On Fasting



Sometimes I get the feeling that people are not doing much fasting.  It’s no wonder since our society constantly promotes all kinds of self-indulgence, especially in regard to food.   We have grisly Hardee's commercials that brag: “We HAVE the MEATS!” – meaning things like a bacon double cheeseburger that you can hardly fit into your mouth, things that pile fat on fat on fat.  Besides fat, there is no end to the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup we’re invited to ingest.  We fixate on food. In this atmosphere, I wonder whether people are even fasting before receiving Communion or teaching the practice to their children as they grow old enough to understand it.  Are we keeping in mind that: “It is not by bread alone that man lives but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”?  (Matt. 4:4 from Dt. 8:3)

There can be extenuating medical/physical circumstances; but basically Communion is to be the FIRST food of the day.  It is the reception of the Word of God into our bodies and souls as our essential food, “the bread of the Day to come” as the Lord’s Prayer puts it  (“ton arton imon ton epiousion” ineptly translated as “our daily bread” in standard English translations).  That’s one particular and unique fast – the Communion fast.

The Lenten fast, which is mirrored in the Wednesday and Friday fast throughout the year, has a purpose that is a little different.  St Athanasius of Alexandria puts it this way: “Let us not fulfill these days like those who mourn, but by enjoying spiritual food, let us try to silence our fleshly lusts.  For by these means, we shall overcome our adversaries, like blessed Judith, when having first exercised herself in fasting, she overcame the enemies and killed Holophernes.”  So fasting is an “exercise”  to tame our unruly minds and bodies and subdue those things that divert us from peace, love, generosity, and God.  By fasting, we also stint the physical appetite so that we can more effectively turn our hearts to spiritual things.

(Would you eat a big, rich meal just before taking an exam requiring great mental acuity?   It probably wouldn’t be a good idea.  The same applies to prayer.)   One more thing – fasting from rich foods might help us to understand and share more with those who are in need of basic nourishment and other necessities; fasting and generosity toward those in need go hand in hand. 

So let’s seriously consider fasting.  How and how much?  Talk to me about it.  There’s not one rule for every person and every circumstance.  But try to fast as well as you can.  Fasting from prattle (like much of what we find in various media) might also be a good modern adaptation of fasting.  But that's a whole ’nother’ topic.                                                   

---       Fr Tom