Times in the year the Byzantine Church prescribes periods
of fasting. The least important (but most visible) aspect
of this fasting is a change in the quantity and quality of
food: we eat one meal a day, with no animal products. The
practice of fasting comes highly recommended by the holy Fathers
and Mothers and, indeed, by the word and example
of our Lord Himself. It is always seen as a means of purification,
usually before some significant work to be done or decision
to be made.
object of this fasting is not simply self-discipline nor,
certainly, girth-control (though these are useful secondary
results) it is that turning of the soul to God, the re-shaping
of the will, that the Greeks call Metanoia (usually
translated into English as "repentance"). If one's
health allows one to observe the fast with regard to food,
one should feel the need to do the best that one can, but
all should fast of the spirit. In the words of St. John
Chrysostom the fast is of no advantage to us unless it brings
about our spiritual renewal.
the purely physical level , many healthy people are alarmed
by a loss of vigor in the first three or four days of Great
Lent and stop fasting, not realizing that the body needs some
time to adjust to a new intake level. If a low-energy condition
persists into the second week, perhaps you should consult
with your physician as to what extent you can keep the fast.
Monk Myron (Collins, FSC)
of the most fundamental teachings of our Church is the unity
of the human person. We are creatures composed of body, soul
and spirit, but we are not separate parts just together for
the moment (no ghost in a machine of Descartes), but an inseparable
unity. Our various parts therefore interact at all times.
of us have had the experience of getting an upset stomach
because of nervousness, or back trouble brought on by tension.
If these things show the effect of psychic or spiritual states
on the body, then the way in which we treat the body can cause
spiritual and mental effects. Our fasting, therefore, is an
integral part of the spiritual combat of Great Lent, seeking
to sustain the metanoia, or change of heart which
we have made in coming to the Lord in repentance. Although
the decision to return to the Father is vital, that decision
must be bolstered and deepened every day, gradually freeing
the person from all that would drag him/her down, and keep
him/her away from true freedom. (The Fathers of the Desert
called this virtue apatheia, or harmony with all
two opposite pitfalls to avoid in Lenten fasting are "phariseeism"
and laxity. If one thinks like the ancient legalists, the
temptation is to imagine that a perfect obedience to the fasting
guidelines is an end in itself, and can save us. This is wrong.
No one and nothing saves us except God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. We dispose ourselves to divinization through our ascesis
and other practices, but theosis is a free gift of God to
the cosmos. If our health, work, energy levels, economics
etc. demand some concessions in fasting and abstinence, so
be it. On the other hand, the reaction when one realizes that
he or she cannot keep the fast perfectly is often to give
up all-together: "What's the use? I can't avoid some
(whatever: meat, tuna, cheese, etc.) during Lent. I might
as well just quit now. "This should not be the case.
As the Western Christian writer G.K. Chesterton once quipped:
"Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly." Children
don't learn to walk perfectly all at once. We grow in our
abilities and strengths. So too with Lent.