Tag Archive: fasting


Three Lenten Theses

An old man said: “Ask God to give you heartfelt grief and humility…. Control your tongue and belly, and drink no wine.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 1.22

This old man says a bit more (in particular about lust, judging, and arguments), but I want to focus on the connection between fasting and grief in particular. In fact, grief is the most common—though not the only—occasion for fasting mentioned in the Bible. In particular, I have three, Lenten theses. Continue reading

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Audio: What is Fasting?

I recently had the honor to be a guest on a radio show, prompted by my recent post on fasting. If you’d like to give it a listen, you can find it here. Thanks again to John and Kathy for having me on the program.

What is Fasting?

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.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 4.19

Evagrios calls gluttony one of three “frontline demons.” Here Abba John the Short uses military imagery as well, except he highlights the proper countermeasure that we ought to take against this frontline enemy: fasting. Continue reading

The second degree of humility is, if anyone, not wedded to his own will, finds no pleasure in the compassing of his desires; but fulfils with his practice the word of our Lord: “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The Scripture also says: “Pleasure hath its penalty, but need winneth a crown.”

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 7

Having introduced the logic of humility and then the first step—the fear of God—we now come to the second step: self-denial through spiritual practice. Continue reading

Journey to the Cave

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child [is] pushing from within me to let him come out.”

So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”

And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.

~ Protevangelium of James, 17.3(10)-18.1(1)

Last Friday, Orthodox Christians like myself began the liturgical season of Advent (most Christians have a few more weeks to go). For the Orthodox, this season is comparable to Great Lent. We fast through the whole period, but it is a lighter fast until the last two weeks. Basically we eat fish instead of being totally vegan, but it is a wonderful season of spiritual reflection nonetheless. Continue reading

It is through the Holy Spirit that there will be a universal resurrection. I do not mean the resurrection of the bodies at the end (Heb. 9:26), for then the angel will blow the trumpet and the dead bodies will rise (1 Cor. 15:52), but I mean the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of the dead souls that takes place in a spiritual manner every day. This [resurrection] He gives who has died once [for all] and risen (Rom. 6:9f.), and through all and for all those who live in a worthy manner He causes the souls to rise who have died with Him in will and faith and raises them up. This He grants through His all-holy Spirit as He even now bestows on them from henceforth the kingdom of heaven.

~ St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious

Christ is risen! For Orthodox Christians like myself, Pascha (Easter) is more than just a day, it is also a forty day season. For the first week (this past one) we don’t even fast at all! Having just finished with this Renewal Week (or Bright Week), I have been reflecting on a common motif of the Christian spiritual life and how perfectly it describes Christian asceticism: dying and rising with Christ. Continue reading

Joseph, Shadow of Christ

Let us now add our lamentation, and let us shed our tears with those of Jacob, bewailing Joseph, his memorable and wise son. For Joseph, though enslaved in body, preserved his soul in freedom, becoming lord over all Egypt. For God grants his servants an incorruptible crown.

~ Oikos for the Matins of Holy Monday

Holy Week has finally arrived for Orthodox Christians like myself. It is full of services with beautiful hymns that truly enchant the hearer not only with their musical excellence but also with their deep lyrics as well. The passage above, however, is not a hymn but is to be read. Tonight, on Palm Sunday evening, we have a matins (morning prayer service) for Holy Monday by anticipation. On Holy Monday we commemorate two things, the withering of a fig tree at the command of Christ and the patriarch Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, who I would like to reflect upon here. Continue reading

Giving Thanks

Abba Cassian also said: “We came to another old man and he invited us to sup, and pressed us, though we had eaten, to eat more. I said that I could not. He answered: ‘I have already given meals to six different visitors, and am still hungry. Have you only eaten once and yet are so full that you cannot eat with me now?'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 13.3

For Orthodox Christians like myself, the season of Advent has come (beginning November 15). Advent is a period of fasting leading up to the feast of the Nativity, better known as Christmas. In the United States, however, there is a significant bump along this road to Christmas: Thanksgiving. This year, not only does Thanksgiving day interrupt the fast, but I attended a conference last weekend (beginning last Thursday) that was catered with all sorts of wonderful, but non-lenten foods and drinks. So I didn’t really get to begin. On top of that, Sunday night Kelly and Brendan and I went to my mother’s to have a local family Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we are driving down to Indiana for Thanksgiving with Kelly’s aunts and uncle and grandfather. Before too long, everyone will be having Christmas parties (before Christmas, of course, rather than during those twelve days afterward set aside for, you know, celebrating Christmas). I am starting to wonder if I will get an Advent at all this year…. Continue reading

Reverse Procrastination

A brother fell hungry at dawn, and struggled with his soul not to eat until 9 o’clock. And when 9 o’clock came, he extracted from himself a resolution to wait till noon. At noon he dipped his bread and sat down to eat—but then rose up again, saying: “I will wait till three.” And at 3 o’clock he prayed, and he saw the devil’s work going out of him like smoke; and his hunger ceased.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 4.58

We are not told any other details concerning the brother in this story. We can only speculate that perhaps he struggled with gluttony or, at any rate, for some reason had resolved to observe a total fast for the day. Yet, “at dawn” he finds himself hungry. In order not to give in to his hunger, he implements a strategy that I would refer to as “reverse procrastination.”
Continue reading

Medicine

Saint Syncletice also said: if you are troubled by illness, do not be melancholy, even if you are so ill that you cannot stand to pray or use your voice to say psalms. We need these tribulations to destroy the desires of our body—in this they serve the same purpose as fasting and austerity. If your senses are dulled by illness, you do not need to fast. In the same way that a powerful medicine cures an illness, so illness itself is a medicine to cure passion.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.17

Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about the desert fathers (or mothers, as the case may be) is their seemingly counterintuitive wisdom. Does your life lack meaning? Maybe you should think about death more often. Need to learn patience? Maybe you need more annoying people in your life. Feeling sick? That’s good medicine. Indeed, St. Syncletice goes on to say that “there is much profit in bearing illness quietly and giving thanks to God.” Headache? Thanks God. Fever? Thanks God. Queasy stomach? Thanks God. Continue reading