Clean Wednesday: Spiritual Fast

My dish for the first Lenten potluck of 2015 is marinating in the fridge, but as much as I’m looking forward to the potluck, the thing that’s making me really happy is thinking about hearing Let My Prayer Arise for the first time. And the noise of everyone shuffling around in the chapel trying to find a spot to make prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. We also have some great stichera that teach us about the true meaning of the fast – that’s the great thing about Orthodox liturgical music, it has real meaning and you can learn so much from it. If you attend all the services for one year and pay attention to the music, you will learn everything the Church believes.

Here are a few stichera to get us through these last few hours before Presanctified Liturgy. I hope you all get to enjoy breaking the fast afterwards (to some degree) with your church family like I will! *Not the fast, the Clean Week/Eucharistic fast 🙂

While fasting physically, brethren, let us also fast spiritually. Let us loose every knot of iniquity. Let us tear up every unrighteous bond. Let us distribute bread to the hungry, and welcome into our homes those who have no roof over their heads, so that we may receive the Great Mercy from Christ our God.

Elias was enlightened through fasting. He mounted the chariot of good works and was taken up to the heights of heaven. Emulate him, O humble soul. Abstain from every evil and jealousy, from every fleeting pleasure, so that ye might be cleansed of corrupting disease, the fires of Gehenna, crying to Christ: O Lord, glory to Thee.

O divine apostles, fervent intercessors for the world, defenders of the Orthodox. Ye possess the authority to entreat Christ our God with boldness. We entreat ye to pray for us, O honorable ones, that we might spend the good time of fasting in joyousness and receive the grace of the consubstantial Trinity. Pray for our souls, O great and glorious preachers.

Clean Tuesday: Pride

Strong words from St. John of Kronstadt this morning, just making a note to myself here!

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.

We are told: It is no big deal to eat non-Lenten food during Lent. It is no big deal if you wear expensive beautiful outfits, go to the theater, to parties, to masquerade balls, use beautiful expensive china, furniture, expensive carriages and dashing steeds, amass and hoard things, etc. Yet what is it that turns our heart away from God, away from the Fountain of Life? Because of what do we lose eternal life? Is it not because of gluttony, of expensive clothing like that of the rich man of the Gospel story, is it not because of theaters and masquerades? What turns us hard-hearted toward the poor and even toward our relatives? Is it not our passion for sweets, for satisfying the belly in general, for clothing, for expensive dishes, furniture, carriages, for money and other things? Is it possible to serve God and mammon, to be a friend to the world and a friend to God, to serve Christ and Belial? That is impossible.

Why did Adam and Eve lose paradise, why did they fall into sin and death? Was it not because of one evil? Let us attentively consider why we do not care about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dearly. Why do we compound sin upon sin, fall endlessly into opposing God, into a life of vanity? Is it not because of a passion for earthly things and especially for earthly pleasures? What makes our hearts become crude? Why do we become flesh and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not because of a passion for food, drink, and other earthly comforts? How after this can one say that it does not matter whether you eat non-Lenten food during Lent? The fact that we talk this way is in fact pride, idle thought, disobedience, refusal to submit to God, and separation from Him.

-St. John of Kronstadt

Clean Monday: True Fasting

2015-2-23 St. Nicholas Church Grand Rapids
Although this rule is probably not observed much outside of monasteries, traditionally the first three days of Great Lent are complete fasting days. We have our first meal of Great Lent on Wednesday after celebrating the Presanctified Liturgy. So to honor the “letter of the law” I am going to fast from posting recipes until I can share my first Lenten potluck meal with you. Until then, feed your soul with these beautiful words from a homily by St. John Chrysostom. In this excerpt, he describes true fasting – what, how, and why. It’s a long one, but a good read to kick off Great Lent. Blessed fast to all of you!

Let us not then despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears! We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession.

Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveler boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest.

So too, when the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickle; and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travelers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and a sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveler.

Hence St. Paul saith, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole amour of God.” Eph. vi. 12.

Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed! How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly business, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual amour, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with the spiritual amour, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow.

Cultivate thy soul.
Cut away the thorns.
Sow the word of godliness.
Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of divine wisdom, and thou hast become a husbandman.

And Paul will say to thee, “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” 2 Tim. ii. 6. He too himself practiced this art. Therefore writing to the Corinthians, he said, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” 1 Cor. iii. 6.

Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on.

And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance.

Keep down the waves of inordinate desires.
Repel the tempest of evil thoughts.
Preserve the boat; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot.

But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things.

I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting ; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. “For the wrestler,” it is said, “is not crowned unless he strive lawfully.” 2 Tim. ii. 5.

To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, Luke xviii. 12. but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.

The Ninevites fasted, and won the favor of God. Jonah iii. 10. The Jews, fasted too, and profited nothing, nay, they departed with blame. Isa. lviii. 3, 7; 1 Cor. ix. 26.

Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not “run uncertainly,” nor “beat the air,” nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow.

Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskilfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named. Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.

I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.

Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! Is it said by what kind of works?

If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!
If thou seest in enemy, be reconciled to him!
If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!
If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.
Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.

For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.

Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says.

Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what doth it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eateth the flesh of his brother, and biteth the body of his neighbor.

Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. v. 15. Thou hast not fixed thy teeth in the flesh, but thou hast fixed the slander in the soul, and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; thou hast harmed, in a thousand ways, thyself and him, and many others, for in slandering a neighbor thou hast made him who listens to the slander worse…

Last Chance to Win Just Mayo & Qrunch Burgers – Gluten Free & Vegan!!!

The Contest Closes Today!!!

If you would like to be entered to win two 8oz jars of Just Mayo by Hampton Creek, and four coupons each good for one free box of Qrunch Burgers by Qrunch Foods (that’s 16 burgers), be sure to enter today (Monday, November 10) by 10:30pm EST.

In case you haven’t seen the news, Just Mayo is making Unilever quake in their boots with their eggless mayo. Winning this contest is kinda like owning a piece of history! And did you know with Qrunch burgers you can make…

THIS: A Donut Philly Cheese Qrunch Steak!
On a more serious note, these yummy, Qrunchy quinoa burgers simply need to be popped in the toaster for a couple rounds and they are ready to go. Great for a burger substitute, but you can also put them in stuffing, crumbled on pizza, or just drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and eat them straight up (I did that last night with a side of roasted veggies).

Enter to win. Pass it on – TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS!!! But hurry because time is running out.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

John The Baptists Head

The Beheading of the Prophet, Forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist: The Evangelists Matthew (Mt.14:1-12) and Mark (Mark 6:14-29) provide accounts about the martyric end of John the Baptist in the year 32 after the Birth of Christ.

Following the Baptism of the Lord, St John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch (ruler of one fourth of the Holy Land) and governor of Galilee. (After the death of king Herod the Great, the Romans divided the territory of Palestine into four parts, and put a governor in charge of each part. Herod Antipas received Galilee from the emperor Augustus).

The prophet of God John openly denounced Herod for having left his lawful wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, and then instead cohabiting with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19-20). On his birthday, Herod made a feast for dignitaries, the elders and a thousand chief citizens. Salome, the daughter of Herod, danced before the guests and charmed Herod. In gratitude to the girl, he swore to give her whatever she would ask, up to half his kingdom.

The vile girl on the advice of her wicked mother Herodias asked that she be given the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod became apprehensive, for he feared the wrath of God for the murder of a prophet, whom earlier he had heeded. He also feared the people, who loved the holy Forerunner. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave orders to cut off the head of St John and to give it to Salome.

According to Tradition, the mouth of the dead preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: “Herod, you should not have the wife of your brother Philip.” Salome took the platter with the head of St John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in a unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, buried the head of John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod had a parcel of land. (The Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated (February 24). The holy body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebastia, there where the wicked deed had been done.

After the murder of St John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain time. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent Jesus Christ to him, Whom he mocked (Luke 23:7-12).

The judgment of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way in such a way that her body was in the water, but her head was trapped above the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now she flailed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck.

Her corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of St John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas, in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter, made war against Herod. The defeated Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.

The Beheading of St John the Baptist, a Feast day established by the Church, is also a strict fast day because of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint. In some Orthodox cultures pious people will not eat food from a flat plate, use a knife, or eat food that is round in shape on this day.

And what is appropriate to eat on a strict fasting day when we avoid plates, knives and head-like foods?

Peanut Butter Maple Oatmeal
3-Minute Pea Soup
Cashew Cottage Cheese

Just a few ideas, feel free to search the recipe index for more. And if you are not “pious people” as described above, just do whatcha normally do on a fasting Friday!

Clean Monday

After all that Pizza Week business, in observance of Clean Monday I will not be posting any recipes today. Or Tuesday or Wednesday, either, actually. Thursday I’ll start back up again (you can check the recipe index until then) with a post from our first Lenten potluck of Great Lent 2014!

For today…

‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.

“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

-Isaiah 58:1 – 14

Pizza Week 2014 – Get Ready!!!!!

2013317 final pizzas5

Pizza Week 2014
Monday, February 24, through Sunday, March 2 (until 11:59pm!)

It’s time to start preparing for Pizza Week 2014! Once again I have interviewed the creator of Pizza Week, a guy I am lucky to call my brother-in-law. At the end of the interview, which is interspersed with pictures of delicious pizza, I have included the guidelines for Pizza Week. I hope you will join us in celebrating, and even send in a few pictures of your own pizzas for me to post on the blog!
(*UPDATE: Now that Pizza Week is over, I have posted links to all my pizza posts at the bottom of this blog)

To quote last year’s Pizza Week post, “As some of you know, one of the reasons I created this vegan food blog is for my Orthodox Christian friends, to give them ideas for meals and snacks on fasting days. What you might not know is, despite the fact we are fasting more days than not, we Orthodox Christians also love to eat. The great and wide variety of foods, after all, are a gift to all of us from God. So to keep things balanced, the Church does more than give us fasting days of preparation and repentance. We also have feasting days (and weeks!) in celebration and in preparation.

That’s where Pizza Week comes in, in preparation for Great Lent. You see, during Great Lent and Holy Week – the 50 day period preceding Pascha (Easter) – Orthodox Christians generally abstain from all meat, eggs, fish, dairy, oil and wine. This is called a strict fast.

If you think Fat Tuesday is great, just wait. In preparation for Great Lent, we start with one whole week without any fasting except the brief fast before communion that Sunday morning. Then we slowly work our way into the fast. We have these two special Sundays before Lent begins. One is called Meatfare Sunday. It’s the last day when meat is permitted. Eat all the meat you want – I’ll be eating the last of my faux meat, if I have any.
The next day Cheesefare week begins, and with it, fasting from all meat. But dairy is allowed every single day (normally during the year, we keep the strict fast every Wednesday and Friday) – and again, I’ll be using up my faux cheese. Then comes Cheesefare Sunday, the last day to eat any dairy or eggs. After Cheesefare Sunday, the strict fast begins, with a slight relaxation on Saturdays and Sundays when oil and wine are permitted. Then, after 50 days of waiting and praying, we celebrate The Feast of Feasts!

Okay, now that we have some background, let’s get to the fun stuff!

from Cult Pizza in Grand Rapids, MI

from Cult Pizza in Grand Rapids, MI

OhSheCooks: First, last year you said maybe you’d keep track of how many pieces of pizza you ate. Did you?

Brother-in-Law: I did not. The slice size varied so much it would be tough to truly understand what a number would have meant.

OSC: Now, am I correct you don’t like vegetables on your pizza at all, or is it that you don’t like vegetables and meat together? I’m wondering if you just eat plain cheese pizza every day during Pizza Week since we can’t have meat. Do you do fake meat?

Eggplant Pizza

Eggplant Pizza. What’s that about vegetables?

BIL: Correct, I do not like vegetables on my pizza. Veggies are for salads, not pizza. I eat plain cheese pizza all week.

OSC: How far in advance do you begin planning for Pizza Week? What’s your strategy?

BIL: I don’t really plan for it, except send a Facebook event invite a week or so before. The only strategy is to make sure I am able to get at least one piece a day. So, if my wife doesn’t want pizza at night for dinner, I have to either get it for lunch, or make sure there’s some leftovers at home for an after-dinner snack.

Mexican Pizza

Mexican Pizza

I asked my sister to come up with a few questions for the interview…
OSC: Here are your wife’s questions: If pizza were a song, what song would it be?

BIL: Everlasting Love

OSC: What is your earliest pizza memory?

BIL: Wow, I have no idea. I feel like my family didn’t eat a lot of pizza until I was a teenager, but maybe I just don’t remember.

Onions-Three-Ways Pizza

Onions-Three-Ways Pizza

OSC: What is your worst pizza memory?

BIL: Working as a pizza relocation specialist and being around pizza for hours, having it make my car smell like pizza, but not being able to eat any of it (especially during Lent).

OSC: Lastly (back to my questions), if non-Orthodox people participate in Pizza Week, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

"Tortizza" - Pizza on a tortilla when you need a quick fix!

“Tortizza” – Pizza on a tortilla when you need a quick fix!

BIL: Two things really. First, to realize how amazing a gift from God pizza is, as well as having the means to participate in Pizza Week. To be able to eat something so delicious every day is a blessing. Then, I hope they see that while that gift is amazing, God’s gift of sending His only Son to become man, suffer, and die for us is the greatest gift of all. If people are willing to go from eating delicious pizza consistently for days, to abstaining completely for close to 50 days in a row to prepare for Christ’s resurrection, it hopefully shows just how important God’s gift is, and anything else pales in comparison.

Thank you, BIL, for another excellent interview! And now, what you’ve all been waiting for…

BIL’s Pizza Week Rules:

1. You must eat pizza at least 1 time every day. It does not have to constitute a whole meal, but it can.
2. You must eat a standard size piece of pizza at least.
3. You can eat any type of pizza you want – thin, pan, Chicago style, etc.
4. You may eat pizza multiple times in one day.
5. You can put anything on the pizza you want (though meat is technically not allowed that week, please consult your priest or spiritual father to discuss your personal fasting rule).
6. You don’t have to be Orthodox or be giving up pizza for Lent to participate in Pizza Week (though that’s generally the point).
7. It is highly recommended that the next time you eat pizza after March 2nd at 11:59 pm is after the Anastasi Divine Liturgy on Pascha (generally about 1-3am on Sunday, April 20th.)

In case there is any doubt, we are talking about REAL cheese pizza for Pizza Week. Eating vegan pizza during Lent is a completely separate entity and in no way affects the splendor or legitimacy of Pizza Week (unless you are already a vegan and plan to give up vegan pizza for Lent*).

*I believe that was added for moi 🙂

Looking for pizza recipes? Check the Junk Food Fix category from the recipe index! Of course you can also buy a fresh or frozen pizza. Or sneak into an elementary school and steal a slice of rectangular pizza with really weird-looking bits of “sausage” on it – that can’t be real meat, can it? Did anyone else used to dip their school cafeteria pizza in ranch dressing? Man I am hungry for pizza right now. RIGHT NOW. Pizza Week, COME!

Jordanian Sweet Potato Flatbread Pizza
Basic Daiya Pizza
Neapolitan Pizza
Eggplant Pizza, Spinach Pie
Pulled Jackfruit Pizza with Corn Tortilla White Sauce
Deluxe Pizza

Why Oppress Thy Flesh?

1St. John Chrysostom“The point is not only that we should come to church each day, that we should continually listen to one and the same thing, and that we should fast for the whole Forty Days. No! If we, from continually coming here and listening to the teaching, do not acquire anything and do not derive any good for our soul from the time of the fast ­ all this does not procure for us any benefit, but rather serves for our greater condemnation, when despite such concern for us by the Church we remain just the same as before.

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

Let Us Speak No Lies

Icon of Repentance

Icon of Repentance

“Having undertaken the spiritual fast, brethren, let us speak no lies with our tongues, nor give each other a cause for scandal. But illuminating the light of our souls through repentance, let us cry to Christ with tears: Remit our falls in sin, O Lover of mankind.”

-First Stichera of the 2nd Presanctified Liturgy of Great Lent, Tone 1

Stand Fast and Watch

St. John of San FransiscoA sermon by St. John the Wonderworker:

Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don’t know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.

“How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?” the father asked.

“My father and my lord,” replied the son, “how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?”

“Good, my son,” remarked the king. “Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life.”

“Father,” replied the son, “that’s impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?”

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son:

“Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head.”

The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.

When he returned to the castle, the father asked,

“My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?”

“I saw nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said the king. “Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people animals…”

“I didn’t notice any of that,” said the son. “All my attention was focused on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life.”

“Quite right, my son,” said the king. “Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations.”

The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (I Cor. 16:13).

The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one’s faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find.

Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud… All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart.

And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that

St. John of San Fransisco Icon “Man’s heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions.”

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one’s inner life, i.e., the soul.

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.

-St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco