Very interesting times have come, beloved brethren! They are interesting because, if you were to compare our contemporary world with that which existed in Mother Russia before, then we see an almost total inverse. For instance, it is currently the Apostles’ Fast. But among modern Orthodox Christians, many do not know this. Once upon a time, in Russia, Russian Orthodox people knew the Church calendar and rules very well, and ordered their lives according to how the Church tells us to live here on earth, in this temporal life. But now, I repeat, some do not know the rules of the Church. This is not just ignorance or lack of knowledge, but a certain enfeeblement, impermissible for a Christian, and even a scornful or irreverent attitude on his part toward the old, beneficial commandments of the Church.
Our Lord Jesus Christ once said, that heaven and earth would sooner fade away ‒ "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law;" that is, everything that we read in our Orthodox teachings and about which the Holy Gospel speaks will be fulfilled, but those who do not observe those teachings will be in direct disobedience to Divine Law.
Let us examine how this matter was approached in olden times. We see the Church glorifying the holy Maccabean martyrs: all of the brothers, their teacher, Eleazar, and their mother. Their tormentor, the pagan king, subjected them to terrible sufferings, tortures, and torments all because they refused to eat the food forbidden to them by Mosaic Law. In other words, they refused to break the fast, refused to eat that food which was forbidden to them by the Church. And they went to their deaths.
People today are shockingly irreverent and talk of this with indifference, while true men of the faith, those who believe in God and believe God, those men look on all of those rules and commandments as something sacrosanct that must be kept. One of our ascetics in Russia was once asked why the Lord sometimes ceases to bestow invisible, divine grace-filled acts, the demonstration of God’s mercy. The elder replied: "Because the people have stopped listening to the Lord God, particularly those Orthodox Russian people who do not observe the fasts." That was then, but now the situation is totally different. Then there were many Orthodox Christians, whereas now you will be hard-pressed to find any, although that applies not only to our day and age. The famous Russian writer and philosopher, the talented poet Khomiakov, a man of great spiritual life who always strived to strictly observe all of the Church’s rulings and directives, came to St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital. He felt as though he were in the desert: nobody kept the Church fasts ‒ nobody! He did his work, but he also observed the fasts, and stunned everyone with his firm and steadfast approach. Today it is no easy task finding people who observe the fasts so dutifully.
Beloved, let us remember the Church’s commandments ‒ the Church never asks us to do anything that is unnecessary ‒ never! Of what is good in life, man has a choice: he can live in one way, or in another. However, there are certain laws of the Church that every Orthodox Christian is obliged to keep and follow. One of these laws is the keeping of the fasts, when the Church calls on us to moderate ourselves during certain times of the year. Only those who observe these fasts can be called Orthodox Christians.
Here we may recall the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, who was a great faster. He said it directly:
"Whosoever does not fast is not a Christian!" Whatever he may call himself, whatever he may consider himself, he is not a Christian. This is entirely natural, this stern judgment of the holy laborer; after all, what school will allow a student to stay on who ignores the school rules? What institute will keep a servant that fulfills none of its rules? The Church likewise has its own rules, its own law. I repeat, She offers us many choices to make: our lifestyle, our occupation ‒ She will bless it all, so long as the Christian undertakes it in a Christian fashion. But where She lays down her rules, there a Christian must submit without question. After all, the Church offers us all this for our own good, because obedience to the Church is one of the greatest virtues.
Translated from the original Russian by Rdr. Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese