Living An Orthodox Life: Fasting
- Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. And the graces that come through fasting are countless....
~Saint Nikolai of Zicha~
Fasting is an essential aspect of practicing the Orthodox life. You cannot be Orthodox and not fast. Unfortunately, many in the Church today do not participate in this grace-bestowing and life-giving ascetic practice. They do this to the loss of their own spiritual and bodily health.
George C. Thomas, Kuwait
- Dear Sir,
Thank you for that link. I think sometimes I have been guilty as said in the following:
Other food for thought, from the wise Nicephorus Theotokis:
When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth in order to collect seeds, produce, fruit, spices, and every other kind of growing edible; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, snails, sea-urchins, and anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and from these ingredients we concoct many and motley dishes, seasoned with oil, wine, sweeteners, and spices. Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat. Moreover, since these foods stimulate the appetite, we eat and drink beyond moderation. And after that we imagine that we are fasting....
"And whoever taught those who fast in this way that such a variety and such quantities of food constitute a fast? Where did they read or hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, great variety in food another; fasting is one thing, eating great amounts of food another." [Fasting and Science, 18-19]
Though we do not use even shell fish, we try to make the most delicious vegetarian food.
- Dear Susan Aunty,
Precisely, and we even have more recipe recommendations around the Great Lent season than any other time. We fight tooth and nail to ensure that only black coffee is served along with the appam on Holy Thursday, at the same time, we crib no end if the appam does not meet desired tastes. This then becomes the talk of the Parish until Great Friday. Are we missing something? Frugality is no more an essential of Lent these days; rather, it's the mantra in the corporate world!
I am reminded of something Gregorios Thirumeni mentions in his autobiography:
"It was a Friday. The minister offered me a drink. I ordered tea with milk. He ordered a whiskey for himself. Ethiopians are very strict on their fasting laws, and do not eat any animal food on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as during Lent. Milk and milk products are also forbidden. He was surprised that I had ordered tea with milk on a Friday and asked me:
"Why do you drink tea with milk on a Friday?"
"Is it not better to drink tea with milk than to drink whiskey on a fasting day?" I asked.
Royce Cherian Thomas, St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Bangalore
- People who were born and/or brought up in a protestant background find it difficult to practice ascetic way of life as prescribed by the Great Orthodox Church fatherrs. We are not just avoiding non-vegetarian food and start making vegetarian food like those served in a star hotel during the Holy Lent.
George C. Thomas, Kuwait
- Dear Friends,
But is not all this talk of how to fast and how not to fast quite irrelevant?
I don't know but I haven't seen a lot of Malayalee fasting recipes around although there are plenty of Greek fasting recipes around on the internet. Maybe that was the issue the Greek writer was addressing in Madam Susan's posting.
We know well the standard that the Holy Church sets, we have seen the example of fasting which our Grandparents have set; each one then is called to do the best he can.
Fasting irrespective of its rigour is meant to induce a humble thanks to the Almighty for the first morsel that we receive.
When we fast we often notice that our heart rises up and gives thanks for food, even if we are not in the habit of saying grace at each mealtime.
Praiseworthy as it is, it is not enough. As our prayer books testify, one is called not only to fast but also to share with the hungry.
Is this not the essence of any fast?
C Suraj Iype, Alibag
- Dear Mr. Thomas,
You are quite right. I found the resources that you provided extremely enlightening; especially " The Meaning of the Great Fast- The true nature of fasting'
From the above I have learned:
1. 'One reason for this decline in fasting is surely a heretical attitude towards human nature, a false 'spiritualism' which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and the invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life, forgetting St. Paul's affirmation: 'Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit . . . glorify God with your body' (I Cor. 6: 19-20).' is a new understanding to me.
2. 'During Lent there is frequently a limitation on the number of meals eaten each day, but when a meal is permitted there is no restriction on the amount of food allowed. The Fathers simply state, as a guiding principle, that we should never eat to satiety but always rise from the table feeling that we could have taken more and that we are now ready for prayer.' (I forgot that fasting is for body and soul not just soul.)
3. 'The inner significance of fasting is best summed up in the triad: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Divorced from prayer and from the reception of the holy sacraments, unaccompanied by acts of compassion, our fasting becomes pharisaical or even demonic. It leads, not to contrition and joyfulness, but to pride, inward tension and irritability.' (I never knew fasting carelessly is demonic)
4. 'It is no coincidence that on the very threshold of the Great Fast, at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness, there is a special ceremony of mutual reconciliation But almsgiving means more than this. It is to give not only our money but our time, not only what we have but what we are; it is to give a part of ourselves.' (Giving of ourselves)
5. 'By virtue of their Baptism, all Christians - whether married or under monastic vows - are Cross-bearers, following the same spiritual path. The exterior conditions in which they live out their Christianity display a wide variety, but in its inward essence the life is one. Just as the monk by his voluntary self-denial is seeking to affirm the intrinsic goodness and beauty of God's creation, so also is each married Christian required to be in some measure an ascetic. The way of negation and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and every Christian is called to follow both ways at once.' (I read that persons engaged in ordinary life are actually in the battlefield, more that the monks and nuns and so we need to strengthen ourselves with training)
6. The 'spiritual' is not to be equated with the non-material, neither is the 'fleshly' or carnal to be equated with the bodily. In St. Paul's usage, 'flesh' denotes the totality of man, soul and body together, in so far as he is fallen and separated from God; and in the same way 'spirit' denotes the totality of man, soul and body together, in so far as he is redeemed and divinized by grace. Thus the soul as well as the body can become carnal and fleshly, and the body as well as the soul can become spiritual. When St. Paul enumerates the 'works of the flesh' (Gal. 5: 19-21), he includes such things as sedition, heresy and envy, which involve the soul much more than the body. In making our body spiritual, then, the Lenten fast does not suppress the physical aspect of our human nature, but makes our materiality once more as God intended it to be. (I never thought this way- I thought flesh means excessive self-preservation instincts)
7. Marriage is honorable, and the marriage-bed undefiled. For on both Christ has given His blessing, eating in the flesh at the wedding in Cana, Turning water into wine and revealing His first miracle.
The abstinence of married couples, then, has as its aim not the suppression but the purification of sexuality. Such abstinence, practiced 'with mutual consent for a time', has always the positive aim, 'that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer' (1 Cor. 7: 5). Self-restraint, so far from indicating a dualist depreciation of the body, serves on the contrary to confer upon the sexual side of marriage a spiritual dimension, which might otherwise be absent.
8.Those who fast, so far from repudiating material things, are on the contrary assisting in their redemption. They are fulfilling the vocation assigned to the 'sons of God' by St. Paul: 'The created universe waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God The creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now' (Rom. 8: 19-22). By means of our Lenten abstinence, we seek with God's help to exercise this calling as priests of the creation, restoring all things to their primal splendor. Ascetic self-discipline, then, signifies a rejection of the world, only in so far as it is corrupted by the fall; of the body, only in so far as it is dominated by sinful passions. Lust excludes love: so long as we lust after other persons or other things, we cannot truly love them. By delivering us from lust, the fast renders us capable of genuine love. No longer ruled by the selfish desire to grasp and to exploit, we begin to see the world with the eyes of Adam in Paradise. Our self-denial is the path that leads to our self-affirmation; it is our means of entry into the cosmic liturgy whereby all things visible and invisible ascribe glory to their Creator.
All this just from one article! It is literally a treasure house!
Susan Eapen, Thiruvananthapuram.