Monday, March 3, 2008

A Wider Context of Fasting

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

In an article contained in the Lenten Triodion entitled "The Rules of Fasting," translated and edited by Mother Mary and Archmandrite Kallistos Ware, we read the following:

In the week before Lent, meat is forbidden, but eggs, cheese and other dairy products (as well as fish) may be eaten on all days, including Wednesday and Friday.

This is why the second Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent is called Meatfare Sunday.

This article goes on to list the foods excluded during Great Lent:
  • meat;
  • animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs);
  • fish (i.e. fish with backbones);
  • oil (i.e. olive oil) and wine (i.e. all alcoholic drinks)

Obviously, each and every household has to "work" with the discipline of the Fast in a realistic manner, setting some goals that are both challenging, but not impossible to meet Otherwise, we are only inviting frustration and legalism. The above article also offers this advice: "In cases of uncertainty each should seek the advice of his or her spiritual father."

As Archbishop Ware writes at the end of this article: "At all times it is essential to bear in mind that 'you are not under the law but under grace' (ROM. 6:14), and that 'the letter kills, but the spirit gives life' (II COR. 3:6). The rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously, are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; 'for the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, bur righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' (ROM. 14:17)

With his usual rhetorical skills in full display, St. John Chrysostom offers a truly holistic approach to fasting:
Sharpen your sword and your sickle which has been blunted by gluttony - sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on it.

Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskilled in its use.

Do you fast? Give proof of it by your works. By what kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. If you see a beautiful countenance, pass it by. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feel and the hands and all members of your bodies.

Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves with strange beauties ... Do you not eat meat? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of your eyes! Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies.

Let the mouth fast also from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour the brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brothers and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, 'If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another' (GAL. 5:15). You have not fixed your teeth in his flesh, but you have fixed your slander in his soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion, and you have harmed in a thousand ways yourself and him and many others, for in slandering your neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse, for should he be a wicked person, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness. And should he be a just person, he is tempted to arrogance and gets puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagining great things concerning himself. Besides this, you have struck at the common welfare of the Church herself, for all those who hear you will not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the entire Christian community....

And so I desire to fix three precepts in your mind so that you may accompany them during the fast: to speak ill of no one, to hold no one an enemy, and to expel from your mouth altogether the evil habit of swearing.

If, by the grace of God, we could place our fasting from food and drink into this wider context of "fasting," then Great Lent will certainly be a time of restoration for our relationship with both God and neighbor.

Fr. Steven

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