Many, crowding to the fast, pollute themselves in the thoughts of their hearts, sometimes by doing evil against their brethren, sometimes by daring to defraud. And, to mention nothing else, there are many who exalt themselves above their neighbours, thereby causing great mischief. For the boast of fasting did no good to the Pharisee, although he fasted twice in the week1, only because he exalted himself against the publican. In the same manner the Word blamed the children of Israel on account of such a fast as this, exhorting them by Isaiah the Prophet and saying, ‘This is not the fast and the day I have chosen, that a man should humble his soul; not even if thou shouldest bow down thy neck like a hook, and shouldest strew sackcloth and ashes under thee; neither thus shall ye call the fast acceptable2.’ That we may be able to show what kind of persons we should be when we fast, and of what character the fast should be, listen again to God commanding Moses, and saying, as it is written in Leviticus, ‘And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, In the tenth day of this seventh month, there shall be a day of atonement; a convocation, and a holy day shall it be to you;and ye shall humble your souls, and offer whole burnt-offerings unto the Lord3.’ And afterwards, that the law might be defined on this point, He proceeds to say: ‘Every soul that shall not humble itself, shall be cut off from the people4.’
St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Select Works and Letters. Edited by Archibald Robertson. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999. pp. 507-8. Online text available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Let us come to ourselves like the prodigal; let us, like him, speak firm words of resolve to our own souls: “I will arise and go to my Father”; and the Gracious God will perfect our small intention.
He knows that we do not know the way to Him, or the manner in which to traverse it; but, hearing us say: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”, and seeing us begin our journey towards Him, He will then rush out to us, falling on us, and kissing our neck: He will send His All-Accomplishing Holy Spirit upon us, and guide us into all truth, not only in our understanding, but in all our deeds, all our life.
Yesterday, Christ was born; today, He is baptized. Yesterday, God immersed Himself in our flesh; today, our flesh is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity. Yesterday, the Timeless Son of the Virgin-Father was begotten in time of the Virgin-Mother; today He gives birth to us as sons of God forever.