[Abba Moses said:] ‘Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything wordly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow man. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.’
—St. John Cassian, On the Holy Fathers of Sketis
Beloved, often it has been said by other Christians that the Orthodox Church is too constrained by its adherence to rules and traditions. Of a certain they include fasting and vigils in this list. In this age, this sentiment is sadly even shared among other Orthodox, who wrongly assert that these ascetical acts are out-dated and impractical for us today.
Has the spirit of man changed in these last times? Are we so arrogant to think that we are greater than our fathers? Or are we simply deluded to think that the teachings of the fathers are old tales?
When one closes their heart to the love and warmth of God, nothing really matters beyond the sensuality of this world and the ‘here-and-now’. One of the greatest victories of the evil one is convincing the world that neither he nor God truly exist. We need look only at the unspeakable horrors perpetrated in the last century to believe this.
Today an even great evil lurks about seeking to destroy the last remnants of the faithful. The teaching of indifference has taken a mighty hold in Christianity to such an extent that the faith has become nothing more than a social event and has lost its mission of calling the faithful to salvation. The sole mission of the Church is to guide us to Salvation and she has given us the means by which we are saved, as St. John Cassian teaches above. We can see this exact same spirit permeate the teachings of the fathers for we need look no further than that great St. Seraphim.
The great luminary Saint Seraphim guided Motovilov and left us this rich treasure for all future ages, in which he elucidates on the Church’s sacred mission to lead us to the acquisition of the Holy Spirit – Theosis.
Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, only the good deed done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Sanctification is not an academic pursuit, nor is it accomplished by mere observance. Observing the “golden rule” is not complete for treating others in the same manner that we wish to be treated is too subjective. The Saviour’s teaching – that we must love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul; and to love our neighbor – leaves no room for misinterpretation. Love of God is absolute just as truth is absolute. In our spiritual life we must be active participants but acting in the correct spirit and faith. As Saint Seraphim teaches, our labors and almsgiving must be done for Christ’s sake.
To love God means to do things that will please God. We cannot love God or please Him without love of our neighbor. When we have fully learned to love God without any reservation and to love our neighbor, then we have acquired the Holy Spirit.