"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Of True Fasting and Its Reward

While fasting and sitting on a certain mountain, and giving thanks to the Lord for all His dealings with me, I see the Shepherd sitting down beside me, and saying, “Why have you come hither so early in the morning?”

“Because, sir,” I answered, “I have a station.”

“What is a station?” he asked.

“I am fasting, sir,” I replied.

“What is this fasting which you are observing,” he continued?

“As I have been accustomed, sir,” I reply, “so I fast.”

“You do not know,” how to fast unto the Lord” he says, “This useless fasting which you observe to Him is of no value.”

“Why, sir, do you say this,” I asked?

He answered saying, “I say to you that the fasting which you think you observe is not a fast. But I will teach you what is a full and acceptable fast to the Lord. Listen,” he continued: “God does not desire such an empty fasting. For fasting to God in this way you will do nothing for a righteous life; but offer to God a fasting of the following kind: Do no evil in your life, and serve the Lord with a pure heart: keep His commandments, walking in His precepts, and let no evil desire arise in your heart; and believe in God. If you do these things, and fear Him, and abstain from every evil thing, you will live unto God; and if you do these things, you will keep a great fast, and one acceptable before God.”

He continued, “Hear the story which I am about to tell you relative to fasting. A certain man had a field and many slaves, and he planted a certain part of the field with a vineyard, and selecting a faithful, beloved and much valued slave, he called him to himself, and said, ‘Take this vineyard which I have planted, and stake it while I am gone, and do nothing else to the vineyard; and attend to this order of mine, and you shall receive your freedom from me.’

The master of the slave departed to a foreign country. And when he was gone, the slave took and staked the vineyard; and when he had finished the staking of the vines, he saw that the vineyard was full of weeds. He then thought to himself, ‘I have kept this order of my master: I will also hoe this vineyard, and it will be more beautiful when dug up being free of weeds. It will yield more fruit, not being choked by the weeds.’ He took, therefore, and dug up the vineyard, and rooted out all the weeds that were in it. And that vineyard became very beautiful and fruitful, having no weeds to choke it.

Now after a certain time the master of the slave and of the field returned, and entered into the vineyard. Seeing that the vines were suitably supported on stakes, and the ground, moreover, was dug up, and all the weeds rooted out, and the vines fruitful, he was greatly pleased with the work of his slave. Thus, calling his beloved son who was his heir, and his friends who were his councilors, he told them what orders he had given his slave, and what he had found performed. Together they rejoiced along with the slave at the testimony which his master bore to him. That master said to them, ‘I promised this slave freedom if he obeyed the command which I gave him; and he has kept my command, and besides this he has done a good work to the vineyard, and has pleased me exceedingly. In return, therefore, for the work which he has done, I wish to make him co-heir with my son, because, having good thoughts, he did not neglect them, but carried them out.’

With this resolution, that the slave should be co-heir with the son of the master, the master’s son and friends were well pleased. After a few days the master made a feast, and sent to his slave many dishes from his table. The slave, receiving the dishes that were sent to him from his master, took of them what was sufficient for himself and distributed the rest among his fellow slaves. His fellow slaves rejoiced to receive the dishes, and began to pray for him, that he might find still greater favor with his master for having so treated them with such goodness. His master heard all these things that were done, and was again greatly pleased with the slave’s conduct. Thus the master again called together his friends and his son and reported to them the slave’s proceeding with regard to the dishes which he had sent him. Hearing this they were still more satisfied that the slave should become co-heir with his son.”

I said to him, “Sir, I do not see the meaning of these similitudes, nor am I able to understand them unless you explain them to me.”

“I will explain them all to you,” he said, “and whatever I shall mention in the course of our conversations I will show you. Keep the commandments of the Lord, and you will be approved, and inscribed amongst the number of those who observe His commands. If you do any good beyond what is commanded by God, you will gain for yourself more abundant glory, and will be more honored by God than you would otherwise be. If, therefore, in keeping the commandments of God, you do, in addition, these services, you will have joy if you observe them according to my command.”

I said to him, “Sir, whatsoever you enjoin upon me I will observe, for I know that you are with me.”

The Shepherd replied, “I will be with you because you have such a desire for doing good; and,” he added, “ I will be with all those who have such a desire. This fasting is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord are observed. Thus, then, shall you observe the fasting which you intend to keep. First of all, be on your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. And you will do also as follows: Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord.”

The Shepherd said, “If you observe fasting, as I have commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; and the service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord. These things, therefore, shall you thus observe with your children, and all your house, and in observing them you will be blessed; and as many as hear these words and observe them shall be blessed; and whatsoever they ask of the Lord they shall receive.”

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Philip Schaff, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, The Shepherd of Hermas,  Similitude Fifth, Of True Fasting and Its Reward: Also of Purity of Body, ch. I-III. (Slightly edited for readability)

The Shepherd of Hermas (Ποιμήν του Ερμά) is a Christian literary work of the 1st or 2nd century, considered a valuable book by many Christians, and as canonical scripture by some of the early Church fathers such as St. Irenaeus.  The Shepherd had great authority in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was bound with New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus.

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