Sermon on Fasting
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh
25th November, 1990
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In today’s Gospel (St. Luke 10:25-37) we hear the Lord saying to each of us that our neighbour is not the one whom we like, not even the one whom we love; it is the one who needs us, whether he likes us or not, and it is to him that we must turn in compassion, in charity, as indeed the Lord God Himself turned to us at the moment when the whole of mankind was alien to Him; and again, turns to each of us at the moment when we are at rock bottom, when we are as far away from Him as we can imagine, indeed, much farther, because only God can measure the distance that separates us from our being in Him, with Him, the distance which measures His absence from our life.
On November 28th is the beginning of fasting time that prepares us for Christmas; many will turn to fasting, eating those things which are appointed by the Church; but is that the fast which God wishes us to keep? Listen to what the Lord said to the Hebrews, from the lips of Isaiah the Prophet [Isaiah 58:3-8]:
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgressions … Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as though they were a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. … Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure and exploit all your labourers! Behold, you fast for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness! You shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast I have chosen to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke! Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him? and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of thy Lord shall be thy rearguard.”
Let us remember these words, because more than ever in our time we must not fast hypocritically, not fast with false piety, but fast by turning away from every evil, from all evil, put right in our lives everything that has gone wrong.
Are we going to meet the day when the Lord our God took flesh in order to enter into the realm of death, He Who is the Eternal One, the day when He chose to enter into the realm of suffering for our sakes — are we going to meet this day by accepting to continue in our estrangement from Him? And we are estranged from Him when we hate our neighbour, when we reject our neighbour, when we refuse to forgive, when we turn away from him or her who is in need of our mercy — not only of bread, not only of shelter — indeed, that also counts! — but in need of forgiveness, of the mercy of the heart! Are we going to meet the Lord who came to save sinners by rejecting those whom we consider as sinners, those who have offended us, those against whom we have fought? Can we meet the Lord on such terms?
Let us think of the shepherds: they were simple people, unsophisticated, uncomplicated, but their hearts were open to the extent to which it was possible to them, they were clean, pure of heart, and therefore, they could hear the news of the Incarnation; they could hear and receive the news as the most wonderful thing that changed everything in their lives. We have been listening to the good news day-in, day-out, year after year — has it come to us as good news that has transformed our lives, made us into people beyond compare, people who are prepared to live and to die for those who hate, who reject, who ignore, who offend us? If we are not — it is in vain that we speak of being Christian; he who does not love his brother is a liar when he says that he loves his God — these are the Apostle’s words.
Let us therefore enter into this period of fasting in earnest, stand in judgement before God to be judged by Him, and ask ourselves whether we could stand side by side with Him when others come to be judged, and step forward and say, ‘Lord! I have forgiven — Thou hast no grudge against him, against her, any more!’ Amen.