St Basil the Great: Are You Running Cheerfully to the Gift of Fasting?

Feast of St Romanos, Prince of Uglich

Basil_Square_4.jpgANNOINT YOUR head and wash your face” (Mt. 6.17). The word invites you to mysteries. He who “anoints” himself applies oil to his bodily members, and he who “washes” himself cleanses himself. Take this prescription as referring to your interior members. Cleanse your soul of sin, and apply holy chrism to your head, that you may share in Christ [nb. untranslatable wordplay: “apply (chrisai) holy chrism (chrisma) to your head, that you may share in Christ (Christos).”] And so approach the fast in this way. Do not disfigure your face like the hypocrites (cf. Mt 6.16). You disfigure your face when your interior disposition is concealed by a sham external appearance, hidden by a lie as if covered under a veil. He is a hypocrite who assumes in the theater an identity that is not his own. Though a slave, he often assumes the identity of a master; though a private citizen, that of the emperor. Similarly, in this life many act as if they were playing themselves on a stage, carrying in their heart one thing but superficially displaying something else to people. So then, do not disfigure your face. Appear such as you are. Do not doll yourself up with gloom in an attempt to win renown by the appearance of self-control. After all, good deeds when trumpeted bring no benefit and fasting when publicized brings no gain. Ostentatious deeds do not bear fruit that extends to the age to come but culminate in being praised by others.

Therefore run cheerfully to the gift of fasting. Fasting is an ancient gift, not one antiquated and obsolete, but ever fresh and at the height of its vitality.

—St Basil the Great, First Homily on Fasting

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