Daily Devotional for February 18-24
Matthew 6:14-21 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 2 0but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Forasmuch as that prayer which is offered in a humble spirit and contrite heart, shews a mind already strong and disciplined; whereas he who is sunk in self-indulgence cannot have a humble spirit and contrite heart; it is plain that without fasting prayer must be faint and feeble; therefore, when any would pray for any need in which they might be, they joined fasting with prayer, because it is an aid thereof. Accordingly the Lord, after His doctrine respecting prayer, adds doctrine concerning fasting, saying, When ye fast, be not ye as the hypocrites, of sad countenance. The Lord knew that vanity may spring from every good thing, and therefore bids us root out the bramble of vain-gloriousness which springs in the good soil, that it choke not the fruit of fasting. For though it cannot be that fasting should not be discovered in any one, yet is it better that fasting should shew you, than that you should shew your fasting. But it is impossible that any in fasting should be gay, therefore He said not, Be not sad, but Be not made sad; for they who discover themselves by any false displays of their affliction, they are not sad, but make themselves; but he who is naturally sad in consequence of continued fasting, does not make himself sad, but is so.
..Throughout Lent the readings will be from St. John of Kronstadt on various Lenten themes…
“Let it be as I will, and not as thou wilt.” Such is the mighty voice of God, which our soul ever hears when it has fallen into sin and desires to emerge from a state of spiritual, sinful affliction. “Let it be as I will: either repent from the depths of your heart in proportion to the sin, and return to the road that leads to life, shown by Me; either bear the punishment, corresponding to the sin and determined by My justice, or your sin will torment you as a deviation from My laws.” And only then will our soul enjoy peace when we truly repent from the depths of our heart in proportion to the sin, or bear the punishment due from God. O! Almighty and most just power of our God, invisibly governing our invisible souls, all glory to Thee, glory to Thee, God our Savior! Thy will be done in us! How easily and speedily the How easily and speedily the Lord can save us!–instantaneously, unexpectedly, imperceptibly. Often during the day I have been a great sinner, and at night, after prayer, I have gone to rest, justified and whiter than snow by the grace of the Holy Ghost, with the deepest peace and joy in my heart! How easy it will be for the Lord to save us too in the evening of our life, at the decline of our days!
Let no one think that sin is something unimportant–no, sin is a terrible evil, that destroys the soul, both now and in the future life. The sinner in the future life will be bound hand and foot (meaning the soul) and cast into outer darkness. As the Savior said: “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness;” that is, he entirely loses the freedom of his spiritual powers, which, being created for free activity, suffer through this a kind of overwhelming inactivity for every good work: in his soul the sinner recognises his powers and at the same time he feels that these powers are bound by unbreakable chains–“he shall be holden with the cords of his sin.” To this must be added the terrible torment arising from the very sins themselves, from the consciousness of our own foolishness during the earthly life, and from the image of the angry Creator. Even in this present life sin binds and destroys the soul. What God-fearing man does not know what sorrow and oppression strike his soul, what torturing, burning fire rages in his breast when he has sinned? But besides binding and destroying the soul as it does temporarily, sin also destroys it eternally if we do not repent here of our sins and our iniquities from our whole heart. Here is also a proof by experience that sin destroys the soul temporarily and eternally. If it happens to any God-fearing person to go to sleep without having repented of the sin, or the sins, he has committed during the day, and which have tormented his soul, these torments will accompany him the whole night, until he has heartily repented of his sin, and washed his heart with tears (this is also from experience). The torments of sin will wake him up from sweet sleep, because his soul will be oppressed, bound a prisoner by sin.
Take the trouble to spend only one single day according to God’s commandments, and you will see yourself, you will feel by your own heart, how good it is to fulfil God’s will (and God’s will in relation to us is our life, our eternal blessedness). Love God with all your heart at least as much as you love your father, your mother, and your benefactors; value with all your strength His love and His benefits to you (go over them mentally in your heart, think how He gave you existence and with it all good things, how endlessly long He bears with your sins, how endlessly He forgives you them; for the sake of your hearty repentance, by virtue of the suffering and death upon the Cross of His only-begotten Son, what blessedness He has promised you in eternity, if you are faithful to Him); enumerate besides His mercies, which are endlessly great and manifold. Furthermore, love every man as yourself–that is, do not wish him anything that you would not wish for yourself; think, feel for him just as you would think and feel for your own self; do not wish to see in him anything that you do not wish to see in yourself; do not let your memory keep in it any evil caused to you by others, in the same way as you would wish that the evil done by yourself should be forgotten by others…
Here in this world of vanities, in this adulterous and sinful world, our souls and bodies are continually and often imperceptibly corrupted “by moth and rust, and thieves [mental ones] break through and steal” the treasures of the soul, that is: “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” What is, then, the true remedy against the continual, sinful corruption of these mental thieves? The prayer of repentance and of faith. It revives and vivifies our souls, corrupted by seductive carnal desires, and drives away the mental thieves; it is a scourge for them, whilst for us it is the source of power, life, and salvation. Glory to God for this! Prayer protects and delivers us from sin. It is good for us to live with the prayer of faith in our hearts, for during prayer we live with the Lord, Who has promised all good things to those who ask Him: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
Sometimes a man seems to pray fervently, but yet his prayer does not bring into his heart the fruits of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Why is this? It is because in praying the appointed prayers he has not sincerely repented of those sins which he has committed during the day, by which he has defiled his heart, the temple of Christ, and by which he has angered the Lord. But had he remembered them, had he repented of them in all sincerity, and judged himself impartially, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,”  would immediately have entered into his heart. In the prayers of the Orthodox Church there is an enumeration of sins, but not of all; and often the very sins by which we have bound ourselves are not mentioned; therefore, we must absolutely enumerate them ourselves during our prayer, clearly recognising their gravity with a feeling of humility and heartfelt contrition. This is why, in the evening prayers at the enumeration of sins, it is said: “I have done wrong either in this or in that”–that is, it is left to our own will to make mention of these or those sins.
Penitence should be sincere, perfectly free, and not in any way forced by any particular time and habit, or by the person before whom the sinner confesses. Otherwise it would not be true penitence. It is said: ” Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Is at hand–that is, it has come by itself. It is not necessary to seek for it long–it seeks us, our free inclination; that is, you yourself must repent with heartfelt contrition. “They were baptized of him ” (is said of those baptized of John) “confessing their sins” ; that is, they themselves acknowledged their sins. And as our prayer consists principally of penitence and asking forgiveness of our sins, it must absolutely be always sincere and perfectly free, not against our will, not forced out of us by habit and custom. Such also should be our prayer when it is one of thanksgiving and praise. Gratitude supposes the soul of the man benefited to be full of free, lively feeling flowing freely from the mouth, ” for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Praise, too, supposes an ecstasy of wonder in the man who contemplates the infinite goodness, wisdom, and omnipotence of God in the moral and material world, and therefore it ought also to be a perfectly free and intelligent action. In general, prayer should be a free and perfectly conscious outpouring of the man’s heart before God…