Well, here we are again at the Nativity Fast. As has been my habit, I plan on meditating on the writings of one of the Church Fathers; however, as has also been my habit, I tried and largely failed to blog outside of the Nativity Fast. Therefore, before beginning in earnest with St. Gregory the Theologian, I need to finish what I began with St. Hilary on Psalm 130 (131):
If I was not humble-minded but have lifted up my soul. What inconsistency on the Prophet’s part! He does not lift up his heart: he does lift up his soul. He does not walk amid things great and wonderful that are above him; yet his thoughts are not mean. He is exalted in mind and cast down in heart. He is humble in his own affairs: but he is not humble in his thought. For his thought reaches to heaven, his soul is lifted up on high. But his heart, out of which proceed, according to the Gospel, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings, is humble, pressed down beneath the gentle yoke of meekness. We must strike a middle course, then, between humility and exaltation, so that we may be humble in heart but lifted up in soul and thought.
St. Hilary now charts our course: we must be both humble and exulted. We must not seek glory (the great and wonderful things of this world), but seek His glory (the uncreated light of the Transfigured Christ).
It should be noted that St. Hilary uses the term heart where the modern man might use the word mind. For the Orthodox Church, however, the mind is more than merely the intellect — the world is more than can be observed and understood through discursive logic. Human beings experience inspiration — “Aha!” moments where thoughts fully formed appear inside one’s understanding. These ideas are not arrived at by logic or reason. They are perceived by what St. Hilary calls the heart.
The heart is where we encounter what is beautiful. It is where art is not only created, but has meaning. The heart is where, ultimately, we are able to experience, encounter and begin to understand God.
The problem is that one of the consequences of the fall is that our hearts are all damaged by sin. It is far too easy to mistake “great and wonderful things” for the glory which rightly belongs to God and God alone.
By keeping our heart focused on our weaknesses (evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings, etc.) we embark upon a process which heals the heart. We make it, not only possible, but easier to perceive the working of God in our life. Thus, as St. Hilary puts it, we are able to be lifted up in soul and thought.
As happens when one is dealing with God, even failings can be turned into blessings. While I utterly failed in my own endeavor to blog on a consistent basis over the course of the whole year, this last installment on St. Hilary’s meditation on Psalm 130(131) is an excellent place to begin the Nativity Fast. It is a reminder that fasting is one of the tools that the Church gives us to keep the heart humble. By limiting what we eat (and what we read, watch and do), it becomes easier for us to be lifted in soul and thought.
May both St. Hilary and St. Gregory the Great help us to humble ourselves in the coming fast so that we might encounter the glory of the One who became incarnate for our salvation. Amen.