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Advent Series: Asceticism

O heavenly king, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph forsook their homes on the road to Bethlehem. Teach us to forsake the vanity of this world and retreat to the quiet of the soul. O sweet savior, the shepherds waited in the stillness of the pastures where they listened to angelic chant. Allow us to enter blessed stillness, that we may tune our hearts to thy transforming grace. O blessed Lord, the magi lay gold, frankincense, and myrrh at thy feet. I pledge to thee the gold of my heart’s love, the incense of my prayers, the myrrh of my willingness to bear my cross. III. Asceticism: Prayer, Fasting, Confession ❖ Asceticism: A. What is it: • “The Christian ascetical life, that is the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the works of mercy and obedience, is the application and the appropriation of the Cross to my life. It is the means by which I both enter into a life of communion with God…’The struggle of the person against rebellious nature, against the nature which seeks to achieve on its own what it could bring about only in personal unity and community with God’ (Fr. Yannarras). Our ‘restoration’ to a life of personal communion…presupposes a struggle within each human heart that is often lacking in contemporary society and even our churches.” ~ Metropolitan Jonah ❖ Prayer A. The struggle and urgency • “We undertake almost anything else, no matter how trivial it is, with some sort of preparation, but we set about prayer on the spur of the moment, and hurry to get through it as quickly as possible, as if it were just something to do in passing, something extra, and not the most important thing of all…No, you must resolve to refuse yourself this sin, and in no way should you allow yourself to be frivolous with regard to prayer. Persuade yourself that such an attitude toward prayer is an offense, the most serious criminal offense. Consider prayer as your first priority in life, and keep it in your heart as such.” ~ St. Theophan ❖ Fasting A. Fasting = Human • Fasting from food is quintessential to being a complete human being • Goes back to the beginning – the only original rule that God gave to humanity. B. How to Fast • “Fasting isn’t a virtue by itself. Fasting is a means to obtain virtues. We don’t fast because it gratifies God…Through fasting, we control our senses and our physical weakness from all that hinders the contemplation of God; and we become more free to commune with Him in prayer. St. Isaac the Syrian states: ‘Fasting, vigil and prayer are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue’.” ~ Fr. Ayman Kfouf • “Fasting without prayer becomes a bodily punishment, a physical diet or a false ritual, and likewise prayer without fasting loses its power and misses its goal. Fasting without effort in virtue is wholly in vain, and likewise it is impossible to acquire virtues without fasting and prayer.”~ Fr. Ayman Kfouf ❖ Confession A. Confession is the quintessential ingredient to a Christian life • “As Orthodox Christians, Confession is not an option which we can choose or not choose to do. It is absolutely necessary for our spiritual healing and well-being, and those who think they can go without Confession for long periods of time are setting a trap “…We eliminate the things in our minds that keep us from God. We become free. The person who rejects Confession also rejects true freedom, preferring the slavery of ‘privacy.’ Sadly, the ‘private’ person is usually blissfully unaware that everyone around him knows his sins but him.” ~ Metropolitan Joseph • “The accountability of facing our true selves and coming face to face with our Father Confessor keeps us on our ‘spiritual toes’.” ~ Fr. Theodore Dorrance B. What is confession? The Unveiling of the Heart - “Confession is not merely the reading off of a list of sins, but delving deep into the heart to discover the passions and suffering that drive us to sin.” ~ Metropolitan Joseph - “[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.” ~ Tertullian of Carthage - “He who conceals his thoughts remains unhealed” ~ St. Barsanuphius C. The quality of Confession is not related to the quality of the Confessor • Confession: The Art of Becoming Known - “Usually your confessor is the priest who is closest, sees you most often, knows you and the circumstances of your life best: a priest of your parish. Do not be put off by your awareness of what you perceive as his relative youth, his personal shortcomings, or the probability that he possess no rare spiritual gifts. Keep in mind that each priest goes to confession himself and may have more to confess than you do. You confess, not to him, but to Christ in his presence.” ~ Jim Forest, Sacrament of Healing - “Whoever wants to approach prayer without a guide, and proudly thinks that he can learn from books, and won't go to an elder, is already halfway into delusion. But the Lord helps the humble, and if there is no experienced guide, and he goes to a confessor, whoever he may be, then the Lord will cover him because of his humility.” ~ St. Silouan ❖ Asceticism and Advent • “True asceticism is a tool to prepare ourselves, to be open to receive the Word Incarnate, and goes beyond a mere giving up of some objects (alcohol, chocolate, etc.) but aims to recalibrate our entire focus towards reality.” ~ Ulrich L. Lehner • How can we enter into the Asceticism of Advent to prepare our hearts for Christ’s nativity?

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