Lex Rex

verbum sat sapienti

Lex Rex

Monday, May 09, 2005

The BGM 13: A Reply Concerning Fasting


I am sure you too have found the comment section insufficient for lengthy discussion, so I am afraid I need to respond to the “BGM 13” as a post. My numbers correspond with yours:

1. You indeed brought up the material and spiritual as they concern sacraments and fasting etc…and you herewith impliedly acknowledge the Orthodox view of the necessity of both for salvation of man’s soul. I will address this more below, but your second question will lead the discussion:

2. “Do you think God uses material things to convey His grace?” This is an easy one for me and you may find my answer surprising, but not so if you fully understood my upbringing: ABSOLUTELY! I say this with enthusiasm because it is the heart of my beliefs concerning salvation. Jesus indeed was the ICON in which grace was/is dispensed, you can not get more material than God incarnate; the suffering and crucified body of Jesus hanging on a cross is the center of my salvation. But perhaps you are inquiring whether AFTER Jesus was born into this world, suffered, died, was buried and rose on the third day to be seated physically at the right hand of His Father in Heaven, there is further need for material to convey His grace. In other words, was God’s physical act accomplished once and for all through the crucifixion, or is there more “material” required of God? In the Orthodox sense of ICONS (beyond the first, that was Jesus) and Eucharist, I am not presently convinced of the necessity of this material. As to the fourth sacrament of repentance and confession, I view these as material in that repentance confession are physical acts required by God for the forgiveness of sins and while not “material” as I believe you are using the term, there very much IMO a material aspect to this as offering our life and body as a physical sacrifice. As to baptism with water as a necessity for salvation, as yet I do not believe it is the water itself that saves, but that said, God’s grace is made possible by the public act of obedience. Concerning baptism, if water is necessary for salvation, why was Jesus baptized? Concerning the Eucharist, if necessary for salvation, why did Jesus partake? Why do we not have to also then be nailed to the cross, as Jesus did this as well? On the latter, we indeed do need to crucify the old man, but notice we cannot accomplish this through the physical act of crucifixion.

3. Concerning the requirement for salvation, you inquire whether I tow the protestant line of spiritually saved by spiritual confession. Perhaps I do not understand the arguments of my protestant brothers, but I have never heard my church, nor any others I have attended, preach sola spirituality. Indeed, I have always understood the physical needs on both sides of the equation. It is difficult for me to articulate this, but how is a spiritual (silent?) confession effective without the physical act of obedience in repentance? The prior without the former is merely words spoken. Individuals in the early church were referred to as “professed Christians” because it was only after their lives were examined for a time that any evidence of salvation could be determined. We cannot ignore the evidence in Scripture, for some in a very shortened period of time are transformed to life eternal, but I do not miss the example of the suffering Christ, He did not die instantly and nor does our old man in very case.

4. Concerning whether fasting is required for salvation, in a deeper sense, while it is not a sacrament, one could say fasting in Orthodoxy is found in the tool box on the bench of confession and repentance, which is a sacrament. And one could further say that confession and repentance as far as being effectual when killing off the old man, are rusty bolts that without which the tools of fasting and prayer, such bolts could not be loosened. So while I understand that Fasting is not declared as a sacrament, it is the “material” in confession and repentance that is difficult to separate from the same. Thus my posture regarding fasting is not from any protestant brainwashing, truth be told, I have never heard a message preached regarding this topic as it relates to Orthodoxy, so I have no pre-conceived notion of the same apart from the influence of half of my family. Consider the following written by Orthodox, let me know if you disavow any of these writings as they seem to be standard Orthodox theology:

“Fasting is another aid to kill off the old Adam, and to put on Christ, for the benefit of all (ourselves, the Church, and the world in which we witness His love). This continual transformation (or repentance) is the path and goal of the Christian life.

This pursuit of such godly transformation is furthered by both “spiritual” and “physical” means. “Spiritual means” such as prayer, preaching and singing (with which Evangelicals agree) as well as “physical” means (or aids) such as the sacraments, icons, incense, fasting, the Cross, etc. (with which Evangelicals generally disagree). God works through both spiritual and physical means (the Orthodox believe) to make transformation of the whole man, spiritual and physical. “
Written by the esteemed BGM. (I pose the question to BGM: Given the extreme importance of fasting, do you believe that the transformation of man both physically and spiritually is possible without the same?)

“Once the soul is inclined towards pleasing its Creator, and through obedience and fasting is subdued, the soul thirsts for its Lord and prayer is made effective. Our Lord Jesus Christ then begins the work of cleansing the soul, and illuminating the intellectual power of the soul with a right understanding of its Lord and Creator. In this way the Lord rebuilds the temple of our souls, as the Psalmist notes:

LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear (Psalm 10:17 )

For some this may occur very quickly, as in the blessed grace-filled state attained by the holy martyrs as they made their bold confessions. For others it may take their entire life. Nevertheless, if an Orthodox Christian continues in such a way the Lord will provide all that is necessary for salvation…..

Those who deviate from the fundamental law of obedience and insolently choose to live according to their self-will, fall away from God, and so are banished utterly and cast into outer darkness.
(St's Callistus and Ignatius, "Directions" 15)

We see from the above investigation that the holy Church, inspired by its loving Creator, has provided to us rules for fasting, that in and of themselves are of no benefit to an individual, unless that individual understands that he fulfills them not as an empty obligation, but in obedience, without argument or contradiction, as a means of expressing ones desire to please the Lord. When we fast with such an understanding, the Lord rewards our well-intentioned desire with a resolve to practice the virtues. In such a way the Lord undertakes the arduous work of rebuilding our wretched souls. Glory be to our Lord for all the benefits he bestows upon us poor wretches. (Russian Orthodox writer)

So it is with the soul: the grace of the Holy Spirit is preserved by keeping the commandments, and the keeping of the commandments is the foundation laid for receiving the gift of God's grace. Neither does the grace of the Holy Spirit remain in us without our obeying the commandments, nor can obeying the commandments be useful and salutary without Divine grace.” (St. Simeon the New Theologian "Practical and Theological Precepts" 95)

A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one's cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity. Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (of Blessed Memory)

BROTHER: What are fasting and prayer?

OLD MAN: Fasting is the subjugation of the body, prayer is converse with God, vigil is a war against Satan, abstinence is being weaned from meats, humility is the state of the first man, kneeling is the inclining of the body before the Judge, tears are the remembrance of sins, nakedness is our captivity which is caused by the transgression of the command, and service is constant supplication to and praise of God.

BROTHER: Are these able to redeem the soul?

OLD MAN: When internal things agree with external, and manifest humility appears in the hidden works which are from within, verily, a man shall be redeemed from the weight of the body.
E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984, pp. 263-264

Bodily purity is primarily attained through fasting, and through bodily purity comes spiritual purity. Abstinence from food, according to the words of that son of grace, St. Ephraim the Syrian, means: 'Not to desire or demand much food, either sweet or costly; to eat nothing outside the stated times; not to give oneself over to gratification of the appetite; not to stir up hunger in oneself by looking at good food; and not to desire one or another sort of food. The Prologue from Ochrid - by St. Nikolai Velimirovich (Volume 4, p 338)

Do you disagree with these quotes? Are they taken out of context? I do not believe I have overstated the importance of fasting regarding salvation in the Orthodox view. Again, can you kill off the old man without fasting? If not, how can confession & repentance and therefore salvation be achieved without fasting?

5. “Thus, if fasting, is not required for salvation, why do it? Why because God commands it!” You are preaching to the choir here, that is the Protestant view of fasting, as I have heard it preached numerous times, I understand it no less.

6. Here, you hit the nail on the head, it is shameful that we protestants do not fast more, and I think it is because most hide behind their concept of grace. My church does encourage fasting and prayer, but it is not an annual November 28-December 25 fast, nor is it during lent. Individually, I have personally engaged in fasts of water only, although I have not in any recent memory, guilty as charged. The last true fast was during law school and I think I complained a bit even so.

7. “Rather than answer, I will ask you (and I will try rare silence rather than speculate): Lex, why don’t you and your assembly fast when it is clearly established in scripture?” See 6 above.

8. “Lex, do you really think I am so dumb as to base my broad, scholarly critique of Evangelicalism upon my personal experience at a single church? Is that really indicated by the nature of my writing or my citations? Do you view me as that poor an attorney?” I have nothing but the highest regard of you, however, your broad-brush strokes often times do not apply to my church so it leaves me wondering if my church is just an anomaly? I answer in the negative, I have experienced countless denominations that run contrary to your indictment. Even Greg Laurie whom I assume you would place in the Western indictment stated the other day that we must finish the race as a necessary component to salvation.

9-11: “… your symbolic Lord’s supper is a tradition, your sola fide is a tradition. Similarly, my Real Presence is a tradition, my Baptismal regeneration is a tradition. We both share the traditions of the Trinity and the Incarnation, etc. etc” Which is why I prefaced that I was “sure BGM agreed”: To the extent sola fide is extra-scriptural and contrary to scripture, it is not tradition, it is heresy. The same with any of the above: If I cannot find scriptural support and also find scriptures debunking the practice, I do not consider these “traditions” in accordance with God's word, I'm sure you agree. On the other hand, where I can find scriptural support, I do not consider these “traditions” apart from the obvious procedural traditions (thrice sprinkled, fast 11/28-12/25 etc..), of which I have no problem with these if they do not offend scripture. For example, we celebrate the advent calendar every year, I find no harm in this tradition. The symbolic Lord’s supper, for example, as I have numerous times pointed out, I have provided scriptural support. You also have argued from numerous scriptures regarding the Lord’s supper and real presence, so how can you call your defense of the same a “tradition”? Sure, you have also provided historical support, but I hardly call your apology for real presence a tradition. The same with Baptismal regeneration, the Orthodox provide scripture support. Scripture is replete with examples of baptism, where tradition appears is the ceremony surrounding the same. We may disagree as to the interpretation of scripture in this area, but how can you call Baptismal regeneration a “tradition?” You also here (admittedly to my surprise) lump in the Trinity and Incarnation as traditions. Again, the scripture is replete with the doctrine of Trinity, beginning in Genesis with the plural use of “elohim” when referring to God in the beginning, and forward through Scripture (pre-incarnate Christ, God the Father, The Holy Spirit sent etc. etc..) And Incarnation as a “tradition? Huge stretch here with all due respect: How can you possibly classify Incarnation as a “tradition?”

12. What is my position on fasting? Where did I state it was not important nor necessary? All I said is that it was not necessary for salvation, which you purport to agree with, but your comment here seems to display an understanding of what I proposed above regarding fasting; to the Orthodox fasting is essential to kill off the old man, if the old man is not killed off, salvation is impossible, therefore in a round-about way, fasting is necessary for salvation.

13. Amen.