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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. - St. John Chrysostom, Concerning the Statues, Homily IIISpoken as though a pharmacist, St. John Chrysostom summarizes the importance of fasting – it is not an option he is teaching us, rather, it is a needed tool. Even though our body requires this drug, he realizes that we might not recognize the need for it if we are not using it properly. The focus of our meditation this week, then, is on the proper fast, and the effects of fasting on our spiritual lives. Another time we will speak of the “healing” that fasting brings – for only by understanding these three will we ever fully appreciate our need for fasting.Fasting must not be a mere physical fast. It is not simply abstinence from food until a certain hour of the day, nor is it simply avoiding meats and dairy products. An acceptable fast is fast of the body and soul, it is a fast where we struggle to be true Christians. Justin Martyr writes, “This is not the fast which I have chosen, saith the Lord; but loose every unrighteous bond, dissolve the terms of wrongous covenants, let the oppressed go free, and avoid every iniquitous contract. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and lead the homeless poor under thy dwelling; if thou seest the naked, clothe him; and do not hide thyself from thine own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy garments shall rise up quickly: and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of God shall envelope thee." (Studies in Philosophy and Other Articles, Chapter XV, In What the True Fasting Consists)A proper fast then, is a fast in which not only your flesh is held under subjection, but your spirit is ‘released’, as His Holiness teaches, from the bonds of sins. It is a time in which love of God and your neighbour must be made manifest.St. Athanasius speaks both of the effects of fasting and what the proper consists of as well, “Behold, my brethren, how much a fast can do, and in what manner the law commands us to fast. It is required that not only with the body should we fast, but with the soul. Now the soul is humbled when it does not follow wicked opinions, but feeds on becoming virtues. For virtues and vices are the food of the soul and it can eat either of these two meats, and incline to either of the two, according to its own will.” (First Festal Letter)Here it is emphasized that a person’s will is the essential battle – that a person must choose to fast the proper fast. For this reason we must hold ourselves in examination constantly – checking to see if we are fasting mechanically, or whether we are struggling to fast a true fast.The Fathers in the Paradise teach us how to fast practically, lest we observe the opposite extreme of abusing our bodies in the pretences of righteousness and zealousness, “Abba Joseph asked Abba Poemen what was the proper way in which to fast, and Abba Poemen said unto him, "I prefer the man who eateth every day a very small quantity of food, and who doth not satisfy his cravings for food." And Abba Joseph said unto him, "When thou wast a young man didst thou not fast two days at a time, O father?" Then the old man said unto him, "Yea, I did, and three days at a time, and four days at a time, and even a week at a time; and the old men, like men of might, have tried all these by experience, but they have found that it is beneficial for a man to eat an exceedingly small quantity of food each day, and because of this they have delivered unto us an easy way to the kingdom." (Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. II, On Fasting and Abstinence, #102)And,"Abstinence in respect of the soul consisteth in making straight its ways and habits, and courses of action, and in cutting off the passions of the soul." (Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. II, Questions and Answers on the Ascetic Rule #324)So a proper fast consists of subjecting the flesh, freeing the spirit, much prayer, and above all, an expression of true Christianity: love. One is not fasting if he is simply avoiding certain foods, nor is he fasting if he brings upon himself all sorts of bodily afflictions as though these are what the Lord requires – a Lord requires a fasting, struggling, honest heart.With this proper fast, then, come numerous effects, and one need not do more than read the words of our Fathers to learn of these. St. Ambrose teaches that we will have our sins washed and be granted power, "And what is the intention of the Scripture which teaches us that Peter fasted, and that the revelation concerning the baptism of Gentiles was made to him when fasting and praying, except to show that the Saints themselves advance when they fast. Finally, Moses received the Law when he was fasting; and so Peter when fasting was taught the grace of the New Testament. Daniel too by virtue of his fast stopped the mouths of the lions and saw the events of future times. And what safety can there be for us unless we wash away our sins by fasting, since Scripture says that fasting and alms do away sin?" (Epistle LXIII)St. John Chrysostom teaches how much our fast affects prayer, “He that fasts is light, and winged, and prays with wakefulness, and quenches his wicked lusts, and propitiates God, and humbles his soul when lifted up. Therefore even the apostles were almost always fasting. He that prays with fasting hath his wings double, and lighter than the very winds." (Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily LVII)The desert fathers tell us that it will strengthen our heart, “A brother asked an old man quetions about comforts [or pleasures], and the old man said unto him, "Eat grass, wear grass, and sleep on grass, and then thy heart will become like iron." (Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. II, On Fasting and Abstinence, #69)We will pray more easily, “A fasting man prays austerely, but the mind of someone intemperate is filled up with unclean imaginings.” (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 168)Our father Evagrios, a universal saint, summarizes nicely,Fast before the Lord according to your strength, for to do this will purge you of your iniquities and sins; it exalts the soul, sanctifies the mind, drives away the demons, and prepares you for God's presence. (Evagrios the Solitary, The Philokalia, Vol. I, p.36)The greatest ‘effect’ though, is that the Lord Himself looks upon our small sacrifice and struggle, and will Himself come to our aid, “Begrudge the stomach and your heart will be humbled; please the stomach and your mind will turn proud. And if you watch yourself early in the morning, at midday, and in the hour before dinner, you will discover the value of fasting, for in the morning your thoughts are lively, by the sixth hour they have grown quieter and by sundown they are finally calm. If you can begrudge the stomach, your mouth will stay closed, because the tongue flourishes where food is abundant. Fight as hard as you can against the stomach and let your vigilance hold it in. Make the effort, however little, and the Lord will quickly come to help you. (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, pg. 168)The fathers are unanimous on our fasting then, a proper fast is a fast of the heart: we keep His commandments, we love our neighbour, and we love Him. It is a fast in which we seek earnestly for virtues, not after the lusts of the flesh. By and through this struggle, we are aided to pray properly, our hearts are strengthened, we are granted internal peace, but most importantly, in our trials and tribulations, the Lord will come swiftly to our aid. From this, then, we are not surprised at the healing that comes with our fast, which we will discuss during this season as well. Let us all pray that we may fast an acceptable fast before Him, in purity and righteousness, even as He fasted on our behalf and was tempted. Let us, like Him, fast that we may elevate our bodies and souls to the heavenly, and drive away demons with humility and abasement, looking always to the glory and hope that is in Christ our redeemer.Glory be to our God forever and ever. Amen.
The Jewish Sages say that Passover occurs on the 15th of Nissan just as the moon grows for 15 days. The conclusion is that our growth must be in 15 gradual steps just like the Passover puzzle is constituted by 15 pieces that, when assembled, will give us freedom. Kadeish (blessings and the first cup of wine)Kadeish is Hebrew Imperative for Kiddush. This Kiddush is a special one for Passover, it refers to matzot and the Exodus from Egypt. Acting in a way that shows freedom and majesty, many Jews have the custom of filling each other's cups at the Seder table. The Kiddush is traditionally said by the father of the house.Ur'chatz (wash hands)In traditional Jewish homes, it is common to ritually wash the hands before a meal. According to most traditions, no blessing is recited at this point in the Seder, unlike the blessing recited over the washing of the hands before eating bread at any other time. However, followers of Rambam or the Gaon of Vilna do recite a blessing.Karpas (appetizer)Each participant dips a vegetable into either salt water (Ashkenazi custom; said to serve as a reminder of the tears shed by their enslaved ancestors), vinegar (Sephardi custom) or charoset (older Sephardi custom; still common among Yemenite Jews). Another custom mentioned in some Ashkenazi sources and probably originating with Meir of Rothenburg, was to dip the karpas in wine.Yachatz (breaking of the middle matzah)Three matzot are stacked on the seder table; at this stage, the middle matzah of the three is broken in half. The larger piece is hidden, to be used later as the afikoman, the "dessert" after the meal. The smaller piece is returned to its place between the other two matzot.Magid (The telling)The story of Passover, and the change from slavery to freedom is told. At this point in the Seder, Moroccan Jews have a custom of raising the Seder plate over the heads of all those present while chanting "Bivhilu yatzanu mimitzrayim, halahma anya b'nei horin" (In haste we went out of Egypt [with our] bread of affliction, [now we are] free people).Ha Lachma Anya (invitation to the Seder)A bronze matzo plate designed by Maurice Ascalon, inscribed with the opening words of Ha Lachma AnyaThe matzot are uncovered, and referred to as the "bread of affliction". Participants declare (in Aramaic) an invitation to all who are hungry or needy to join in the Seder. Halakha requires that this invitation be repeated in the native language of the country.Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions)The Mishna details questions one is obligated to ask on the night of the seder. It is customary for the youngest child present to recite the four questions. Some customs hold that the other participants recite them quietly to themselves as well. In some families, this means that the requirement remains on an adult "child" until a grandchild of the family receives sufficient Jewish education to take on the responsibility. If a person has no children capable of asking, the responsibility falls to their spouse, or another participant. The need to ask is so great that even if a person is alone at the seder they are obligated to ask themselves and to answer their own questions.Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot?Why is this night different from all other nights?Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin ḥamets umatsa, vehallayla hazze kullo matsa.Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night we eat only matza?Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin sh’ar y'rakot, vehallayla hazze maror.Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?Shebb'khol hallelot en anu matbillin afillu pa‘am eḥat, vehallayla hazze sh'tei fe‘amim.Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip [our food] even once, but on this night we dip them twice?Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin ben yosh’vin uven m'subbin, vehallayla hazze kullanu m'subbin.Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?A fifth question which is present in the mishnah has been removed by later authorities due to its inapplicability after the destruction of the temple is:5. Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin basar tsali shaluk umvushal, vehallayla hazze kullo tsali.Why is it that on all other nights we eat meat either roasted, marinated, or cooked, but on this night it is entirely roasted?The four questions have been translated into over 300 languages.We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.The Four SonsThe traditional Haggadah speaks of "four sons"—one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask. Each of these sons phrases his question about the seder in a different ways. The Haggadah recommends answering each son according to his question, using one of the three verses in the Torah that refer to this exchange.The wise son asks "What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that God has commanded you to do?" One explanation for why this very detailed-oriented question is categorized as wise, is that the wise son is trying to learn how to carry out the seder, rather than asking for someone else's understanding of its meaning. He is answered fully: You should reply to him with [all] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice.The wicked son, who asks, "What is this service to you?", is characterized by the Haggadah as isolating himself from the Jewish people, standing by objectively and watching their behavior rather than participating. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that "It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt." (This implies that the Seder is not for the wicked son because the wicked son would not have deserved to be freed from Egyptian slavery.) Where the four sons are illustrated in the Haggadah, this son has frequently been depicted as carrying weapons or wearing stylish contemporary fashions.The simple son, who asks, "What is this?" is answered with "With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage."And the one who does not know to ask is told, "It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt."Some modern Haggadahs mention "children" instead of "sons", and some have added a fifth child. The fifth child can represent the children of the Shoah who did not survive to ask a question or to Jews who have drifted so far from Jewish life that they do not participate in a Seder.For the former, tradition is to say that for that child we ask "Why?" and, like the simple child, we have no answer.'"Go and learn"Four verses in Deuteronomy (26:5-8) are then expounded, with an elaborate, traditional commentary. ("5. And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my parent, and they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our parents, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.")The Haggadah explores the meaning of those verses, and embellishes the story. This telling describes the slavery of the Jewish people and their miraculous salvation by God. This culminates in an enumeration of the Ten Plagues: Dam (blood)—All the water was changed to blood Tzefardeyah (frogs)—An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt Kinim (lice)—The Egyptians were afflicted by lice Arov (wild animals)—An infestation of wild animals (some say flies) sprang up in Egypt Dever (pestilence)—A plague killed off the Egyptian livestock Sh'chin (boils)—An epidemic of boils afflicted the Egyptians Barad (hail)—Hail rained from the sky Arbeh (locusts)—Locusts swarmed over Egypt Choshech (darkness)—Egypt was covered in darkness Makkat Bechorot (killing of the first-born)—All the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain by GodWith the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup using a fingertip. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God's creatures had to suffer. A mnemonic acronym for the plagues is also introduced: "D'tzach Adash B'achav", while similarly spilling a drop of wine for each word.At this part in the Seder, songs of praise are sung, including the song Dayenu, which proclaims that had God performed any single one of the many deeds performed for the Jewish people, it would have been enough to obligate us to give thanks.Kos Sheini (Second Cup of Wine)Magid concludes with the drinking of the Second Cup of Wine.Rohtzah (ritual washing of hands)The ritual hand-washing is repeated, this time with all customs including a blessing.Motzi ("who brings forth")The blessing, which includes the words "who brings forth" (motzi in Hebrew), is said with matzah.MatzahThe blessing over the matzah is recited and then the matzoh is eaten.Maror (bitter herbs)The blessing for the eating of the maror (bitter herbs) is recited and then it is dipped into the charoset and eaten.Koreich (sandwich)The maror (bitter herb) is placed between two small pieces of matzo, similarly to how the contents of a sandwich are placed between two slices of bread, and eaten. This follows the tradition of Hillel, who did the same at his Seder table 2000 years ago (except that in Hillel's day the Paschal sacrifice, matzo, and maror were eaten together.)Shulchan Orech (the meal)A Seder table settingThe festive meal is eaten. Traditionally it begins with the hard-boiled egg on the Seder plate.Tzafun (eating of the afikoman)The afikoman, which was hidden earlier in the Seder, is traditionally the last morsel of food eaten by participants in the Seder.Each participant receives an olive-sized portion of matzo to be eaten as afikoman. After the consumption of the afikoman, traditionally, no other food may be eaten for the rest of the night. Additionally, no intoxicating beverages may be consumed, with the exception of the remaining two cups of wine.In some families, the children steal the afikoman and ask for a reward for its return.Bareich (Grace after Meals)The recital of Birkat Hamazon.Kos Shlishi (the Third Cup of Wine)The drinking of the Third Cup of Wine.Note: The Third Cup is customarily poured before the Grace after Meals is recited because the Third Cup also serves as a Cup of Blessing associated with the Grace after Meals on special occasions.Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi (cup of Elijah the Prophet)In many traditions, the front door of the house is opened at this point. Psalms 79:6-7 is recited in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, plus Lamentations 3:66 among Ashkenazim.Most Ashkenazim have the custom to fill a fifth cup at this point. This relates to a Talmudic discussion that concerns the number of cups that are supposed to be drunk. Given that the four cups are in reference to the four expressions of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7, some rabbis felt that it was important to include a fifth cup for the fifth expression of redemption in Exodus 6:8. All agreed that five cups should be poured but the question as to whether or not the fifth should be drunk, given that the fifth expression of redemption concerned being brought into the Land of Israel, which - by this stage - was no longer possessed of an autonomous Jewish community, remained insoluble. The rabbis determined that the matter should be left until Elijah (in reference to the notion that Elijah's arrival would precipitate the coming of the Messiah, at which time all halakhic questions will be resolved) and the fifth cup came to be known as the Kos shel Eliyahu ("Cup of Elijah"). Over time, people came to relate this cup to the notion that Elijah will visit each home on Seder night as a foreshadowing of his future arrival at the end of the days, when he will come to announce the coming of the Jewish Messiah. In the late 1980s, Jewish feminists introduced the idea of placing a Cup of Miriam filled with water (to represent the well that existed as long as Miriam, Moses' sister, was alive in the desert) beside the Cup of Elijah. Many liberal Jews now include this ritual at their seders as a symbol of inclusion.Hallel (songs of praise)The entire order of Hallel which is usually recited in the synagogue on Jewish holidays is also recited at the Seder table, albeit sitting down. The first two Psalms, 113-114, are recited before the meal. The remaining Psalms of the Hallel proper, Psalms 113-118, are recited after the Grace after Meals, followed by Psalm 136.Following Psalm 136, the Nishmat, a portion of the morning service for Shabbat and festivals, is traditionally recited. There is a divergence concerning the paragraph Yehalleluha which normally follows Hallel. Ashkenazim recite it immediately following the Hallel proper, i.e. at the end of Psalm 118. Sephardim recite it at the end of Nishmat.Afterwards the Fourth Cup of Wine is drunk and a brief Grace for the "fruit of the vine" is said.NirtzahThe Seder concludes with a prayer that the night's service be accepted. A hope for the Messiah is expressed: "L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim! - Next year in Jerusalem!" Jews in Israel, and especially those in Jerusalem, recite instead "L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim hab'nuyah! - Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!"Although the 15 orders of the Seder have been complete, the Haggadah concludes with additional songs which further recount the miracles that occurred on this night in Ancient Egypt as well as throughout history. Some songs express a prayer that the Beit Hamikdash will soon be rebuilt. The last song to be sung is Chad Gadya ("One Kid Goat"). This seemingly childish song about different animals and people who attempted to punish others for their crimes and were in turn punished themselves, was interpreted by the Vilna Gaon as an allegory to the retribution God will levy over the enemies of the Jewish people at the end of days.Following the Seder, those who are still awake may recite the Song of Songs, engage in Torah learning, or continue talking about the events of the Exodus until sleep overtakes them.
I think you are assuming that people who drink alcohol must get drunk.As far as I can see, there is no reason why the guests at the wedding feast in Cana should have all been so drunk that they were unable to tell the difference in the quality of wine.I think we might assume that the wedding which our Lord attended would have been one of devout Jewish people who would not have wished to drink so much wine that they became drunk. In my reading of the passage the speaker is speaking generally. If I was at a BBQ and we had all had a burger and some kebabs and then the host brought out something amazing, I might say 'Usually when everyone is completely stuffed with food the host brings out the really rubbish sausages, but you have saved the best food till last'. It would not mean absolutely that everyone there had eaten as much as they physically could, it would rather be drawing attention to the fact that the host has 'saved the best till last'. I understand John 2:10 to be written in the same way. If we want to say that everyone was too drunk to be able to tell the difference between the wines then how was anyone sober enough to speak to Christ? And if they were sobering up because they were drinking grape juice then why were they not sober enough to complain that in fact they were not being offered wine at all? Why would it not be wine? We are told not to get drunk, not commanded never to drink alcohol. And it can be shown that even in Egyptian history alcoholic wine was well known and used. If it were not so then certain of the Fathers would not have counselled abstinence.…..This is not to be taken as an encouragement for anyone to drink alcohol, but generally speaking it is not generally a sin to drink a little wine since history itself shows to us that Orthodox Christians have drunk alcoholic wine and allowed its consumption throughout the ages, but in any particular Orthodox Christian's life it might be a sin which is why the advice of a spiritual father is necessary. It may well be that many might choose not to consume any alcoholic drinks at all, and also to habitually abstain from certain foods, but in these matters we are best served by speaking to our own spiritual fathers, who know our own circumstances, and are best placed to provide personal advice to us. This is an issue where one absolute rule is not appropriate.
In the miracle at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, the Holy Bible does not mention that our Lord drank wine. As for the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 7:34 Jesus did not say "a glutton and a winebibber" about himself. These were false accusations by the Pharisees. Christ was comparing His life with that of St. John the Baptist. Our Lord lived an ordinary life in the city, while St. John lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey. The very same men that had depicted St. John the Baptist as wild, because he came neither eating nor drinking, had also unjustly depicted our Lord Jesus as corrupt in his morals, because He came eating and drinking with sinners.Regarding the Church’s viewpoint in relation to alcohol drinking; the Church does not say drinking alcohol is sinful but the abuse of alcohol is sinful. Although this is the position of the church, it advocates complete abstinence from drinking because the possibility of abuse is usually very high.