Sunday, February 25, 2007

Matthew the Poor on Fasting

If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place?
--Abouna Matta al-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)

Fr. Matthew the Poor was a Coptic monk who affected the lives of many, both Coptic and non-Coptic Christians, especially Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who writes that Father Matthew the Poor is "[o]ne of the great spiritual masters of our time." (201)

Well, one of the first writings I read from him is on fasting and it is in his book Communion of Love. This chapter, "The Deep Meaning of Fasting," can also be found here. Some selections from throughout the chapter:

Fasting, in the life and works of Christ, ranks as the first response to the act of unction and of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It represents the first battle in which Christ did away with His adversary, the prince of hte world. [...] For when a person enters into prayerful fasting, Satan departs from the flesh.

Fasting was to elevate the flesh to the level of war with the spirits of evil, those powers that hold sway over our weaker part, the flesh.

[B]aptism, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and fasting form a fundamental and inseparable series of acts in Christ’s life that culminated in perfect victory over Satan in preparation for his total annihilation by the cross.

The ultimate aim of [...] fasting is that Christ Himself may dwell in us: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga. 2:20).

[F]asting is a divine act of life.

[F]asting is an extremely important stage between baptism and crucifixion. [...] He [Christ] thus raised the flesh to the stage of the cross.

He invites us to a total communion with Him in suffering and glory alike. We thus have to prove our communion with Him in faith by having communion with Him in His works; only works testify to the genuineness of our faith. Yet He, as a true Bridegroom, did not leave us to invent works for ourselves but laid down the course of our works and life: ‘I am the way.”

Fasting is a test in which the personality defies the self. [...] Fasting may therefore be considered an act of love of the highest order, a physical way of entering into the experience of the cross.

You know that the effort of fasting is felt primarily by the body, which is the physical area that contains the self where it reveals its nature and desires. Thus, when we fast we exhaust the body, and so, indirectly, subdue the self.(3) If we subdue the self through the subjugation of the body, we have in fact come close to the destruction of the self, at least partially. So it is that by fasting we fulfill the word of the Lord: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk. 9:24).

As for the Lord Jesus, He fasted not to receive something but to make a free offering of Himself in an act of will and to manifest the coming sacrifice of the cross.

As for us, we fast not to receive anything or to offer anything, for we have received Christ, and in Him we have already received everything before we fast. In Him we receive everything even before we are born. No offering of ours, even if we go to our death, is of any avail in removing a single sin.

We fast and offer our bodies as a sacrifice; the outward form of this is bearing fatigue, but its essence is the intentional acceptance of death, that we may be counted fit to be mystically united in the flesh and blood of Christ. It is then that we become, in Christ’s sacrifice, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming.

Fasting [...] has to be consummated in Communion, partaking in the pure body and blood, to become a perfect sacrifice, efficacious in prayer and intercession. Every Holy Communion Has to be preceded by fasting, and every fast has to end with Holy Communion.

If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place?

Whenever we eat of the body and drink of the blood, we are mystically prepared for preaching the death of the Lord and confessing His resurrection. Every testimony to the death and resurrection of the Lord carries with it a readiness for martyrdom. And every martyrdom carries with it a resurrection.

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