Gleanings from the Holy Fathers: On Fasting

Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — -holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”

A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one’s cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity. Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (of Blessed Memory)

Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself.” The Desert Fathers

According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needful and sufficient for normal nourishment., Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk. 6:25). St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

Almsgiving heals the soul’s incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul. St. Maximos the Confessor (First Century on Love no. 79)

Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. ‘Loose the bands of wickedness.’ For give your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not ‘fast for strife and debate.’ You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are ‘drunken, but not with wine.’ Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine. St. Basil, in his homilies on the Holy Spirit

Suppose you have ordered yourself not to eat fish; you will find that the enemy continually makes you long to eat it. You are filled with an uncontrollable desire for the thing that is forbidden. In this way you can see how Adam’s fall typifies what happens to all of us. Because he was told not to eat from a particular tree, he felt irresistibly attracted to the one thing that was forbidden him. St. John of Karpathos “The Philokalia: the Complete Text” (volume I), by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. By G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and (Bishop) Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 298 – 309

Share

Leave a Reply