Synaxarion for the Saturday of Cheesefare.
On this day we commemorate all the holy men and women who have shone forth in the ascetic life.
The God-bearing Fathers, having made us ready for the course of the Fast by gently instructing us by means of the two preceding Sundays, have thus led us away from luxury and satiety. They have instilled in us the fear of the future Judgment and purified us in advance – as is right – by means of Cheesefare week. Furthermore, they have wisely inserted the two intervening weeks of partial fasting so as to prepare us little by little for the full fasting which will begin next Monday.
And now they bring forward for everyone all those who lived their lives as monastics, by much toil and labor, both men and women, so that by our remembering them and their struggles, they might make us more energetic for the race. Their lives are examples and guides, encouraging us to advance in the spiritual contests, having in mind that they shared with us one and the same human nature.
When army troops are arrayed for battle and are standing on the very front, their officers rouse their army with words, examples, and recollections of soldiers who of old have most bravely conducted war and behaved like men. The troops, invigorated by the hope of victory, wholeheartedly set out for battle. Likewise, the God-bearing Fathers wisely accomplish the same. For by invigorating both men and women toward the spiritual contests by means of those who have lived virtuously, they lead us out toward the contest of Great Lent. By looking at their lives – which were of no little account – as a model, we might begin practicing the many and various kinds of virtues, according to the ability of each. The first of all the virtues is love. Then there is also abstinence from unseemly works and acts, which is accomplished with the intellect, and finally, fasting itself – not only from foods, but also from inappropriate speech, from anger, from looking at evil, and in short, the cessation and estrangement from everything wicked.
For this reason, the Holy Fathers have appointed the present commemoration of all the saints, thus setting before us those who pleased God through fasting and other good and worthy deeds. They urge us on, using their image, toward the contest of the virtues, bravely to prepare ourselves for combat against the passions and the demons. They gently hint that if we put forth an equal effort, there will be nothing to hinder us from accomplishing whatever they did and being deemed worthy of the same honors, for they shared with us the same human nature.
It is believed that Cheesefare Week was instituted by Emperor Heraclius, for it was previously a week of meat consumption. At one point during his reign, he had warred against King Chozroes and the Persians for six years. He the made a vow to God, saying that if he should prevail against the enemy, he would change the character of this week, making it something between “lent and luxury.” God bestowed victory upon the Emperor, and he fulfilled his vow. Although this historical event did occur, the Holy Fathers were also involved in creating this week as a period of pre-purification. It is apparent that it is easier for someone to proceed to full fasting through a period of partial and successive abstinence. Moreover,
not only is an abrupt change from general eating to full fasting difficult, but it is also harmful to the health. Rather, by calmly and gradually fasting from tasty, rich foods and the sweet habits of the day, we might, like unruly horses, by means of lesser food, accept the bridle of Great Lent.
With the parables of these initial preparatory Sundays, our Holy Fathers displayed great concern for the health of our souls. In regard to these weeks of gradual fasting, they displayed great concern for the health of our bodies. Therefore, we are now ready with soul and body to push asunder any obstacle, thus entering into the Great Fast with strength and courage.
О Christ our God,
through the intercessions of all Your Saints,
have mercy on us and save us.
The Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion, ed. Fr David (Kidd) and Mother Gabriella (Ursache), Rives Junction, MI: HDM, 1999, pp. 41-43.