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#1 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 02:10 PM

Dear friends,

Following from October's theme of the month, 'Humility', which led to a very good thread of discussion, the result of the polling is that the theme for this month, November 2009, should be fasting.

This is a timely topic, given that the Nativity Fast begins later this month (on 15th / 28th November) and attention to the theme may prove not only interesting but also spiritually beneficial and eminently practical.

So: let us begin! Please post any and all contributions on the theme of fasting here in the thread. (Including quotations from the Fathers on fasting; though, as ever, we don't want the thread simply to be a listing of quotations - include discussion, thoughts, and questions also!)

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#2 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 02:13 PM

As some background reading on this month's theme, members and readers might be interested to know that there is a whole area of this Discussion Community dedicated to fasting: Ascesis and Praxis > Fasting. The area contains nearly 50 threads devoted to all aspects of fasting, including a section on fasting foods and recipes.

Perhaps we can dedicate this theme-of-the-month thread specifically to words from the Fathers on fasting, and our own reflections on the same.

Specific questions (e.g. the 'whys and hows') can be kept in the main fasting area.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#3 Michael Stickles

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 05:29 PM

I guess I'll kick this off with the earliest Patristic reference I know of. Back in my Protestant days, when I started looking into the history of the early church, I remember coming across the Didache - one of the earliest written Christian texts outside of the New Testament (the most common dating seemed to be between 50-120 AD).

I remember being surprised - in some cases, shocked - at just how different some of the practices detailed in the Didache were from what I had grown accustomed to considering as "New Testament Christianity". Among those were a couple of instructions on fasting:

(7:4) And before the baptism let the baptiser and him who is to be baptised fast, and any others who are able. And thou shalt bid him who is to be baptised to fast one or two days before.

(8:1) Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

I found it fascinating that fasting - not just as a "whenever-you-want-to" thing, but as a prescribed practice, both regular and situational - could be traced all the way back to the Apostolic times (and, naturally, after reading this, I promptly filed it in my mind under "fascinating" and went back to my regular practice of not fasting at all, at least until we started investigating Orthodoxy). I should have been fascinated also by what these implied about ritual and liturgical practices in the early church (for one, that they even existed), but since I'd managed to miss that in the New Testament it's not surprising that it went over my head here as well.

In Christ,
Michael

#4 Mary

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 09:12 PM

I'm so happy this has come up! I wonder if anyone can help me find teachings that connect fasting and how they are effective in our war against our sins and passions. Scripture references will be equally useful, since I'm having some serious discussions with some folks who think their only source of truth is the Bible.

I have another question, but I'm not sure how to phrase it. I'll post it later, when I've thought about it some more.

in Christ,
Mary.

#5 Michael Stickles

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:40 PM

I wonder if anyone can help me find teachings that connect fasting and how they are effective in our war against our sins and passions. Scripture references will be equally useful, since I'm having some serious discussions with some folks who think their only source of truth is the Bible.


I don't know of any Scriptures about that (excepting "this kind comes not out except by prayer and fasting", but that verse is often explained away using various justifications). But here are a couple of teachings from the old thread "Why do we fast? Reasons for the act":

Abba John the Short said, "If a king wants to take a city whose citizens are hostile, he first captures the food and water of the inhabitants of the city, and when they are starving subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is earnest in fasting and hunger, the enemies which trouble his soul will grow weak."

Dialogue of Sts. Barsanuphis & John (6th Cent., Palestine): "Concerning fasting, do not grieve, as I have said to you before: God does not demand of anyone labors beyond his strength. And indeed, what is fasting if not a punishment of the body in order to humble a healthy body and make it infirm for passions, according to the word of the Apostle: "When I am weak, then am I strong"".

Here's one from the online article An History of Fasting on the ACROD website:

"When the soul lusts for various foods, let us confine it to bread and water, to make it grateful for even a thin slice of bread." - The Philokalia; Abba Evagrios, On Active Life.

If those folks won't accept quotations from the Fathers (I've known many who won't, claiming that in those times the "pure faith of the Apostles had become corrupted ..." and so on), you might ask if they respect the teachings of Protestant writers such as Andrew Murray. There are several things in Chapter 13 of his With Christ in the School of Prayer that sound like they could be paraphrases of the Fathers, such as this one:

And prayer needs fasting for its full growth: this is the second lesson. Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible; fasting, the other, with which we let loose and cast away the visible. In nothing is man more closely connected with the world of sense than in his need of food, and his enjoyment of it. It was the fruit, good for food, with which man was tempted and fell in Paradise. It was with bread to be made of stones that Jesus, when an hungered, was tempted in the wilderness, and in fasting that He triumphed. The body has been redeemed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit; it is in body as well as spirit, it is very specially, Scripture says, in eating and drinking, we are to glorify God. It is to be feared that there are many Christians to whom this eating to the glory of God has not yet become a spiritual reality. And the first thought suggested by Jesus’ words in regard to fasting and prayer, is, that it is only in a life of moderation and temperance and self-denial that there will be the heart or the strength to pray much.


In Christ,
Michael

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 12:01 AM

I'm so happy this has come up! I wonder if anyone can help me find teachings that connect fasting and how they are effective in our war against our sins and passions. Scripture references will be equally useful, since I'm having some serious discussions with some folks who think their only source of truth is the Bible.

I have another question, but I'm not sure how to phrase it. I'll post it later, when I've thought about it some more.

in Christ,
Mary.


Our Lord tells us how to fast in Matthew 6:16-17. He does not say "if you fast", or "do not fast", but "... when you fast ..." Evidently our Lord assumes fasting is part of our walk with Him. And Matthew, Mark, and Luke give testimony that our Lord said that His disciples WILL fast when the Bridegroom is taken away. Our Lord Himself fasted for forty days, which is why we do so during Great and Holy Lent. If our Lord did it, surely it is beneficial for us? What then shall we say about those who profess to follow Christ and know nothing of fasting? I would say somebody was not paying attention.

But that might just be me.

Herman the Pooh

#7 Ilaria

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 10:29 AM

Fr Cleopa said: " first of all you should know that the first commandment is the command for fasting. Listen to St Basil the Great "fasting is since the creation of world". The command for fasting was given from Heaven, because God told Adam "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden". That's why, when God gave the Ten Commandments, He did not give the commandment for fasting, according to the Holy Fathers, as this commandment had already been given 4108 years before the Law. "

#8 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 10:58 AM

I would love to see some discussion, with quotations, on what I all "FFCF" (Fool-for-Christ Fasting).

It is not uncommon for ascetics and monks to break their fasting rules under particular circumstances ... I have always been confused by this and would love to see my own thoughts expanded by the information or comments others might have to share on this.

#9 Michael Stickles

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 01:45 PM

It is not uncommon for ascetics and monks to break their fasting rules under particular circumstances ... I have always been confused by this and would love to see my own thoughts expanded by the information or comments others might have to share on this.


I know that one of the most common reasons I've seen for saints and/or ascetics to set aside the fasting rules is the requirements of hospitality, as in this story from the life of St. Spyridon:

St. Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9), the author of his Life, likened St. Spyridon to the Patriarch Abraham in his hospitality. Sozomen, in his CHURCH HISTORY, offers an amazing example from the life of the saint of how he received strangers. One time, at the start of the Forty-day Fast, a stranger knocked at his door. Seeing that the traveller was very exhausted, St. Spyridon said to his daughter, "Wash the feet of this man, so he may recline to dine." But since it was Lent there were none of the necessary provisions, for the saint "partook of food only on certain days, and on other days he went without food." His daughter replied that there was no bread or flour in the house. Then St. Spyridon, apologizing to his guest, ordered his daughter to cook a salted ham from their larder. After seating the stranger at table, he began to eat, urging that man to do the same. When the latter refused, calling himself a Christian, the saint rejoined, "It is not proper to refuse this, for the Word of God proclaims, "Unto the pure all things are pure" (Tit. 1:15).


Or this note about the monastery founded by St. Columba of Iona (from an online life of the saint):

The monks fasted strictly, preserving the ancient tradition of abstinence until 3 o'clock on fast days. The fasting was relaxed at the abbot's discretion if a pilgrim arrived, for hospitality was seen as a missionary tool and, in spite of the austere life of the monks, visitors were encouraged and always received a warm welcome.


In Christ,
Michael

#10 Kosmas Damianides

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:23 PM

"The days will come when the bridegroom (Christ) is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9:15)


I thought I would post this to remind us all of the mystery of fasting and the reason of why we fast as Orthodox Christians.

I believe no words can fully explain why we ought to fast. Although, we have been given many reasons for fasting by the Holy Fathers. I remember reading about fasting but forget the author9s)... I remember them saying that fasting is;

1) a 'tool' used to get closer to God
2) a 'tool' to fight the passions
3) a 'tool' used to build self control
4) it does not make us righteous nor more holy but is a means of doing this.
5) it is a means to perfecting the Love inside us. If we have Love we have fulfilled all of the law. (Galatians 5:14)


I should also point out that I also remember reading that the fathers also want us to give to those in need as we fast. In the old days fasting was about saving money and food and giving it to the orphans widows and poor and sick. It meant having to eat less in order to help others with food blankets etc.. It was Love in action. These days we have a more rigid/ ritualistic idea of what fasting is all about.
Basically we fast to save our souls.

Humbly Yours In Christ
Deacon Kosmas

Edited by Kosmas Damianides, 03 November 2009 - 02:24 PM.
mistake


#11 Owen

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 05:28 PM

Here, in my own words, is one of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers.

When Abba Hilarion (the Great) was well advanced, he determined to visit various places around the known world. Anon, he came to Cyprus, where Abba Epiphanios (the Jew) was Bishop. This Epiphanios had desired to become a monk in Egypt; he once gave a lecture at Scetis which was so erudite that the monks advised him to go to the City and become a Bishop.

Having arrived at the bishop's residence, Abba Hilarion and the bishop spent a long afternoon in edifying conversation, and when evening drew on, Epiphanios dispatched his deacon to prepare dinner. The deacon returned with a freshly plucked chicken. Abba Hilarion was aghast and exclaimed, "Forgive me, Father, never since I took the habit in Egypt have my lips tasted meat." Abba Ephanios replied, "Indeed, that was also true of me, but now that I'm a bishop, I'm obliged to accept and live on whatever my people give me." And then, after a little thought, he added, "When I took the habit in Egypt, I made a vow never to go to bed angry with anyone." Abba Hilarion replied, "Forgive me, Father; your way is better than mine."

#12 Ilaria

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 09:27 AM

Thank you, Owen, this is a wonderful story!
this is not only about fasting, this is about humility as well!
again, we see that virtues are linked one another

#13 Alice

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 12:47 PM

Forgive me for interjecting this, but I feel this is something which is never addressed in by our spiritual fathers or any other religious material on fasting. Many people today suffer from various ailments, and even for those who don't, that make them very susceptible to vitamin deficiencies. Even when people embark on medical diets, they are told by the diet centers and/or doctors to supplement themselves with vitamins, and at the very least a very good quality multivitamin to fill in the gaps...and that is said for diets which include all the food groups!

I think that this is something which should be mentioned to anyone embarking on the fast. The absence of dairy and meat and fish can have serious consequences if not supplemented. The B vitamins are most especially important for the body and nervous system and they are not found in vegan foods. The deficiency of B12 can most especially hurt a person. This is especially important in the West where people do not consume healthy foods during the fast, or even if they do, it is not in the spirit of the fast to eat large quantities of food. Many people are clueless about nutrition. Even the best and healthiest fast of whole foods (such as the Greek fasting foods) still do not have *all* the vitamins the body needs from a balanced diet. Our foods today also generally do not provide the amount of nutrients they did in the past. Also our lifestyles can often be quite busy, which also depletes the body of vital vitamins.

I speak from personal experiences of my family and myself. A good vitamin regimen can be the key to being able to maintain the Fast without having to break it for health reasons, and besides one's physical health, it can also be the key to not developing edginess and/or a bad temper (something I have actually seen a few men, including a priest, develop from during the Fast from the lack of B vitamins, vital to the nervous system, found in meat--one of which I suggested to start taking vitamins, and it immediately helped him; his sudden temper and edginess disappeared and he felt much better)

Alice

#14 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 02:19 PM

Forgive me for interjecting this, but I feel this is something which is never addressed in by our spiritual fathers or any other religious material on fasting.


Well, actually it is often addressed, but generally on an individual basis. This is one of the reasons why we are often told that it is important to check with both your physical and spiritual physicians as to what is appropriate fasting for our individual situations. I know of situations where pregnant an d nursing women are given dispensations from fasting. Another woman, who was sick, was told that her illness was her podvig, and that fasting (in her particular situation) was not required.

I know a story told by a visiting monk from Russia about another woman who was sick during Great and Holy Lent. He had advised her to take some milk as recommended by her doctor. She told the monk she would rather die than break the fast. I don't recall if he related how that particular story resolved itself, if she survived the Lent or not. But I think the idea is that both cases were "appropriate" for that individual, even though one might not fast to preserve her health (and the health of her child), while the other accepted a more strenuous podvig. They were both "not wrong." We can go back and forth over this I suppose, but we are not them and what might be appropriate in our own situations is another matter entirely.

To make a short story long, there is no universal "right" answer. It depends: on your spiritual development, the discernment of your spiritual advisor, and God's grace which we do not control. And sometimes doing the "right" thing for the wrong reasons can be spiritually detrimental, that I think, has been discussed in many posts.

Fasting is a form of spiritual exercise, and before taking any intense exercise regime, it is best to consult with a knowledgeable and trusted "coach" and physician first as to where you are physically and in this case spiritually as to what is appropriate. We are not to judge another person's efforts, that is between them and God. We are only to strive to do the best we can in the situation we are in, in obedience and in love.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 04 November 2009 - 02:21 PM.
typo correction


#15 Nina

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:20 PM

Well, actually it is often addressed, but generally on an individual basis. This is one of the reasons why we are often told that it is important to check with both your physical and spiritual physicians as to what is appropriate fasting for our individual situations.

Herman the Pooh


Yes. My physician, after we lost Nicholas, told me that she wants me to try to replace the depelted storage of vitamins in my body before trying to conceive again, so I will have to ask the blessing of my SF on what to do during this fast. It takes the body 2 years to replace them :( . Also, during Lent, before conceiving Nicholas, my SF was telling me that I need to eat protein and eat well since we were trying to conceive. So of course we must check with SF and Dr. before embarking on a fast. Do not try "heroicism" like I did last year and got myself sick, since I wanted to emulate the monastics who eat only once a day, and I did it without the blessing of my SF. And got myself so ill that I interrupted the Lent and could not fast for several fasts.

#16 Alice

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:50 PM

Dear Herman and Nina,

My point was that even a healthy individual, after consulting with his SF and getting permission to fast, should take a multivitamin.

Alice

#17 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 04:58 PM

Dear Herman and Nina,

My point was that even a healthy individual, after consulting with his SF and getting permission to fast, should take a multivitamin.

Alice


And my point is that not every physician, medical or spiritual, would agree with that. While I agree that modern processed foods may be less nutritious overall in many ways, fasting has been around a lot longer than multivitamins have been, and people can overdo everything, including "health".

But I fear we are in danger of veering off-course of the thread here. The usual caveats apply (see my profile).

Herman the "all natural" Pooh

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 04 November 2009 - 05:00 PM.
changed some wording


#18 Mary

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 05:54 PM

Dear Herman and Nina,

My point was that even a healthy individual, after consulting with his SF and getting permission to fast, should take a multivitamin.

Alice


Dear Alice,

I'm afraid this is a matter of opinion, and so it could flare up. Please forgive me. I do agree with you that many people don't get enough nutrition from their regular diets and need supplements. However, in case of fasting, I see things a bit differently. We're not doing it in the same spirit as going on a diet to lose weight or build muscles or whatever else. We're doing it for spiritual reasons. If the church had said nothing about fasting, I'd never fast. I love my food, and can't give it up, even though I'd love to lose weight.

Anyway - since the entire premise of our fasting is different, I believe there are a lot more reasons for crankiness during fasting, than insufficient supplements. The devil increases his attacks. We start becoming more and more aware of our own sinfulness and can't stand living with ourselves. It all comes to a head towards the end of the long fasts - especially Great Lent - and then, we get all cleaned up and everything is ok.

I've noticed this pattern in myself, even during non-fast seasons, if I start getting close to 3 or 4 weeks since my last confession. I start getting cranky, I run out of patience for my kids and everyone else, and I can't focus on my work. During the fasting seasons, I can't go 3 or 4 weeks without confession. The entire process seems to be accelerated, and all I can think about is what a miserable wretch I am. I particularly hate being responsible for others at this time. And a priest, is responsible for a lot more people than I am. I suppose a happy priest during fasting seasons, would be a miracle. Or a happy me, too. =)

Also, I believe, because we fast in obedience to God, He is responsible to supply whatever we need. After we've wisely consulted our spiritual fathers, and if we're not healthy, our doctors - then, just throw yourself on God and give it all you've got. Is it too hard for Him to sustain us, on just bread and water? Wasn't there a monk who got stranded on an island and had nothing to drink but salt water, and he drank it, and he lived, for many, many, years?

Another thing - fasting is supposed to decrease our attention to food and other physical needs while we focus on prayer and getting rid of sins. It is also supposed to decrease our food bills, so we can share more with those in need. But if we spend more time analyzing what we eat, balancing off the missing parts with good substitutes, and spending insane amounts of money on supplements (which in some cases are far more expensive than all the foods we're avoiding) - then hasn't the purpose of the fast already been dashed to bits?

When I fast, I still eat well. There are people in the world, who because of famine or sickness, cannot eat like I do. In fact, after becoming aware of people with such severe allergies that just touching a certain food causes them to go into shock - I'm ashamed to enjoy so many foods. The people in Ethiopia are starving again. Supplements are the last thing on their minds. Bread and clean water would be like a feast to them. Fasting gives me a microscopic taste of life without food, a reality that some people cannot escape, which for me, is a choice.

On another note - I've been reading a lot about various grains and the nutrition available in them, since my daughter was told to avoid eggs, dairy, gluten, and all the foods that we normally eat - for a while. I'm learning a lot. We normally focus on a few grains - wheat, rice, corn, barley, oatmeal, more wheat, even more corn. But there are so very many grains, and there's one - I have to go back and find the name - it has more protein that legumes - as much as meat and eggs! So you see, part of our pathetic diets, is also because of the pathetic variety. All non-gluten products in the market are made of rice. What's the point of eating rice in different shapes? It's still rice. Same with corn and wheat. Just because they're presented differently doesn't mean they're different.

But this is information for the nutrition corner. =)

In Christ,
Mary.

#19 Alice

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 08:01 PM

I should have known better that I would not be respected for this opinion, and I had a gut feeling I would get a bit of flack. :-(

I thought that if I help just one person, or if just one priest thinks about it and recommends it, it might be helpful so that fasting can be more successful, as it is so very necessary for our spiritual health.

I only wanted to be helpful because I know alot about nutrition, and alot of persons (including physicians of the body) do not...so I was really just trying to help. Women have special needs for iron and calcium, for instance, that might not be met in fasting foods, so they need a multi-vitamin. I remember how one group of Greek-American Orthodox people I know who were cooking for a youth group, thought a fasting meal was spaghetti with sauce and a plain salad...without one source of protein (such as legumes) in it.

In Greece, where the fast originated, healthy fasting is a no brainer. People always ate lots of legumes, seafood, dandelion greens, whole grains, etc...it comes as second nature and they love this kind of food. I have not found that to generally be the case in the States.

Anyway, I won't say anymore. Sorry to sidetrack this thread. I fast very much, and very healthfully, but because 1200 calories a day (which is what I need to eat to maintain my weight and my health) wont cover most nutritional needs, even off the fast, I have found out the hard way, that vitamins are very necessary.

God bless!
Alice

Edited by Alice, 04 November 2009 - 08:18 PM.


#20 Mary

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 11:31 PM

I should have known better that I would not be respected for this opinion, and I had a gut feeling I would get a bit of flack. :-(God bless!
Alice


Alice, I'm glad you were brave enough to post your thoughts, even though you felt like you'd get a bit of flack! It has actually helped me put into words the question that has been flip-flopping in my mind, refusing to find the right words.

How can I know if I'm testing God, or trusting God, when it comes to fasting? Sometimes they seem to be the same actions on the outside. For instance - the side of fasting that Alice brought up - when does it become irresponsible and testing God to not take care of your own needs? Am I really trusting God, when I refuse to think about what I eat?

That goes even further. While trying to find a balance between fasting as strictly as I can, and not obsessing about food, and also being willing to eat what has been served to me without making a big show of my fasting - I have come to the place where I feel like I don't really work at fasting like I used to. And I wonder if I've allowed myself too much leniency and am never truly fasting at all. Am I deluding myself into thinking that I am fasting?

Since the kids don't fast as strictly as I do, there's always some dairy stuff in the house. And there's always left overs that's too little to freeze and too much to toss. And then there's the fact that my husband frequently forgets that we fast on wednesdays and fridays, and brings home stuff that are non-fasting. And, without any guilt, I help myself to everything. Am I testing God? I'm not really fasting if I'm only thinking of fasting and not really doing it, right?

This of course, is most problematic for the non-fasting periods. During the long fasts, we run out of non-fasting left-overs within a week or two. Then, there's only the milk and cheese-sticks to tempt me. I don't keep track of how many days I resist temptation. I don't keep track of how many times I give in either; because, according to my faulty logic, I don't judge another person's plate, and neither do I judge my own.

in Christ,
mary




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