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Orthodox Spirituality

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Spirituality may be defined as the life in and with the Holy Spirit.  It is an ascetic and pious struggle against sin through repentance, prayer, fasting and participation in the sacramental life of the Church.  St. Paul Says: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish…. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like……  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And those who have are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). Orthodoxy has preferred always to use the terms ‘life in Christ’, ‘life in Spirit’, ‘the spiritual life’, and the ‘life in God’ to describe the life of the Christian in union with God, regardless of the level of this life. See Galatians 3:28; 3:20; 2 Corinthians 4: 11; 1 Corinthians 7: 8; Romans 8: 15; Ephesians 3: 16-17; Colossians 3:3; John 14: 23; 1 John 3:24 etc.

What is Orthodox Spirituality and what is it Goal?

Orthodox Spirituality presents the process of a Christian’s progress on the road to perfection in Christ, by the cleansing of passions and the winning of the virtues, a process which takes place in a certain order. Spirituality describes the manner in which the Christians can go forward from the cleansing of one passion, to the cleansing of another, and the same to the acquiring of the different virtues. Thus a certain level of perfection is reached and culminates in love. This is a state that represents the cleansing of all passions and the winning of all the virtues. As man/woman climbs toward this peak, he/she simultaneously moves toward union with Christ and the knowledge of Him by experience, which also means his/her deification.

The goal of Orthodox Spirituality is the perfection of the believer by his/her union with God in Christ. But as God is unending, the goal of our union with Him, or our perfection, has no point from which we can no longer progress. So all the Eastern Fathers say that perfection is unlimited. Thus our perfection is not only the goal but also an unending process. In this process two great steps can be distinguished: first, the moving ahead toward perfection through purification from the passions and the acquiring of the virtues and secondly a life progressively moving ahead in the union with God. At this point, man’s work is replaced by God’s. Man contributes by opening himself up receptively to an ever-greater filling with the life of God.

In short, we may narrate the following features of Orthodox Spirituality:

1. The culminating state of the spiritual life is a union of the soul with God, lived or experienced.

2. This union is realized by the working of the Holy Spirit, but until it is reached, man is involved in a prolonged effort of purification.

3. It takes place when man reaches the ‘likeness of God’. It is at the same time knowledge and love.

4. Among other things, the effect of this union consists of a considerable intensification of spiritual energies in man, accompanied by all kinds of charisma.

The Orthodox uses the word ‘deification’ or participation in the divinity to characterize the union with God. It, however, does not mean that here there is a pantheistic identification of man with God. But it asserts with courage the possibility of a ‘union’ of man with God, of a direct ‘vision’ of Him, of a ‘participation’ in Him, through grace.

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Fasting In The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Tradition

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It is widely known that the Orthodox Churches give much importance to fasting, following the example of Jesus Christ and of the apostolic community. The noun fasting means non-eating and non-feeding.  But every non-eater is by no means a faster and everyone who is an eater and restrains himself by an interior dedication from nourishment because of heavenly things is a faster.

In our materialistic society we learn to identify ourselves through self-indulgence and we tend to see the fasting only as a time of deprivation and penance. But this is not at all the view of the Orthodox Church on fasting and abstinence and it is clearly explained by the Fathers in their spiritual discourses. For them, fasting is the feast of the soul and good fasts are like medicine which cures our soul and mind, and, along with other virtuous works, it leads us to the eternal life.

In our spiritual battle, fasting protects us from the evil one. It not only resists the attack but also trains our body and mind for the battle. According to Mar Aprem (4th Century Church Father) fasting is a great weapon against the evil one. Through fasting Christ defeated the Satan and has given us this weapon to overcome the evil. For Philixenus of Maboug (6th century Church Father), fasting and abstinence are the two virtous weapons for cultivating the field of Christian life.

‘Fasting must be undertaken voluntarily and it must be of divine dispensation’. This is the primary teaching of our Church on Fasting.  Fast is of free will and it is the voluntary fast which is accessible and permanent. Fasting becomes highly acceptable when it is joined with humility of hearts, charity towards all men and continuous prayers. The Lenten prayers and liturgy of our Church extols this kind of fasting by giving the Old Testament figures as good examples (Moses, Daniel, Elijah etc.).

Fasting is the root by which all the fruits of sanctity are sustained and on this same root grows purity, delights virginity and rejoices patience. Fasting dispels immodesty, controls the lust and offers the body as a holy temple of God. Therefore, the Church exhorts the faithful to love and practice this highly acceptable form of Christian life so that it may lead them to the great eternal fast which is going to happen in the eternal bride chamber of life. Through it, the strength of the soul is confirmed, the riches of the body are increased and good aspirations aroused in the heart.

The following are the main fasts mentioned by the Fathers of the Church according to the order in which they appear in the liturgical calendar.

The Fast before the Nativity of our Lord

This is a traditional fast observed in the Church with great enthusiasm. It seems that in the Syrian tradition this fast is of spontaneous origin and lasted forty days for to glorify and to give thanks to God the Father remembering his selfless love by giving His unique Son for the salvation of the world. The Church thinks it is right for every believer to fast this season, before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that is designed for the Father for having given us His Son, for forty days. At present, however, in the Malankara Church, this fast lasts for 25 days, from the first of December till the Christmas day, and all the faithful are bound to observe it with great vigour.