was the last time he had to drive 65 miles per hour in a two ton vehicle through winding roads frequented by deer when he hadn't eaten anything all day but sugar (simple carbohydrates) and water? My dh has quite a commute to work, though not as bad as some others I have heard. He also has apnea, controlled, but he is still always exhausted. Not to mention he is hypoglycemic. So he started, like a bull out of the chutes, fasting upon our conversion. He would get a veggie sub at subway in the small town where he works and think he had done great things! (sadly their bread does have eggs in it, but it wasn't my job to worry over it) Or he would get noodles. Rarely would he get any protein, and all the carbs were very simple raped carbohydrates that the body read as sugar. By 3pm he was in a stupor and still to this day makes it home like a zombie. Fasting periods make him seriously messed up. Were any of the church father's facing today's rigors, driving even simple cars, being away from home all day or week> If not, how do we adapt the situation within the confines of fasting laws? For us, with a special needs child and no money for groceries most times, fasting at home is we only get two meals a day. That is year round. I can do no more as the lack of protein actually shuts my system down-and I can't gain it from the standby's of soy/shrimp/nuts I figure we are doing the best we can, and going without a great deal. Not that it will make my kids any holier, and there is still no money saved to go to the poor. We ARE the poor right now. lol! I just have to trust that doing the best I can to eek out survival is on God's books and not lament that I cannot do what some other person may do. I refuse to get out of sorts over the fasting issue, because when everyone else is feasting, we are still rationing or going hungry.

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 07 November 2009 - 12:40 PM.
fixed "s


#32 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 12:49 PM

We do what we can realizing that everybody is in different situations. Let those who can keep a strict fast not judge those who cannot, and let those who do not keep a fast judge those who do. But let it not be said that fasting is not a necessary part of our walk with Christ. Being a couch potato is bad for you, a physically active life is healthier. Being a pew potato is bad for you, a spiritually active life, which includes fasting and charity and prayer, is healthier. We do what we can in the place we are at.

Food for the belly and the belly for food, but both will eventually go away, according to the Apostle Paul. We are not to judge another's servant since it is only by God's grace and not our own efforts that we are where we are.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

#33 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 09:35 PM

Dear Michael,

Thank you for very much for the helpful and insightful quotations.

The point for fruitful further thought here, is the way the Fathers treat the question of ‘health’ in terms of fasting. To further, somewhat, my earlier comments: it is taken as a widespread ‘standard’ in many circles of Orthodoxy today, that fasting is proper so long as it does not do damage to health (and here let us, for the moment, except the clear cases of children, the ill, those with special conditions, etc., where the council of the Church is quite clearly for lessened or modified fasting practices; what is of interest is the general principle of ascesis). This standard attitude certainly does have a founding in some of the writings of the Fathers; but there are also many others, where a care of ‘health’ is seen as something quite against the true ascesis of fasting—and I think there is interesting and fruitful territory here for a deeper consideration.

It would be good, in a discussion such as this, to explore the Fathers further on this question. There is clearly a place, in their testimony, for the balance of fasting with an eye towards (i.e. against) a debasement of the body, and this is often noted in common practice today. But there is also this strong note of counsel against succumbing to the wants, needs and ‘health’ of the body—of which we hear far less in our contemporary council on this spiritual ascesis.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#34 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 09:35 PM

Dear Miss Mary M.,

Thank you for your note. You wrote:

In reading the about the saints […] they seemed to vary in practice, and were so individual in their spiritual practices, that it seems that how harshly someone fasts or not depends on that person's spiritual and/or physical constitution.


Indeed—and this we can really take as a ‘given’ for discussion. The counsel of the Church has always been that the canons (i.e. rules, norms) of fasting are to be pastorally applied. That is, they are guides, which priestly counsel rightly applies to each person as is best for his or her salvation. They are not cannons (with two ‘n’s: the weapons) to be aimed at the person, but guides to the creature’s growth into the Kingdom. And so we see this applied, not only in the lives of the saints, where fasting takes on different tones based on their spiritual ascent and needs; but also in the day-to-day life of the Church in the world, where fasting is measured out and approached according to the same norms.

But behind this pastoral reality lie canons and teachings which are there to give a right scope to such ascesis. Without the norms, we can never struggle rightly, for we do not know at what we aim, what we must modify, etc. And it is for this reason that it is beneficial to look, not just at the fact of differences amongst the saints and others, but also at the norms and ideals set out in the Church’s living heritage. It is in the mix of these that the Body of Christ leads His members to salvation.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#35 Mary M.

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 04:36 AM

Fr. Dcn Matthew, you're quite right. Regardless of the differences between saints in fasting practices, I'm sure they were all of one accord as to the proper guidelines and their relation to the why of fasting. They had probably all made various adjustments to their fasting that ultimately lead to the practices we now assoicate with them. Had any of them felt that their practice was outside of the church's norms and ideals,they'd have dropped it immediately, regardless of how spiritually beneficial it seemed to be,and so should we.


Dear Miss Mary M.,

Thank you for your note. You wrote:



Indeed—and this we can really take as a ‘given’ for discussion. The counsel of the Church has always been that the canons (i.e. rules, norms) of fasting are to be pastorally applied. That is, they are guides, which priestly counsel rightly applies to each person as is best for his or her salvation. They are not cannons (with two ‘n’s: the weapons) to be aimed at the person, but guides to the creature’s growth into the Kingdom. And so we see this applied, not only in the lives of the saints, where fasting takes on different tones based on their spiritual ascent and needs; but also in the day-to-day life of the Church in the world, where fasting is measured out and approached according to the same norms.

But behind this pastoral reality lie canons and teachings which are there to give a right scope to such ascesis. Without the norms, we can never struggle rightly, for we do not know at what we aim, what we must modify, etc. And it is for this reason that it is beneficial to look, not just at the fact of differences amongst the saints and others, but also at the norms and ideals set out in the Church’s living heritage. It is in the mix of these that the Body of Christ leads His members to salvation.

INXC, Dcn Matthew






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