NOTE: In some of the monasteries, St. Theodore’s Catechesis is read in the Church during Orthros, but most of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries do not follow this practice. It should also be noted that the monasteries follow “the spirit of the law” and not “the letter of the law” during Lenten periods. This basically means they abstain from the prohibited foods (Dairy, fish, etc.) but allow soy and tofu imitations of many of the foods that are prohibited. As well, not much emphasis is placed on fasting of the taste because “that’s how monks fall into pride and delusion.” Although monastics are instructed that it’s better not to overeat and be gluttonous during Trapeza, in many of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries there are appointed snack times. Many times, outside of the regularly appointed meal times–morning, afternoon, and after apodeipno–various sweets and treats are dispensed to the monastics. The specifics of this tradition vary from monastery to monastery. Monastics who get scandalized by this are warned about falling into delusion and it is explained to them that the same freedom with desserts exists even on Mount Athos and other monasteries in Greece out of economia. It is also explained that these kinds of thoughts–being scandalized with monastics eating desserts everyday–gives the devil a foothold into the monastic’s soul and can drive them out of the monastery. All emphasis and weight is placed on blind obedience and the Prayer; it is taught that those two things will bring every other virtue.
ON GUARDING THE SOUL FROM DESTRUCTIVE PASSIONS
Brethren and fathers, now that we have fasted for the first week we appear to each other somewhat different to what we were, leaner and paler. But even if our outward nature is wasting away, as the Apostle says, the inner is being renewed day by day. For what it is to see a body healthy-looking and sleek through pleasure; this it is to understand what follows for the soul through self-mastery, so that by humbling the body we shall bring about the beauty of the soul, that beauty which the holy David longed for when he prayed, Lord, by your will you have granted power to my beauty. With this beauty moreover the blessed Paul confirms that we are betrothed to Christ, For I have betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, so your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere commitment to Christ.
Do you each see the greatness of the gift, that we have been granted to have Christ as Bridegroom? Does each of you see how afraid our groomsman is for our safety? So our soul is like a maiden who has been brought into the bridal chamber. Just as she deprives herself of the sight of males, keeping herself within the bridal chamber, exercising every care to preserve herself incorrupt, until the moment comes for her marriage, the soul too requires the same behaviour, with every care to keep herself pure from the corrupting passions of sin, until her departure; at which, as though going from the body as from a bridal chamber, if she were comely, resplendent by good works, she would give joy to the holy Angels, indeed most fittingly; but if she were ugly through wickedness, she will be an object of malignant delight for the demons, an insult to Christ; which is pitiable both to speak and to think about. This is the reason for the punishing of the body; because of this there is austerity, like a bit, reining in the impulses of the flesh, so as not to unseat the charioteer — the mind, not only at the present moment, but throughout the whole of life.
For what is the ascetic life but mastery of the passions, control of thoughts and unrelenting wrestling against invisible foes? And how should these things not afflict the flesh? But this slight momentary affliction of ours, as it is written, is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all measure, because our aim is not what can be seen but what cannot be seen. So then for things which cannot be seen, things which Angels too hope to glimpse, for the Bridegroom Christ to whom we are betrothed, I ask and beseech you, brethren, that keep our own soul pure from evil deeds, from sordid thoughts, which defile us, as the Lord said; not thinking any wickedness at all; for by thinking desire is set alight like fire; but taking our stand far from the passions and beating off the tempter from the moment of provocation [For this technical term, see The Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 365. It means ‘the initial incitement to evil’], both by good works making the soul resplendent, and holding fast more fervently to the self-mastery which lies before us, so that, when we have in purity passed over from things here, we may depart in unspeakable joy to heaven and delight in the joy of the heavenly bridal chamber, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
ON HARMONY AND LOVE AND ON NOBLY ENDURING THE TOILS OF VIRTUE FOR GAINING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Brethren and fathers, in my lowliness I rejoice over you, because you are walking in harmony, conducting yourselves peaceably and continuing the season of the fast with endurance. And this is for your salvation and for our hope; for peace and harmony are a considerable good in a community, already evils are kept far away: disorder and instability, contradiction and slander, disobedience and pride and any other wickedness that may exist! Such people in the first place find good for themselves, secondly they are set forth as an example of virtue to others, and thence they gain the greatest benefits. For as those who are causes of scandals inherit the Woe, so those who incite to virtue inherit blessing. And never, brethren, let us fall away from the good state and the praiseworthy way of life, nor let us leave off loving God; for it is written, You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole strength and your whole mind. One then who loves thus is not satiated, does not fall, is not overtaken by despondency [The translators of the Philokalia use ‘listlessness’ for this well known monastic scourge, akedia See Volume 1 pp. 88-91 for St John Cassian’s account, or Step 13 of The Ladder].; rather he adds fire to fire, and sets enthusiasm alight with enthusiasm, disposing ascents of virtues in his heart and going from power to spiritual power; and this unremittingly. Do you not see how much those who toil according to the flesh toil for vain and perishable things?
Do you not see how those who build ships here under your very eyes [St Theodore and his monks were in exile at this time at the monastery of Crescens on the narrow gulf of Nikomedia (the modern Izmit Körfezi) at the NE end of the Sea of Marmara.] pass the whole day in toil , not allowing themselves any relaxation whatsoever? For what? So that they may acquire a little gold, so that they may take home what they need for their families; while we, to become rich with the things of God, to reach the kingdom of heaven, to enjoy the everlasting good things, to escape the everlasting punishments, shall we not endure all things with all enthusiasm and energy, if it were necessary to shed our blood, to be entirely ready to do so for the Lord? Yes, my brothers, I ask you, let us stand nobly, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer, attentive to our manual work, to the psalmody, the recitation, the readings, that by such occupation we may keep a hold on the mind, dragging it away from being occupied with vanities; since idleness is the mother of wickedness, while work is the guardian of the mind. Not however through these being turned from our state, but placing even greater emphasis on obedience, good order, the repose of our neighbour, all the other things which bring about the salvation of our soul; besides all these praying also for our brothers who have been scattered here and there; for concerning them too, whom I cannot see before my eyes, it is an anguish for me how each one is coming through safely; but at any rate praying earnestly for my humble person, that a word may be given me when I open my mouth, and a life free from deformation; so that from either side both we and you may be saved, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
ON OUR ACCOMPLISHING THE DAYS OF THE FAST GENTLY AND READILY IN THE HOPE OF LIFE WITHOUT END
Brethren and fathers, fasting is good if it possesses its own special characteristics, which are to be peaceable, meek, well-established, obedient, humble, sympathetic and all the other forms of virtue. But the devil hurries to suggest the opposite to fasters and to make them insolent, angry, bad-tempered, puffed up, so as to produce hurt more than gain. But let us not be ignorant of his plans, but continue our path peaceably, gently, meekly and steadfastly bearing with one another in love, knowing that this is what is acceptable to God; for though you bend your neck double like a hoop and smother yourself with sackcloth and ashes, if these qualities are lacking to you, you would not be well-pleasing to him. Because while fasting batters and wastes the body, it clears the soul and makes it flourish. For as much as our outer nature is perishing, it says, by so much the inner is being renewed day by day. And Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding weight of glory. So that looking at the recompense, let us bear the toils of virtue with long-suffering, giving thanks to the God and Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. Do we not communicate each day of his immaculate body and blood? [This suggests that daily Communion was the norm for St Theodore’s monks. This would imply that during Lent the Liturgy of the Presanctified was celebrated every weekday, not just on Wednesdays and Fridays.]
What could be sweeter and more filled with enjoyment than this, since those who partake with a pure conscience will obtain eternal life? Do we not converse each day with the godly David and the other holy fathers through taking in the readings? What could bring greater consolation to the soul? Have we not broken off contact with the world and with our relatives according to the flesh? Again is anything more blessed or higher than this? For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself. And so, my brothers, let us rejoice and be glad as we repudiate every pleasure. All flesh is grass, and all human glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withered and the flower faded, but the work of virtue endures for ever. Is anyone among you suffering? as the brother of God says, Let him pray. Is anyone sad? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone tempted by evil passion? — since the tempter is always at work — let him endure patiently as he listens to the one who says, Blessed is the one who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them, said the Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.