Asceticism and Purity

by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) A few pointers on how to wisely practice asceticism to crucify the will and allow the soul to flourish in God. 1. We should not see austerity, or asceticism, as an end in itself. Neither should we delight in practicing it to the exclusion of everything else. By doing so we are only allowing it to distract us from progressing toward God and completing our union with him in mature love. Ascetic disciplines are nothing more than the means to mortify the old Adam and crucify our will, our passions, and the desires that work in us for iniquity. Ascesis is only a way of showing our love and tender feelings toward God. Perseverance in practicing the kinds of austerities after being renewed and filled with grace serves only to counter the tendency to hanker after what the world offers. It helps to restrain the will from inclining toward sin. If we make progress in such a discipline, this should not become a matter of pride. If it does, we will open ourselves up to the spirit of self-righteousness. This will immediately arrest our spiritual growth. The most austere asceticism can never erase even a single sin. It cannot atone for the slightest transgression we may have committed. Such is the case if that austerity is devoid of love toward God or of the intercession of free grace. For this is only attainable by the blood of Christ. Our asceticism should not be so severe as to be cruel to our own body. It should not prevent us from performing the daily tasks of life actively. Our attention should be inwardly focused upon the will, which drives us to lust and sin. This perverse will of ours craves for what belongs to it. All its aims terminate at one point: the ego. The ego is our enemy. We have to struggle against it with our fasts and vigils until it dies

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completely. It is only then that we will possess the new will, which carries our the will of God alone. (See the article on "The Ego".) 8. Asceticism should not assume the form of a bodily suppression or repression For once the practice of ascesis disappears, the result is an acute reaction. Man returns to his former state or even to a more depraved one. Asceticism should be soberly and wisely practiced, not out of grief or pain but in joy and happiness. The limits of the ascetic life should be set by the guidance of a prudent spiritual father. Those who practice it should not underreach or overreach the limits of their abilities. Otherwise, the practice may cease altogether, in which case the ascetic life will lose its desired fruit. Ascetic discipline should begin below the level of one’s ability. It should then ascend and grow until it turns into a natural personal quality that forms a major part of one’s way of life. 9. If ascetic discipline is devoid of love and joy in the Lord, it turns into a source of depression, sullenness, and perturbation. It may also be a cause of pride and self-righteousness. 10. Many are those who have struggled and freed themselves from the world by the most severe austerities. However, since they did not submit themselves to the hand of God and the work of grace in lowliness and humility, they have gone astray. If we are freed from the world, we must also be freed from ourselves, so that God can take us and shape us freely.

The Ego
by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) Seven steps to crucifying the ego and allowing the Truth to set you free. 1. Never rely on your own wisdom or might or on human strength in any of your works. Otherwise, your mind will become dim and your insight blurred, thus blocking the way for grace to enter you and show you the way of God. You will thus be led astray from truth and fall into the enemy’s trap. At the end, you will be enslaved to your own ego and to the desires of other people, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is.5.21). 2. Beware of thinking highly of yourself. Never feel that without you the world would stop. For your self would seem great and grand in your own eyes. Know instead that God can use another to do the work better than you. He can make the weak mighty and the mighty weak, the wise foolish and the foolish wise. Everything good and useful in you is from God and not from you. If you do not hand it over to God and with conviction attribute it to him, he will tear it away from you. If you boast of your intelligence or virtue, God will leave them to you as merely human gifts. They will then turn into corruption, loss, and damage. 3. Your ego might hate submitting to God. It might escape surrendering to him. In the meantime, you would be making much of your own power – attributing your intelligence, virtue, and success to yourself. In this case, God will deliver you to continual discipline; discipline after discipline, tribulation after tribulation, until you succumb and surrender in brokenness. But if you reject discipline and cannot stand tribulation, God will forsake you forever. 4. Take heed then and open your ears: Either count yourself as nothing in word and deed and make up your mind to surrender yourself to God will all your might – and you will then gladly be released from your ego by the grace of God; or, you will be delivered to discipline

until you are set free from your ego in spite of yourself. So if you wish to opt for the easier way, take that of voluntary submission. Count yourself from now on as nothing, and follow the path of grace wherever the Spirit may wish to lead you. 5. Know for certain that submission to God and total surrender to his will and divine plan are a free gift of grace. It thus demands, besides prayer and supplication, a trusting faith to receive this gift. This should be coupled with a longing springing from one’s heart that God may not deliver us to discipline for our folly, nor abandon us to our own wisdom. For this reason, we should have an extremely resolute will to renounce our own self at all times and in all works. This should not be done ostentatiously before people but within our conscience. Blessed is the man who can discover his own weakness and ignorance and confess them before God to the last day of his life. 6. If you fall under discipline, know for sure that this is a great profit, for God chastises the soul that has forgotten its weakness and has been puffed up by its talents and success. This is carried on until it realizes its weakness, especially when God does not provide in tribulation a way to escape. He besieges the soul from all sides and embitters it with inward and outward humiliation, whether by sin or by scandal, until it abhors itself, curses its own intelligence, and disowns its counsel. Finally, it surrenders itself to God, feeling crushed and lowly. At such a time, it becomes easy for man to hate himself. He even wishes to be hated by everybody. This is the way of true humility. It leads to total surrender to divine plan. It ends up with freeing one’s soul from the tyranny of the ego, with its deception, its stubbornness, and its vanity. 7. If you wish to free your soul by the shortest and simplest way, sit down every day under the discipline of grace. Examine your thoughts, movements, intentions, purposes, words, and deeds in the light of God’s word. It is then that you shall discover the corruption of the ego, its imposture, slyness, deception, vanity, and lack of chastity. If you persist in doing this regularly in contrition, you will manage to sever yourself from your false and devilish ego. You will then be able

to overpower it bit by bit until you can deny it altogether, hate it, and break jail from its tyranny. You will at last discover the catastrophe into which your ego has led you for obeying it, finding peace in its shelter, boasting of it, and seeking its respect. The moment you realize at the bottom of your heart that you are nothing and that God is everything, then the truth shall have set you free.

The Deep Meaning of Fasting
by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) The Church imitates Christ. All that Christ has done the Church also does; He becomes its life. Christ’s call to Matthew (“Follow me”) was intended by Him to mean “Take my life for you.” The Church has adopted this call as a scheme of its own. Fasting, in the life and works of Christ, ranks as the first response to the act of unction and of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It represents the first battle in which Christ did away with His adversary, the prince of this world.

Fasting and the Imitation of Christ

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n His forty days’ experience of absolute fasting, Christ laid down for us the basis of our dealings with our enemy—along with all his allurements and vain illusions. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mk. 9:29). For when a person enters into prayerful fasting, Satan departs from the flesh. As the Son of God, Christ did not need fasting, nor did He need an open confrontation with Satan or baptism or filling with the Holy Spirit. Yet He fulfilled everything for our sake so His life and deeds would become ours. If we know that Christ was baptized to “be revealed to Israel” (Jn. 1:31), it follows that being filled with the Holy Spirit meant “being tempted by the devil.” This was so He could be revealed before the spirits of darkness, and openly enter into combat with the devil on behalf of our race. Fasting was to elevate the flesh to the level of war with the spirits of evil, those powers that hold sway over our weaker part, the flesh. The reader may notice that baptism, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and fasting form a fundamental and inseparable series of acts in Christ’s life

that culminated in perfect victory over Satan in preparation for his total annihilation by the cross. It is then extremely important to accept and to feel the power of each of these three acts in our depths and draw from Christ their action in us as they worked in Him, so that His same life may identify with ours. The ultimate aim of baptism, of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and of fasting is that Christ Himself may dwell in us: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga. 2:20). In baptism the connection with our old Adam is cut off for us to receive our sonship to God in Christ. In being filled with the Holy Spirit, our connection with the devil and with the life of sin is cut off for us to receive the Spirit of life in Christ. And in fasting, the connection between instinct and Satan is cut off to give the flesh victory in its life according to the Spirit, in Christ. We can never sever these three acts from each other; baptism grants spiritual fullness, and spiritual fullness grants (by fasting) victory for the flesh to walk in the Spirit. By the three together we live in Christ, and Christ lives in us. The dimension of time in these three acts does not weaken their merging together, nor does it separate one from the other. Baptism in childhood, the spirit’s fullness in mental and psychic maturity, and fasting, which concludes these three acts, could not be seen separately in the spiritual vision. Although they occur separately in time, out of human necessity, they are one act spiritually. They spring forth to us from Christ who is “One Act,” “One Word.” In all three acts, Christ dwells in us personally to give us His fullness, image, and life, so that we might live Him as One Act and One Word, and no longer live our own selves in our torn and disrupted image. The point to understand is that fasting is a divine act of life, which we receive from Christ complementary to baptism and fullness. Since its beginning the Church has been occupied with infusing into its own body the acts of Christ’s life so they would become life-giving acts to all its members.

If the Church imitates Christ in its life discipline, it is because it has been given grace and authority by God to possess Christ Himself as a life of its own. The Church, which is one with Christ, is a lively and efficacious image of the life of Christ. The Gospel describes it as the “bride of Christ” united with her Bridegroom. Though the Gospel declares that the Church has become one with Christ, it still reiterates that Christ will remain a Bridegroom on His own, no matter how much He offers Himself. Neither does Christ become a Church, nor the Church become a Christ. This confirms to us that we, as members of the body of Christ, always need to strive to acquire Christ to become more like Him and to be a bride “without spot,” a betrothed “pure bride” in a perpetual state of betrothal like the Virgin who conceived and bore the Logos. Virginity here is “to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jm. 1:27). Being stained is the ungodly union between Satan and “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16). These three bonds were united and shattered by Christ during His fast on the Mount of Temptation. He gave us the shattered bonds as an inheritance to live out and carry into effect by fasting in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and in the sacrament of baptism. Fasting in this sense is one of the fundamental phases that Christ underwent. We have never been able to claim that we live in the full maturity of Christ, or that Christ abides in us in His full measure, particularly if we overlook fasting. If baptism is one phase and crucifixion another, fasting is an extremely important stage between baptism and crucifixion. Fullness with the Holy Spirit, which Christ consummated by baptism, elevated the flesh to the level of extraordinary fasting, i.e. total deprivation of food and drink, utter seclusion and prayer. He thus raised the flesh to the stage of the cross. It is impossible for us to carry our cross well and get through the temptation of the devil, the ordeal of the world, and the oppression of evil without fasting on the Mount of Temptation. If being filled with the Holy Spirit does not qualify us for fasting we inevitably will be unable to beat the tribulation of the cross. Here the Church’s imitation of Christ’s work is a

necessary course of life for us, in which we may discover our salvation, strength, security, and victory. It was not for Himself that Christ was baptized, nor was it for Himself that He was crucified, and, consequently, it was not for Himself that He fasted forty days. The works of Christ— themselves a mighty and omnipotent power—have ‘become sources of our salvation and life. Their power, however, is not imparted to us unless we experience and practice it. Those who are baptized put on Christ, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit live by means of Christ’s life, and those who fast win Christ’s victory over the prince of this world. These liberating deeds of Christ and the extent to which they and His life influence us were most clearly declared by Christ Himself: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). But how can the Son set us free from the world, the devil, and our ego except by dwelling in us and offering us His life, His works, and His victory? He reiterates often, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” This in fact is the mutual action. We perform His deeds and live according to His example, and thereupon He imparts to us the power of His deeds, His life, and His example. Time and again He calls our attention: “Learn from me.” Here He reveals that He has placed Himself as a model of life and works, as our “Forerunner,” as the “firstfruits,” that in everything we would be “like Him.” He became like us so we would become like Him. After fulfilling the course of our salvation with all these works, Christ stands there, face pale and wounds in His hands, feet, and side, and asks, “Do you believe in Me? Do you believe in the works I have done? Do you really accept Me as a Bridegroom? “He does not wait to hear us say “Yes” (only as a slothful bride); He invites us to a total communion with Him in suffering and glory alike. We thus have to prove our communion with Him in faith by having communion with Him in His works; only works testify to the genuineness of our faith. Yet He, as a true Bridegroom, did not leave us to invent works for ourselves but laid down the course of our works and life: ‘I am the way;” “He who follows me will not walk in darkness.” Following Him is not so much an intellectual theory as it is tracking Him,

imitating His works, and sharing communion in love and suffering. We should notice that all the commandments of Christ regarding works— whether they be voluntary poverty, asceticism, renunciation of kindred, divestment, or bearing the cross—revolve around the person of Christ and end up in Him: “for My sake;” “come, follow Me!” “for My name’s sake;” “be My disciple;” “come after Me;” “watch with Me.” Every work of Christ’s, which He loved to do, He shares with us, or rather we share with Him on account of our love, our sacrifice, and our asceticism. It is from Him that all our works are derived: our asceticism from His asceticism, our fasting from His fasting, our love from His love. Ultimately, communion here is a realistic one which we develop daily by further imitating Him in mind and action and by deepening our awareness ofHim in our life, making Him active within us while keeping us free, spontaneous, and quick in response—as a bride is to a bridegroom. All the works we perform in the name of Christ, for His sake, and in imitation of Him— whether they be fasting, vigil, patience, endurance of suffering or persecution, service, sacrificial love, or crucifixion—are but a voluntary translation of the desire to imitate and unite with Christ (“Follow me”). They express communion in spirit, heart, and intention. Here such works may be a way to express the overt offering of the entire soul to Christ in self-surrendering love and absolute discipleship, as it was for John, James his brother, and the rest of the disciples. They offered their lives and surrendered their souls to Christ the moment they saw and heard Him. They forsook their homes and jobs and became followers: “Lo, we have left our homes and followed You” (Lk. 18:28), becoming true partners of Christ’s works, career, and suffering: “You are those who have continued with Me in My trials” (Lk. 22:28). It is possible that such works as fasting, vigil, prayer, service, or sacrifice may express a hidden love that is added to life’s daily tasks, such as earning one’s living or bringing up children. This is seen in the many who followed Christ without official publicity, like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and others

whose high level of love for Christ was by no means inferior to that of the Apostles themselves. Yet, those who actually forsook everything and followed Christ are those who, by spiritual works, most sublimely expressed a deep evaluation of Christ’s person: “We have left everything and followed you.” The word “followed” here denotes a shift from worldly work to spiritual work; Christ is great enough to fill our entire life and meet all our needs, becoming our sole work, our sole hope, and our sole interest. This is itself the same orthodox doctrine that the Church received from the Apostles and addresses the zeal, fervor, and agony of works, the main measure of every person’s evaluation of Christ. The degree of concern and sincerity in spiritual action is that which reveals the light emanating from Christ. This consequently bears witness to the Father: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). The Apostles inherited the entire life of Christ, and were eyewitnesses and partakers of His works and acts. They inherited the lengthy fasts they saw Christ Himself perform, as Christ told them: “This kind cannot be driven out by any. thing but prayer and fasting” (Mk. 9:29). They inherited nightlong prayers (“Watch and pray”). They inherited agony in prayer, with frequent prostrations and sweat like drops of blood: “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground . . . And He said to His disciples, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray’” (Lk. 22:44-46). They inherited endurance and patience amid the insults of the hierarchy and the betrayal of comrades: “If they persecuted me they will persecute you” (Jn. 15:20). They inherited ministry in markets among the sick, the sinners, and the poor. They inherited agony, suffering, and crucifixion, the most precious and exquisite gift they inherited from Christ: “The cup that I drink you will drink” (Mk. 10:39); “Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even

to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’ “ (Ac. 21:13). All these works they inherited not as acts apart from Christ, but as part and parcel of Him. Christ dwelt in their hearts through faith when they received the Holy Spirit, and they thus performed all the works of Christ according to His promises, even miracles and death. The Church has inherited this living apostolic experience; it has inherited Christ working in the Apostles. So the importance, or rather the inevitability, of works in the Orthodox Church means that the Church focuses on Christ Himself working in us just as He did in the Apostles, doing the same deeds He did for our salvation. The Church believes in exactly what St. Paul meant when he said: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work” (Ph. 2:13). It is equally confident that this also leads to St. Paul’s words, “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Co. 10:31). It is through Christ and in His presence that works should be done; it is only the work of Christ that leads to the glory of God: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Ph. 2:11). It is now clear that the Orthodox Church’s belief in works is nothing but faith in the perfect life in Christ. To this perfection belongs Christ’s whole action and, better yet, even His entire mission and compassion for all humanity. Works, then, are not limited acts done by the human will to relieve the ego. The importance of works in Church thought is based on the fact that all works must spring from the will of Christ and be perfected by His power: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Ph. 4:13). Works must end up in the glory of God the Father. In other words, they must reveal Him and testify to Him: “That they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Henceforth, the concept of “faith and works” in the Orthodox Church is inseparable from the living person of Christ, who is the source of faith and works alike in human life. The utlimate end of both faith and works is the glorification of God the Father—an essential work that belongs exclusively to Christ: “Jesus Christ

is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Ph. 2:11). The law that correctly ensures that works are done through Christ and for the glory of the Father is the perfect imitation of Christ in every word, deed, and behavior. We should invoke the Spirit of Christ in everything by prayer, so works may be cleared of all impurities of self-will and human thought, and that they may be pure of flattery, hypocrisy, falsification, prejudice, and self-love, all of which cause works to be ineffectual, fruitless, and dead.

Sanctify a Fast
When we strive to walk along the narrow way, we should be always conscious of being overshadowed by the cross, so that we can persevere, however great our hardship. To attain perseverance, it is essential that the sacrifices we offer never cease to be offered in love. You should know that striving along the narrow way entails the risk of falling into either the negative sin of despair, or at the opposite extreme a sense of heroism and perfection in virtue. We can only reach genuine love by avoiding these two dangers that threaten our progress on the narrow way. This can be achieved if we discover how to overcome our own selves. Let us not feel sorry for our own selves lest we fall into despair, or praise ourselves lest we fall into the kind of heroism that the saints call vainglory. If we delve deep into the essence of divine love, which is the model of love we intend to follow, we find that it only can be attained by self—denial to the point of self— renunciation, or even destruction.(1) This we learn from Christ on the cross and from His earlier life. To go on in love we must practice self-hatred(2) till we are no longer concerned with ourselves or any of the things of this world we used to count as gain. Fasting is a test in which the personality defies the self. It is an exercise in which the self has to be forsaken and resisted by the whole being. Fasting may therefore be considered an act of love of the highest order, a physical

way of entering into the experience of the cross, and an inseparable part of that experience. The life of the Holy Spirit is revived within us if we follow Him into the wilderness of fasting to face the destruction of the self (at least in part) just as a sheep is led to the slaughter. The secret of this revival of the life of the Spirit within us lies in how well we succeed in attaining this love offered to be slaughtered. This is the first test, if we are to follow the way of the cross to the end. You know that the effort of fasting is felt primarily by the body, which is the physical area that contains the self where it reveals its nature and desires. Thus, when we fast we exhaust the body, and so, indirectly, subdue the self. (3) If we subdue the self through the subjugation of the body, we have in fact come close to the destruction of the self, at least partially. So it is that by fasting we fulfill the word of the Lord: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk. 9:24). Yet I would go back to the word “partially,” for we must aim to reach a state of accepting not the partial but the complete annihilation of the self, and this can take place only by an act of deliberate volition. In other words, if we begin with any exercise (such as fasting), which brings us to the partial overcoming of the self, we need to supplement the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accepting this state with an acceptance of the total destruction of the self. This is attained by the mental acceptance of death itself, willingly with no dismay or restraint. But we received the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves (cf. 2 Co. 1:9). When our father Abraham offered Isaac his son, he did so partially with his hands, but totally in purpose. When Abraham proved his willingness to offer Isaac his only son, God did not leave him to carry out the slaughter; when the offering had been only partially made on the physical level, God considered the sacrifice to have been actually carried out. This, and only this, is why God redeemed Isaac with a ram— a symbol of Christ, who was to redeem those souls whose self was destroyed partially by their actions, but wholly in their intentions. When Abraham offered Isaac his son, he

exchanged him, according to the divine plan, for a ram. This signifies the destruction of the body as a ransom for the soul. Likewise, in the test of fasting, or in any act of self-denial based on sacrifice and ransom, we are called upon to have no pity on ourselves and to make the offering of our selves and our bodies a total offering in intention. That is to say, we should be content to accept a sentence of death at any moment, cherishing it deeply within ourselves as a foundation for life. Yet, God keeps watch to keep destruction from penetrating to the soul. God redeems the soul: “Blessed is God who redeemed my soul” (cf. 2 Sm. 4:9). Christ, blessed be His name, has redeemed our souls, so there is no fear or alarm whatever in facing the experience of self-destruction, as if it would make us search for a ram to offer instead of ourselves. This would mean that our offering was incomplete and our intention weak and hesitant. When intention reaches the stage of complete self-renunciation and consent reaches self-destruction, we see the meek ram fastened with nails to the tree, offered by our compassionate Father at the right time, so that none of those who love Him and believe in Him would perish. The meaning of all this is that if we offer anything in place of ourselves it is rejected. If we look around in search of a ram to offer instead of the self, we forfeit the promise made forever in Isaac, and even forfeit Christ Himself. For whoever fails to offer his life totally, or is dismayed at the prospect of selfsacrifice, and so of death, finds that his intention retreats and that he rejects death. He becomes evasive and offers an outward sacrifice, such as an act of service or an offering of money, or uses some other stratagem to avoid sacrificing his own self. So he loses his portion in Christ the Redeemer, for Christ redeems from death those who have accepted death. Therefore, the experience of the destruction of our self must show no selfpity or weakness of faith. It should not be incomplete, nor should we seek to replace it by giving money or anything else in this world, nor even by giving up the whole world, for the soul is more precious than all things. There is nothing that can be offered in exchange for the soul except Christ, may His

name be blessed. He alone can be offered; He in condescension and humility through creative Love put a value on His divine soul equal to that of the human soul. Once more we repeat that Christ, blessed be His name, cannot become a ransom for the human soul unless man offers his soul on the altar of love, in death to the world, making a total offering with all his will, relinquishing himself forever, raising the knife with his own hand in determination and earnest resolve, proving that he has accepted death. Every test, every battle against the self, and every fast in which man fails to reach this level of selfrenunciation (as we see it in the knife raised by Abraham’s hand to slaughter Isaac his only son, or in God’s abandoning His beloved only Son nailed to the cross) leaves him unworthy of the ransom (Christ) that was prepared by God in exchange for souls offered in this way. A battle is no longer seen as a battle, or fasting as fasting that destroys the self. They are seen, instead, as a caressing of the soul and a strengthening of its power. The Lord fasted on a high level. He was fulfilling in the flesh and by the flesh what He had already perfected before the incarnation; He “emptied Himself” (Ph. 2:7). He fulfilled this emptying of Himself in many ways, but fasting was the most wonderful, for in fasting He actually sacrificed His body mystically; the fast He undertook and in which He finally experienced extreme hunger and thirst for forty days, proved His clear and earnest intention to make the ultimate sacrifice. The Lord in fact sacrificed His body before the cross. When He offered His body to His disciples at the Last Supper, He offered it crucified by an act of His will before it was crucified by the hands of sinners, and sacrificed in intention before it was sacrificed by the rulers. He only said, "Take, eat, this is my body that is offered . . . Take, drink, this is my blood which is shed... “(cf. Lk. 22:19, 20) on the basis of an inner state at which Christ had already dealt with His soul. The sacrifice and the shedding of His blood had been carried out by His own will and intention, as His fasting bears witness and proves. It was not easy that the Lord, while sitting among His disciples and eating and drinking with them, should say, "This is my body that is offered ... this is my

blood shed... ,“ unless He had actually undergone that sacrifice, even though it were mystically as in fasting. The Lord crucified Himself for the world before the world crucified Him. He carried out the offering of His body, His self, as a sacrifice on behalf of the world immediately after He was baptized when He was led by the Spirit. He gladly obeyed and went to face the test of fasting. This is the volitional aspect of the cross. Thus it was that the Lord was careful to institute and celebrate the rite of the Eucharist prior to the cross, not after the resurrection, to show that the sacrifice and offering were a free act. The mystical body that was offered at the Last Supper in the form of bread and wine is the deepest example man has known of the invisible being seen in the visible and the future being actualized in the present. Prophecy in the Old Testament was confined to providing people with a mental image of events in the obscure future, but prophecy as presented by Christ in the New Testament is the good news of the future being fulfilled in the present and a physical receiving of the invisible and the intangible. That is the meaning of "Take, eat . . . Take, drink . . . - this is my body . . . this is my blood.” This was said a whole day before the crucifixion, but He saw that the coming events were completely in accordance with His will. He saw the cross standing and on it the body being slain and the blood being shed; He saw Himself content with it all. And so He took bread and filled it with the mystery of the broken body, and wine and filled it with the mystery of the shed blood, and He fed His disciples. They ate from His hands the mystery of His will and drank the mystery of His love, the mystery of His sufferings, the mystery of salvation. Therefore, when we share in the mystery of the body and the blood in the Eucharist, we share not only in the cross, but also in a mystical life poured out and a body that has struggled with severe fasting, deprivation, want, and pain. If we find ourselves face to face with suffering such as we meet with daily when we bear witness to the truth, we consider ourselves partakers in communion “with those [who were) so treated” (Heb. 10:33). We do not

grow faint within ourselves, for the communion in the flesh and blood is an expression that means communion in the whole life of Christ that is fraught with tribulations, fasts, and suffering. When the Lord Jesus offered His body on Thursday, already sacrificed by an act of will He had made before being crucified on Friday, He drew power from the reality of His own life. Even the cross itself was but an expression of an existing reality, since Christ had crucified Himself for the world before the world crucified Him. It would appear that the crucifixion was the final act of the Lord, but it was in fact the theme of His entire life, begun with the test of fasting, when He sacrificed His body through hunger, and His blood through thirst for forty whole days. Moses fasted for a similar period of forty days, but this was to prepare him to receive the Commandments and the Law, the written word of God. Elijah fasted for forty days, which was to make him worthy to see and meet with God. The fasting of Moses and Elijah was a profit to them and to mankind. As for the Lord Jesus, He fasted not to receive something but to make a free offering of Himself in an act of will and to manifest the coming sacrifice of the cross. As for us, we fast not to receive anything or to offer anything, for we have received Christ, and in Him we have already received everything before we fast. In Him we receive everything even before we are born. No offering of ours, even if we go to our death, is of any avail in removing a single sin. Nor can our fasting be called redemptive, as if by sacrificing our bodies and blood by hunger and thirst we could redeem the smallest soul in all humanity or even ourselves. Why? Because the sin that is within us invalidates the redemptive act and makes our sacrifice powerless. What, then, is our fasting? We fast and offer our bodies as a sacrifice; the outward form of this is bearing fatigue, but its essence is the intentional acceptance of death, that we may be counted fit to be mystically united in the flesh and blood of Christ. It is then that we become, in Christ’s sacrifice, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming.

Fasting, since it is an incomplete sacrifice because of sin, has to be consummated in Communion, partaking in the pure body and blood, to become a perfect sacrifice, efficacious in prayer and intercession. Every Holy Communion Has to be preceded by fasting, and every fast has to end with Holy Communion. When we receive Communion in this way it is right for us to intercede, for our offering and sacrifice are made perfect. “Pray to receive Communion worthily. Pray for us and for all Christians” (Coptic Liturgy). In Lent we prepare ourselves for the Last Supper. We prepare for two like things coming together. How could those who do not sacrifice themselves be worthy of Him who sacrificed His life? If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place? The Mystical Supper on Thursday, which is the intentional acceptance of a life of sacrifice, is but a preparation for accepting sufferings openly, even unto death. Whenever we eat of the body and drink of the blood, we are mystically prepared for preaching the death of the Lord and confessing His resurrection. Every testimony to the death and resurrection of the Lord carries with it a readiness for martyrdom. And every martyrdom carries with it a resurrection. _____ (1)- Destruction of the self is achieved by the elimination of its will. The degree to which we accept death is a measure of the extent self-will has been eliminated. (2) - Self-hatred is an inward attempt to deliver the personality from the captivity of the self, so that we can be united with the other (whether God or man) through love. (3) - Subjugation of the self comes when you undertake some activity which is neither agreeable or desirable. Its attainment is a side-effect of fasting (not the prime motive, which is love).

Sheheet, i.e., the Weighing of Hearts
by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) A beautiful letter to monks and contemplation on the name and place of the Desert of Sheheet, where the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Macarius resides, by the Spiritual Father of the monastery, Father Matta El Maskeen (also known in as Father Matthew the Poor.)

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OD OFFERED US THE GRACE of calling and accepting us in the sacred wilderness, i.e., the wilderness of Sheheet, the wilderness of "the weighing scale of hearts." With its name the Holy Spirit draws our hearts to this designation's implication concerning our life together in this holy wilderness, and offering our lives to God the Weigher of hearts and souls. The origin of this designation, mentioned in the book Coptic Monasticism, is found in the Biography of Saint Macarius. The meaning stemmed from the time when Saint Macarius first arrived in this wilderness, slept on top of the cherubim hill, and the blessed cherubim appeared to him. When the saint started to fall asleep on this hill, he felt the cherubim's hand palpate his heart, as if wanting to weigh it. Saint Macarius said to him, "What is it?" The cherubim answered, "I am measuring and weighing your heart aisi `mpekhyt." Saint Macarius then said to him, "What does this mean?" The cherubim replied, "As I have acted within your heart, thus will be named this mountain, but Christ will demand fruit." Now, my loved ones, I mentioned this narrative as an instruction to the main subject, that is, in this wilderness, our hearts, consciences, and deeds will be weighed by God's spiritual weighing scale. This article is an important part of the previous one in which I mentioned, "Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites,

thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9, 10 NRSV.) But all these different kinds of sins are not weighed with God's sensitive scales, but all the thoughts and hearts' intentions that the devil stirs up in the mind, stirring up later the heart, our yielding to these thoughts, and the heart's reaction to them, that immediately makes them counted as sins duly fulfilled, as Christ's depiction states: "[E]veryone who looks at a woman with lust has alread committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28.) The sin of adultery was counted here as if it had been consummated, while it was only in the realm of the mind and heart. Thus sins begin with the senses and thoughts, consequently stirring the heart, to become counted as sins. Here I will begin to explain the meaning of "the weighing scale of hearts," which is our work in this sacred wilderness. The devil instigates the wicked thoughts specific to every type of sin mentioned by St. Paul, who said that those who committed the m would not witness the kingdom of God. Now, according to the weighing scale of hearts, mere thoughts, if alive in the mind, with the mind at ease with them for barely a second, the heart responding, stirred in reaction to them, immediately become counted as if they had been fulfilled in the heart without the action of the flesh. This is the danger of the ascetic life, the proof of piety, and the sincerity of a sacred living with the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. For it is impossible for a monk to be counted a true ascetic or considered a pious monk, or a truthful believer in a life of communion nwith God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, while leading a life receptive to, and engaged in evil thoughts, whether those of impurity, anger, envy, hatred or slander, carnal appetites, money, food or anything else of the heart's desires, be it only for a moment, then finding an approving response [1] in his members, immediately moved by impure

thoughts, the heart stirred in response, although for a moment, to the thought. The impulse of an undisciplined thought, and of the heart affected by the thought reacting to it, is counted an actual response, and a sin that has been completed, entering into the sphere judgment and eternal denial of the pure, ascetic and pious worshippers' share, who are living the life communion through the Spirit rejoicing in the grace of God, with the Kingdom open to them, an opportunity and eternal share in a feast beyond words [2]. What should be done? Here comes the practical portion of this discussion. It is based on two parts. The First Part "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27 NRSV.) And the same: "Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things" (1 Cor. 9:25) [3] At this point, we have reached the essence of a hermit's work, the beginning of the work of monks who have entered the monastery to attain a life of piety and acquire the taste of life with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. To begin with, control the flesh with all its appetites that start in the mind and imagination, instigated by the enemy to novices for them to fall in the devil's hands. If the monk responds to these thoughts and gives in to the imaigination, with the mind starting to take pleasure in it and responding, then sin will live in the flesh. I say that responding to the mind, even for a second, makes the heart respond to the evil power, becoming impossible to

erase the effect of the evil thought, and hence the reaction of the heart and members. For Christ says that the sin was thus fulfilled in the heart. Then, what is to be done? Work in this holy wilderness is our only occupation, as follows: Repudiate evil thoughts completely, forcefully, willfully, and stubbornly for them not to extend to the heart, members, and the rest of the flesh. 2. Beware; beware of evil thoughts and imaginations that infiltrate the heart to find delight, or acceptance and consent, no matter what. At this point, I include that the hungry body and empty, compressed stomach are the greatest help in controlling the mind, body, and imagination. Hunger in Sheheet is an official work and honor. 3. The monk busy with reading, the drone of books and Psalms, is the owner of a mind armed against evil imaginations. Reading sacred books continuously is an effective factor in disciplining the flesh, mind, and evil appetites (Acts 20:32.) From that, we reach the concluson of the greatest importance: to refuse the devil's counsel, playing with the mind and acquiring the heart. This is the only work required of us for God to fulfill His work. The Second Part If the monk as human being seeks asceticism, worship and piety, and fulfills his officially required work, which is to refuse the devil's counsel from the first impulse in the mind, no matter how perservering and repetitious, with a total refusal in mind, heart, and body, then the result will be that the Spirit of God will enter at once, and with His power, put a stop to the expansion of the idea, thus cutting it off, stopping its movement instantly; for man need not be tried beyond his endurance. Thus the heart becomes joyful and the spirit enveloped in a feeling of victory and joy [4]. 1.

Insomuch as the devil repeats his work and the monk repeats his refusal, the Spirit continues is work in all confidence and certainty. 1. An Example of the Sin of Lying It is the devil's easiest sin into which he makes great people fall. If a spiritual man starts his life with God in truth, honesty, and strictness, especially in relation to all the kinds of lies, he feels a spiritual force surrounding him, protecting, helping, and hleading him. If it happens and he distractedly commits a lie unintentionally and unheedingly, he will immediately feel that the power surrounding and protecting him has left him, and that he has become ashamed of himiself like a man naked. If he can at once correct his mistake and ask God's forgiveness and the person to whom he lied, acknowledging his lie, then the protective power will return as it had been and increase. 2. An Example of the Sin of Fornication The ancient fathers say that the stirring of the sex members is the first to be influenced by the action of the mind's devil, to the extent that they said that the devil is "the holder of the members." Here I draw the ascetic monk's attention to his eyes and feelings that must concentrate on any of the members stirring so as to realize that the devil has entered the body and is on the point of spoiling it. With all awareness and care must he forbid their stirring, not even for a second, even if he must awake, terrified and disturbed, to control his members. Herein lies an involuntary relation between the mind, heart, and members, but is stopped by invoking the name of Jesus even up to one hundred times, until the members calm down and the devil departs. It is a temptation all youth undergo, but under discipline and restraint, the vigilant Spirit will swiftly answer, for sure, to the sons who cry out day and night. 3. An Example of Anger and Hostility

They are two inseparable sins. Man's anger makes the devil lead him to hostility. Antagonism is darkness and death according to Saint John in his First Epistle. He who is angry with his brother for invalid matters, according to Our Lord, "shall be liable to judgment" (Matt. 5:22.) The word "anger" here means the "violation of Christian love." The devil lies in waiting, so that when man's heart is stirred by anger, he on the spot stirs the heart to hatred. Antagonism in Christianity equals falling into the devil's arms. Therefore, if the enemy begins to stir the mind to anger, remember that the devil is waiting to embrace you to become his own by leading you to hatred. It is for that reason that Christ said, "Love your enemies" to sever the devil's line of return." I leave you now in the love of Christ and the care of the Holy Spirit to be children of His grace, the sons of Sheheet, the weighing scale of hearts.

Father Matta El Maskeen The Commemoration of the Return of Saint Macarius' Body to the Wilderness of Sheheet August 25, 2001

Footnotes 1. Abba Amoun who is from Raythee (Al-Tur mountain) asked about impure thoughts. Abba Poemen answered, saying, "The enemy drives them into us, but we must not accept them" Coptic Monasticism, p. 260. Saint Paul the Apostle explains it thus: "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14.)

2. Therefore our thoughts and hearts must be occupied with the words of the Scripture: "And now I commend you to God and to the words of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32.) The Scripture's word is the Scripture's weapon that fights the enemy. 3. It is therefore the type of life that renders a main a saint or perfect, for there exists only one kind of sanctity, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit along with man's effort. Coptic Monasticism, p. 141. 4. I have spent 14 years in Sheheet (Abba Amoun speaking) begging God, day and night, to give me victory over the spirit of anger. Sayings of the Fathers, p. 276; Coptic Monasticism, p. 263.

Coping with Spiritual Paralysis
by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) Periods of impasse, of oppressive grief, of darkness engulfing the soul are inseparable parts of religious life. Read about how to deal with these times... Reprinted from Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way "For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead." (Ps 143.3) In times of spiritual aridity, prayer does not stop. There is nothing to demand that it stop, since the entire soul is still inclined toward God and righteousness. It is not as if it has lost its power or will to strive or to pray, for spiritual aridity has no effect except the absence of the solace, pleasure, and loving encouragements that are the companions and fruits of prayer. Spiritual languor, on the other hand, affects the will. Here, the attack is aimed even at our attempt to pray and to persevere in prayer. A man may stand to pray, but he finds neither words to say nor power to carry on. He may sit down to read, but the book in his hands turns, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, "into lead." It may remain open for a whole day, while the mind fails to grasp a single line. The mind is distracted, unable to concentrate on or follow the meaning of the words passing before it. The will, which controls all activity, is impotent. Although the desire to pray is present, the power and will to do so are absent. In the end, even the desire to pray may fade. Man becomes unable and unwilling to pray, adding to his suffering and sorrow. His problems seem entirely insolvable.

If man tries to plumb the depths of his soul, he finds himself at a loss, for its depths are beyond his reach. It is as if his spiritual footing has been lost, alienating him from the essence of his life. If he tries to examine his faith and secretly measure it in his heart, he finds that it has died, gone. If he knocks at the door of hope, if he clings to the promises of God he had once cherished and lived by, he finds in what he used to find hope has now turned to ice. Hope is stuck in the cold present and not willing to move beyond it. The enemy seizes this opportunity, striking with all his firepower. He launches an offensive - to convince man of his failure, of the ruin of all his struggle and effort. The enemy tries to persuade man that his whole spiritual life was not true or real, that it was nothing but fanciful illusions and emotions. He clamps down on man's mind that he might once and for all deny the spiritual life. Yet, amidst all these crushing inner battles, the soul somehow has an intuition that all these doubts are untrue and that something must exist on the other side of the darkness. It also feels that, in spite of itself, it is still bound to the God who has forsaken it. The soul continues to worship God without realizing or even wanting to! Deep within, far away from the mind's eye or discernment, the heart continues to pray - albeit it is a prayer that gives him no comfort or assurance. When the enemy seeks to deal his fatal blow, trying to force the soul to renounce its faith and hope, he encounters no response. The soul may give in to the enemy in the battle of the mind in complete surrender and to the farthest limits of error. But it is absolutely impossible for the soul to take action, for at the point where imagination and thought turn into action, the will springs forth like a lion out of his den to terrify all the foxes of corruption. Hence, behind spiritual languor there exists a relationship with God that, though inactive, is real and still very strong, stronger than all the whispers

of the devil. Yet until the decisive moment of danger, this relationship sleeps. This relationship remains hidden from the soul. It is vain to try to convince a soul of its existence, that the soul might rely on this or reassure itself of its presence. For in this tribulation, the soul is called to stand alone. The soul remains within the sphere of God's dominion. Although unaware, it is still making progress and on the right path. It is still led by an invisible hand and carried by an unfelt power. The tangible proof for all this is the extreme, constant grief of the soul over its fall from its former activity, zeal, and prominent effort into its present state. The movement of faith was born one day within the heart of the pilgrim, now on the trek whose final destination is God. Faith was lit like a lamp with the light of God. It was kindled by love and zeal and has pushed the soul forward on its march. The pilgrim must not believe that this movement can be abruptly withdrawn from the depths of his heart, that he can be left in such sudden emptiness. It cannot be assumed that a man will constantly see or feel the light or warmth of God. Yet both are constant and active, both in the light of this life as well as in its darkness, its coldness as well as its warmth, its happiness as well as its grief. The way of the spirit is not to be measured exclusively by periods of light, warmth, joy, or fruitful activity. Periods of impasse, of darkness engulfing the soul, of grief which oppresses the heart, periods of coldness paralyzing all spiritual emotion are inseparable parts of the narrow spiritual way. Such conditions seem adverse, painful, and deadly. What matters is how we face them. This is what determines our worthiness to proceed further, completing the blessed struggle until we receive our crowns. .....

This debilitating languor of the spirit is by far the direst tribulation of the soul, indeed the climax of its purging experience. It is similar only to death. Only under the wing of the Almighty's perfect providence can man withstand such a trial, for during this ordeal the soul in its grief, like Job, reaches the point in which it yearns for death. During all these torments, the afflicted person is not totally deprived of the hope of Gods mercy. He never stops looking up toward God, even on the verge of despair; rather, he waits for a great and wonderful salvation. Inasmuch as the tribulation presses hard, his soul becomes clearer and purer. The vision of the Almightys majesty is unveiled, together with the intensity of his love and faithfulness toward the human soul. Previous sufferings seem to fall like scales from the eyes of the soul. It is here that the soul builds up its faith in God. It is not on the basis of blessings that pass away, on protection and visible care, nor on tangible evidence or reasonable proof, but on "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11.1). In the same way, every soul that loves Christ will be, without exception, vindicated at the end. No matter how bitter the spiritual experience, it still knows its final share. It crawls forward, injured but looking toward Christ. The soul, the forsaken beloved, calls to him who has bought her with his blood, never once swerving from her trust in her Lover. Trust may fade from view but is never lost. Faith may sometimes come to a halt but never comes to an end. Feelings of love may sink out of sight, yet they are still preserved in the depths of the soul to spring forth at the end of the trial with an invincible power.

The Effect of the Liturgy of Prayer and Praise on the Being of Man
by Father Matta El Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) It is not difficult to perceive that prayer and praise are in themselves a work of the Holy Spirit in us... When your soul has once been aroused by hymns or set prayers in church, prayer will always be able to admit to the presence of God without any difficulty, like a child who has once learned to speak.

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avid is considered a fine example of one who prayed much and praised and sang to God in joy and humility night and day. It is also clear from his life and from God's own witness concerning him that there is a strong relationship between prayer and praise on the one hand, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and his dwelling in the heart of man on the other. It is not difficult to perceive that prayer and praise are in themselves a work of the Holy Spirit in us, and that to practise them is to some extent fellowship with the Holy Spirit. So regular participation in the service of the liturgy of prayer and praise in the church is a door through which we may enter into a life that is spiritual, without difficulty and without pride. It can change us little by little from our worldly form into a new form loved by God and mean. We notice that when we praise God from our hearts, it awakens the sense of immortality that lies dormant deep inside us and increases our love for eternal life. Afterwards, one grows accustomed to the atmosphere of praise and it becomes to us like the air of heaven, our better homeland. We breathe the fragrance of God simply by hearing the church choir sing, for

the melody of the hymns is a language of the spirit and from it the soul draws a sense of heavenly things. When your soul has once been aroused by hymns or set prayers in church, prayer will always be able to admit to the presence of God without any difficulty, like a child who has once learned to speak. So, it is that the liturgy of communal prayer and praise in church is able to stir the soul of man into a recognition of his heavenly homeland, to increase his awareness of eternity and his sense of divine things, and to change and renew his thinking. The choir that sings praise in church is used by the Holy Spirit to draw the hears of the repentant towards heaven and to make the voice of God heard above the voice of this transitory world. Thus, hymns of praise and supplication prepare us inwardly and without our consciousness to take part in the communal fellowship with God in the mystery of the Eucharist. This is especially true, because participation in the communal singing of praise in church breaks down the barriers between the individual and the community, just as the individual voice is lost among the voices of the congregation. Praising God creates harmony between the believers and prepares them to be one voice for one heart and one spirit, for a hymn separates man from the world just as it separates him from his own selfishness. Credit and Attribution Father Matthew the Poor is Spiritual Father of the Monastery of St. Macarius, Wadi el-Natroun, Egypt. This article was originally published by the St. Mark Monthly Review, a journal published by the monastery, and is reprinted here with express permission from both Fr. Matthew the Poor and St. Mark's Monthly Review.

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