Taking Stock of Ourselves: On Clean Wednesday

St. John of Kronstadt | 20 March 2013

Beloved, we are already on our fourth day of fasting and our fourth day of attending the divine services. [1] Is our fasting of any benefit to our souls? Each of us needs to ask himself this question, thereby direction attention to his heart. Has there been a holy change in it? Has it ceased loving and committing sin? Further, one must take stock: Have the divine services had an effect on me? Do I leave church with a pious disposition? Or do the services pass by like something alien to me, so that I stand in church with cold indifference, praying only out of habit, making prostrations without heartfelt contrition for my sins? Thus, beloved brethren, do we need to take stock of the holy deed of fasting: is it going successfully, or is our labor perishing in vain? If we take stock of worldly and often unimportant matters, then why not cast an examining eye upon this holy task?

Just remember, beloved, that for which you are preparing. You are preparing to approach the heavenly, most pure, life-giving, and dread Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ our God; you are preparing to be united with the most pure God Himself. Oh, how can you then not turn all your attention to fasting! Thus, beloved, let us cast a stern gaze upon our fasting and make every effort to use it for the good of our souls. How can we make us of it for good? Most importantly, let us do this: let each of us take control of his own heart. The greatest attention should be paid to the heart: here is all the evil of man. Or, better, here is sinful, ungodly man himself; here is the workhouse of sin. Beloved, our hearts have completely turned away from God, their Creator, and turned wholly towards the world and its charms; in them are all our lusts, all our passions, all that is contrary to God.

As you can see, we need to make a major turnabout: from love for the world, its pleasure and sin, we ought to turn to love for God, Whom we are to love first and foremost. But this is no easy matter, especially for someone who strongly loves the world: in the Apostle’s words, the friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). But let us not fear the difficulties, for what is difficult or impossible for us is easy and possible for God: with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). And here, first of all, the divine services can help you in your holy task of turning from the world to God: just stand and listen to everything attentively, with a spirit of humility, and then holy thoughts and feelings will surely come to you. It cannot happen that someone who is humble and attentive, who desires to be united with God, will not be visited by a contrite and compunctionate spirit.

But you do not understand much [of the services]; but if you do understand at least some of it, then you already understand much. That which you do understand, take into your heart and contemplate; from the holy words of the Church, multiply your own holy thoughts and feelings. Then, with God’s help, all will go well. After all, our souls are not completely barren land for good. How could that be, when it has drunk the rain of God’s grace that has fallen abundantly upon it? Further, consider that perhaps many of you are now fasting for the final time; perhaps death will soon catch you unawares and you will not be able to have Confession and Communion of the Holy Mysteries before death. Indeed: Now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Matthew 3:10).

It is with this kind of attention to self that each of us needs to practice our fasting, so that we can without fail be cleansed from our sins, perhaps for the final time. Further, imagine more often that, after your fasting and Confession, you will approach the all-pure Mysteries. But if you approach with an uncorrected heart, unworthily, then you will commune to your condemnation and judgment. Then you shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord  (1 Corinthians 11:27); after Communion not only will you be no better, but you will make matters even worse.

With these and similar reflections, reinforce yourselves in your struggle of fasting and pray in church as sincerely as you can, with all your heart. As sincerely as you can, say more often to the Lord Who heeds you: God, be merciful to me a sinner! God, cleanse me a sinner! I have sinned without number, Lord forgive me! Recall that these words alone – God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13) – justified the publican. Why? Because they were spoken without any pretence, from the heart, from perfect recognition of his guilt before God and his resolve to correct himself without fail. And we all, beloved, are so sinful that we have no excuse before God; we are not worthy to lift our eyes to heaven. How can we, too, not say with all our souls: God, be merciful to us sinners! God, forgive us sinners! We have sinned without number, Lord forgive us! Amen.

Translator’s note:

[1] The word translated throughout as “fasting” is govenie, which implies not just observing the fasting rules, but also dedicating a certain period of time to preparing for Confession and Communion.

Translated from the Russian

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