SALVATION THROUGH ASCETICISM
“Saint Dositheus… While he was looking at a picture of the Dreadful Judgement in some church, a woman in purple robes came up and explained many things to him. Finally, at parting, she told him that, if he sought salvation, he must fast and not eat meat, and pray frequently to God. This was the most holy Mother of God…. This young saint lived early in the sixth century.”
“Fasting is obligatory to receive salvation. Speaking about the necessity of fasting for
salvation after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, St. John Chrysostom states: ‘Both Moses and Elijah were pillars of the Old Testament prophets. They abounded in other virtues and had great freedom before God. Yet, when they wanted access to God and to be able to speak with Him, how were they, mere men, able to do it? They resorted to fasting and raised their hands to God. That is why God, when He created man, gave man the tradition of fasting, for man’s salvation is obtained through fasting… as man’s best teacher.’”
Eastern Orthodoxy presents yet another wrong path to salvation: fasting and asceticism. According to the statements cited above from Orthodox sources, which cannot be proven by any biblical text, it appears that in order for one to receive salvation, fasting is very important, even absolutely necessary.
According to the account of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic who tells about a “vision” of the girl Milka Charlovic about life after death, people who do not fast on Wednesdays and Fridays will definitely go to Hell. Here is an excerpt:
“Pay close attention to the vision of the girl Milka Charlovic of the village of Borcha near Kragujevac, which occurred in 1922, the night before the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos [Mary] into the Temple… Her testimony has been completely documented, and conforms to the doctrine of the Holy Church… This is the third book, the Book of the Dead, because those souls are in Hell, which means they have died in the sight of God … She knelt down and kissed St. Peter on his hand. He said to her: ‘God be with you, Milka! And tell it there just like it is here…’ We came to the fourth door. He showed me sinners who are condemned to eat the grubby worms from dead animal intestines for eternity. They are being punished for not fasting on Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Do not open the door so that you won’t hear their torment!”
Eusebius Popovic stated: “In the third century, fasting not only was a positive teaching of the Church, but even more so, if people did not observe fasting, the Church would come and punish them.”
As an expert of the great teaching of the “Holy Fathers” in response to the beliefs of the Church which he wished to reform, the Serbian educator Dositej Obradovic said:
“Therefore, oh thinking man, think, judge, consider, and know! The whole world says you are blind, even though you have eyes that see clearly. Do not believe everything what the whole world says! The whole world says that two plus two equals four. Do not trust the whole world, it goes against reality! The whole world says God will give you eternal torment with His very own hands if you eat fish and meat on Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Do not believe them! It is impossible for God to do such a thing, not even the Turkish emperor could commit such cruelty! It is simply crazy and blasphemous to say that the just God could commit such a terrible and outrageous injustice. Yet the Holy Fathers pronounced anathema and eternal damnation to those who refused to keep the fast and ate fish and meat. In this the Holy Fathers taught wrongly, for neither did they have the power to damn people and the creation, nor will a single hair of your head receive their senseless and unfair curse.”
The apostle Paul, in the middle of the first century, warned his young associate Timothy about the arrival of false teaching that prohibits eating certain foods in order to gain salvation. Such teachings did not come from God:
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
According to the Biblical text cited above, all the “visions” and “mandates” from different people who present themselves as Christian saints and who teach doctrine foreign to what is recorded in Scripture, fall under the domain of deceptive Satanic activity. The apostle confirms this, saying:
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
However, even though the Orthodox claim to possess the Scriptures that sanction what they deem necessary for salvation, even from the days of the Garden of Eden, the Orthodox Church forces its members to fasting as yet another requirement for their salvation.
Dositej Obradovic explains why Orthodox people ignore the fact that the Bible condemns their religious practices:
“The Apostle Paul clearly stated: ‘My son, Timothy, times of trouble will come when they keep you away from legal marriage and eating meat.’ The monks will say that these warnings do not apply to themselves but to the Manicheans. But pay no attention to their fictitious biographies or commentaries. It is best to speak the truth in everything that is dear to you.”
The texts which are quoted at the beginning of this chapter and upon which the Eastern Orthodox Church bases its belief are only teachings of the “Fathers” of the Church, but they are not doctrine inspired by God and taught by our Lord and His apostles. However, before examining the true meaning of fasting in God’s Word, let us examine some of the statements of Orthodoxy that are quite shocking, deceptive, and contradictory to the Bible:
“Fasting enlightens the soul and allows the mind to receive the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Both St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom utter almost the same truth about the wise prophet Daniel. He would not have been able to receive divine revelation, had Daniel not fasted and thus made his soul sanctified and receptive to the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Fasting cleanses us of heavy and fatty foods which acted as dirty fumes and a thick cloud preventing access to the light of the Holy Spirit in the soul. The unity of the saints in their thoughts and words clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit inspired them.”
“‘Fasting makes a man into an angel,’ stated St. John Chrysotum.”
“Fasting attracts the Holy Spirit and makes a person a sanctuary for the Holy Trinity… If fasting has such a beneficial effect, and it makes us God’s sanctuary, then it demands that one receives it with joy, according to the teaching of St. Theodore the Studite.”
“‘Since we do not fast, we are expelled out of Heaven. Therefore, fast so that you might be able to return to Heaven,’ advised St. Basil the Great.”
In light of previous studies on the doctrines of salvation in the Scriptures, it is easy to see how the Orthodox doctrines are far away from the apostolic teachings of eternal life through faith in the Savior. In opposition to the beliefs of the Orthodox “Fathers”, the inerrant Word of God reveals to us an entirely different meaning of fasting.
Fasting in the Scriptures
“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”
This passage is a dialogue with the Savior by outwardly religious but spiritually dead members of the main religious group in Israel – the Pharisees. The Pharisees came to the conclusion that Christ and his disciples rarely practiced fasting. The Lord, in that sense, answers one of their questions:
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
The only text in the Old Testament, the only Bible in the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, that commanded the Israelites to fast is located in Leviticus and relates to the Day of Atonement (which will be described in detail in a later chapter on “The Virgin Mary and Queen of Heaven”):
“The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves , and present an offering made to the LORD by fire.”
On this Day, members of the people of God should show their humility and regret for sins committed. The state of their souls should be accompanied by denying themselves food and drink, i.e. fasting.
Undoubtedly, the Lord Jesus and His disciples observed the provisions of the Old Testament Law. However, during the rest of the year, God did not require them to fast, yet the Pharisees invented such requirements, such as fasting twice a week. (The times of forty days of fasting by Jesus Christ and Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament are not given in the Bible as an example for regular fasting by Christians. Almost no one would survive fasting for so long without food and water. In contrast, the Orthodox Church claims that the Lord Jesus Christ established fasting as a requirement for salvation by citing His personal example of fasting in the wilderness. )
Dositej Obradovic writes about his attempts to emulate the aforementioned biblical figures and of the Son of God regarding fasting:
“It is incredible to believe how I spent my time in fasting. After three days of tasting no food, however I would go hide somewhere in the attic and would bow down in prayer, beating my breast while my head spun. Hunger would be standing at the foot of my grave. I found in some of the hagiographies a tale that some travelers survived seven whole days without food, and even some others fasted for forty days, without putting a single morsel in their mouth. I could not force myself to fast, and my efforts to hold out for seven days were in vain. I could not fast for more than three days. The fourth day brought me down to my knees. I felt strong pain in my stomach and nearly fainted.
My good and wise abbot, seeing that all of my efforts were total foolishness, told me simply not to suffer when it is revealed that I myself am a murderer when I eat during the time appointed to fast on behalf of other brethren. If I did not fast, he told me to go somewhere else to die of hunger, only not his place. I replied that I am not the first person to fast for seven whole days. Moses, Elijah, and our Savior fasted for forty days.
My old abbot suddenly became angry in a way I had never seen with him (he had never been so angry in the 3 years I was with him). In the midst of all his anger, he preached at me: ‘What an outrage you have committed by comparing yourself to Moses, Elijah, and Christ? You do not have enough wisdom to understand what miraculous things God worked such that He made it possible for people to fast 40 days and survive! Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah’s flight to the wilderness – they needed God to do a miracle in those situations! How dare you mention the Savior, this is your ultimate act of nonsense.’”
The text above cited the wise words of the abbot of the Hopovo Monastery, Teodor Milutinovic. What he told Obradovic was very wise because (perhaps unwittingly) the abbot expressed the truth that the fasts of people in the Bible came as a result of God’s miracles. God never intended for us to imitate them today.
Examples of Fasting in the Old Testament
In addition to fasting on the Day of Atonement, which God commanded the Jews
in the Old Testament, there were other situations when people fasted, or abstained from eating food and drinking. Generally, such situations consisted of times for deep repentance, grieving over sin, or undergoing great trial in life, when people persevered in petitioning God with intensified prayer. Here are some examples:
“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…’”
“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.”
“Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.”
All of these passages show that fasting, which consists of partial or complete abstinence from food and drink, is closely linked to prayer and sincere remorse for sins committed by a person and for those of other people.
Contrary to this understanding by God’s servants in the Holy Scriptures, a large part of the Serbian population is obligated by the Serbian Orthodox Church to hold fasts, mostly by preparing “Fasting Dishes” prepared in oil or, in extreme cases, water. Regarding remorse for sins committed and prayer during the time of “fasting”, Serbs care very little about those activities. The wise Dositej Obradovic wrote this about fasting:
“So what about fasting? O, my brothers, God sees and hears everything, let the way of truth speak forth! No one truly fasts except for people living in extreme poverty off barren land for several months in a year when they just had regular bread and cornbread, as if it were the last meal given to one about to be executed by the imperial government. These poor people will have greater honor in their life of fasting, but at the expense of being victims of trouble. But regarding people who have various recipes, which they call ‘Fasting Dishes’, such as grapes and wine, such people never truly fast. (It is important to note that I do not consider it fasting when a man merely skips lunch but eats dinner, but a real fast is man abstains from lunch and dinner; neither does fasting merely mean abstaining from meat but loading up on beans and spices that shoot out your guts and pour sweat from your forehead).”
Today’s Serbia closely resembles Old Testament Israel, whose people abided by the rules of fasting, yet at the same time completely lacked any interest in obeying God’s will. The Lord rebuked them for their lawlessness:
“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ ‘Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.’”
Examples of Fasting in the New Testament
After the Pharisees accused Christ and His disciples of neglecting to fast, the Supreme Teacher of the Word of God told His disciples to fast when He will be kidnapped and arrested by the Pharisees. Jesus knew that fasting in the past had been practiced in situations of sorrow and mourning. Thus He reminded His followers of that fact.
The disciples still had no reason to mourn because the spiritual presence of Christ gave them peace and joy. However, the Lord told them that after his arrest, the disciples ought to fast as an external expression of true sorrow. The Gospels show us that Jesus’ closest disciples did not believe the news of His resurrection when the women told them about it, for they were in deep grief:
“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”
The sad and tearful apostles certainly did not even think nor care about food. “On that day,” in the words of the Savior, the disciples fasted. The next example of fasting within Christianity occurred with the educated Pharisee Saul, the former persecutor of the Church:
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’… Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
In this case, we can confirm that fasting was actually the result of great shock and mental anguish by a man who just discovered that he wrongly opposed God out of completely wrong teaching. In spite of that, God called this man to serve Him.
Of course, in the New Testament and the Old, there are different types of and
purposes for fasting. Acts 13:2 and 2 Corinthians 11:27 mention the practice of
abstinence from food (fasting) by the first century disciples. Fasting was done to enhance one’s devotion to God and effective prayer for knowledge of God’s counsel and guidance. Also, the Lord Christ taught that fasting associated with prayer can bring much spiritual fruit (Matt. 17:21). However, what is common to the teaching on fasting by the Lord and His apostles is that neither the Teacher nor His disciples ever mentioned or assumed fasting to contribute to anybody’s salvation, nor is fasting considered an obligatory prerequisite for eternal salvation.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a specific command for Christians to fast, let alone a mandate as to how many days or weeks one must fast. Indeed, the New Testament Scriptures show that the only true fasting that can glorify God is done by people who are already saved by faith in the Savior and born of God through the Holy Spirit. Regarding mandatory fasting by people who are not spiritually reborn, the Lord
does not approve such activity. God makes it clear that such asceticism is worthless to Him. The following sections will confirm this statement.
Who Were the Pharisees?
The religious faction of the Pharisees (Hebrew translation “separated ones”) was founded in the second century BC during the efforts of men of Israel to protect Jewish monotheism and religion from the influence of Hellenistic (Greek) culture. This
religious group was composed primarily of “ordinary” people from Jewish society and not from the priests (who mostly belonged to the Pharisees archrivals, the Sadducees). Pharisees strictly observed God’s laws given to Moses and widened their provisions to extremes to which the laws were not originally implied. Thus, they “extended” the law to such an extreme extent that it became virtually impossible to follow. Thus, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for putting an excessive yoke on people. On the other hand, members of this party were proud of their piety and religiosity that most people could never imitate. Pharisees looked down on the mass of Jewish people. They considered themselves perfect, the only true believers and defenders of the people and its interests.
Christ the Lord once told this story:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
Obviously, the way the Pharisees thought about themselves came nowhere close to God’s assessment of them. Namely, Nicodemus, an esteemed member of the Pharisaical party, in a conversation with Jesus showed his ignorance of the basic teachings of the Holy Scriptures regarding spiritual birth from God in John 3. Jesus also accused them of hypocrisy, ambition, greed, and formalism, as well as misguided leadership and religious education of the whole nation. Jesus called them blind guides, fools, sons of hell, and decorated graves:
“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’”
According to these words of the Son of God, though very pious, the Pharisees were worldly, carnal, and above all, people who served Satanic desires, not God’s plans and intentions.
Who Were John’s Disciples?
This group consisted of people who followed John the Baptist. Before the public appearance of Jesus of Nazareth by the river Jordan where John was to baptize Him, this prophet of God gathered around himself a group of like-minded people and their companions. During his entire prophetic ministry, John the Baptist proclaimed that the Messiah would come soon:
“Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ ‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’”
After the Holy Spirit descended upon his cousin from Galilee, John said:
“I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
After they heard his testimony, two of John’s disciples, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, joined Christ and became His disciples. However, John himself continued to baptize people who came to him. Some of John’s disciples still remained with him, even though John had said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” It is not clear why some still chose to remain with John. It is quite possible a grain of doubt regarding Christ’s mission remained in the heart of John, son of Zechariah. Even though it seems totally incredible, it is possible that John had doubts about the Messianic mission of Jesus, even though he had witnessed his baptism.
“John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
The problem for John the Baptist certainly resulted from his incomplete understanding of God’s plan of salvation. Like other Jews, He thought that the Messiah’s appearance would automatically usher in the kingdom of God on earth. However, since this did not take place and months passed after Jesus’ appearance (in the meantime, John was arrested and thrown into prison), John was confused. Twenty years later, the Apostle Paul
wrote epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians and revealed that God’s plan of salvation in its totality was unknown (dark) for all previous generations searching the Holy Scriptures.
Based on the questions that John’s disciples asked Jesus about fasting (Matt. 9:14-17), it appears clear that they themselves felt closer to the Pharisees than the disciples of the Messiah. Precisely for this reason, the Lord told them two parables with a similar spiritual meaning, whose literal meaning is very well known.
Parable of Sewing New Cloth onto an Old Garment
“He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.’”
In this comparison Christ speaks of the practice of fasting as a very natural way of life for people who are born again (born of God and a saving faith). At the same time, he stressed that fasting is not only unnecessary but also results in extremely negative consequences for anyone who has not been born again by God through faith in the Savior.
At the time when Christ preached and performed miracles, people rightly asked:
“The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’”
What Jesus is saying greatly differed from the official religious teachings of the Scribes of Israel. Although, actually, Jesus taught the only correct interpretation of divine truth, the Jewish people viewed His teaching as a novelty, for they were immersed in the false teachings of the Pharisees. Like the Orthodox Church today, the false religious leaders in Jesus’ day considered fasting a very important step on the path to salvation. Contrary to this belief, Jesus attributed any significance to fasting only for those people who already have found salvation and eternal life.
“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
This text describes the early Christian prophets and teachers who, since they were already saved through faith, served the Lord and fasted before God in order to seek His will. As a result of prayer and fasting, the answer soon arrived. The New Testament paints a clear picture that every believer who accepts Christ on the basis of the testimony of the Holy Spirit through the written word in the Bible – he becomes a new creature. The vivid saying to “Put off the old man and put on the new man” refers to a believer’s transformation to become more like the Son of God:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one.” With these words, Jesus calls the disciples of John the Baptist as well as the Pharisees to come to Him so He might forgive their sins and grant them eternal life. In this way, one can “put on a new garment” of which fasting is a normal component of the new life in Christ. There is no reason to “patch holes” in the “old garment”, a life fallen away from God and unable to receive in its unregenerate human nature the Holy Spirit, since the “old garment” would “tear” away the parts given rebirth in Christ. Efforts for sinners to earn salvation from God with strict religiosity (which is based on mere human tradition and misinterpretation of the Holy Scriptures) along with fasting are equally inappropriate today as they were in the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. But if someone wanted to fast, the Word of God advises him to accept Christ by faith and receive salvation as a gift from God first. Only afterwards should he fast, and only then will fasting have true spiritual fulfillment and an aid to help his daily life to separate himself from a sinful lifestyle.
Parable of Pouring New Wine into Old Wineskins
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”
In another metaphor that speaks of fasting, the Lord compares fasting, along with all His teaching, to new wine. The message of this parable is the same as the previous one. Fasting is a sincere act of dedication for all those believers who are already born of God and belong to Him. Yet for other people who have not surrendered their hearts to the Savior, the practice of fasting not only cannot help them spiritually, but it can even cause them great damage. Christ states that all people, as represented by the “old wineskins”, will destroy themselves by opening themselves up to that which does not belong to their nature.
At the time when the Lord lived in Israel, Jews stored wine in wineskins that were made out of specially processed leather skins. New wine (that is, wine before alcoholic fermentation – when grape sugar is converted to alcohol) is always poured into new wineskins that were not used until that time. The reason was simple. During fermentation, the skin of the wineskin was thinned out because it stretched and expanded its volume up to a limit due to the release of gas produced in the process. After the alcohol from the wine was produced, the wineskin was considered old and worn out. It could no longer be used for another process of fermenting alcohol. If one put new wine into this old wineskin, even before completing another new process of fermentation, this time the amount of fluid was significantly higher. In the new process, the skin, which was not rolled up, became overstretched. The wineskin burst, and the wine spilled out. In that sense, damage was done both by losing the wine and the wineskin. Thus, new wine must always be poured into new wineskins, while the old wineskins must be thrown away.
People who are not born of God (such as atheists and those who try to worship God but in ways contrary to His will) represent the “old wineskins.” The Pharisees and John’s disciples fell into that category. Although they were respected as very good and faithful religious travelers by the uneducated people, they did not belong to Jesus’ followers. Thus, these people were far from God. Christ spoke to people like them:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
He also said this:
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
It is clear that in the passage just mentioned, the Pharisees and disciples of John represented a kind of opposition to Jesus of Nazareth. The Pharisees undoubtedly were more hostile to Christ than the confused disciples of John the Baptist. People like these are convinced that they are serving God but in reality are very far away from Him. Such is the case with the majority of our Serbian people. They believe they can show how smart and familiar they are with information about the Christian faith by their fasting. If instead they were to read Scripture, they could easily come to the true knowledge of the Savior and eternal life. However, they settled only for external religiosity and formalism by following the teachings of their blind leaders:
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
The verse above makes it clear that people who know something of the Word of God yet still refuse to respond to Jesus’ call to become His disciples will suffer a worse judgment at the Day of Judgment than those (among others) who neither knew about nor had obligation to keep Christian fasting. The Heavenly Judge will punish the “ascetics” much worse based on their words and works.
So this is the answer to the question, “How can fasting harm someone who practices it?” Jesus compares people who are not born of God and practice fasting to the old wineskin that is filled with new wine. The wineskin will eventually burst.
From all the previous studies concerning the doctrine of salvation in the Orthodox Church, one certainly has to come to the conclusion that in its totality and details goes far astray of the revelations from Holy Scripture. The majority of the church in Serbia, unfortunately does not have the truth on this issue, so no wonder that even its adherents (including bishops) do not know whether, in the end, they are saved or not. Let us read some direct quotations from Serbian Orthodox bishops, including the patriarch himself, which very clearly confirm the fact that no one in the “Only Saving Church,” not even the Orthodox theologians, has any assurance that they will be saved. They assert that it is very possible in spite of all one’s efforts and striving toward salvation, a person could still end up in the Lake of Fire!
The first statement comes from the Diocesan Bishop Dr. Porphyria Peric from an interview published in the magazine MTS CLUB – The Mobile Telephony User Club of Serbia. The title of the article is “Porphyria, Our Representative Before God.” Amongst other things, here is the Bishop’s answer to some journalists’ questions about the security of salvation in the framework of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church:
“Bishop Porphyry, is known for his many professional articles in which he stands for the purity of the Orthodox faith and also very harshly criticizes the cults. I wonder if Orthodox believers themselves will be saved. He responded, ‘Even just belonging to the Orthodox Church does not guarantee salvation. No one, not even a Patriarch or a Bishop, can find any certain sign that they are saved themselves. Who know how much closer a so-called ‘sinner’, so far as he can understand, is to God compared to some ‘righteous person.’”
Another example comes from Pavle, the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In one of his letters, he responds to the criticism by the Bishop Artemije of Raska Prizren. The Bishop criticized the Patriarch’s declaration that Muslims and Christians in
Bosnia are all God’s children, i.e., “Brothers in God”. Patriarch Pavle expressed uncertainty about his own salvation in citing verses from Mt. 10:22 and 25:41:
“To address our people as brothers in God is always meant in the potential
sense, in other words, the potential for it exists. But will this potential be realized? And as for Christians, whether they are truly honest sons and daughters of God, will they hold on until death? For only they who endure to the end that will be saved.”
Further on, Patriarch Pavle adds:
“I only know that our Lord, in His Day of Judgment, will judge us according to how we commiserated and behaved before His ‘little brothers,’ and did works, but if I failed to love, even though my duty was to do so, may I not be found on the side of those to whom the Righteous Judge will say: ‘Get away from me, you evildoers!’”
These quotations clearly recognize the fact that even the highest dignitaries of the Orthodox churches do not have assurance as to whether or not God would accept them. All this stems from the unbiblical theology of the Orthodox Church. However, the allegation of Mt. 10:22, when read together in context with verse 23, clearly states a warning that Christ addressed to the Jews. They would endure a time of great tribulation (during the reign of Antichrist). This warning only applies to the preservation of mere survival (staying alive) in Israel to endure these tragic events and persecutions. This warning has nothing to do with eternal salvation that is taught in the doctrine of the whole Bible. Such faith in Christ and birth given by God results in eternal life, as discussed in the previous chapter.
The next chapter examines what duties “ordinary” believers who live in a sinful world are expected to perform in the Orthodox Church, those people who reverence the leaders in the church with titles such as “Your High Grace” and “Your Holiness”, yet those very leaders are not sure whether they will end up in Hell or not!