Musings from a Grateful Convert: Thoughts on Fasting

With the coming of another Holy Season of Great Lent, our thoughts turn to the topic of fasting. Here I offer a few thoughts for your consideration.

First consider the question: “Is there more than one way to fast?” After encountering a very difficult health issue wherein I lost considerable weight, it seemed that physical fasting from foods according to the guidelines may have needed to have been modified. Indeed, when I approached my spiritual father with this question, his answer proved to be quite sagacious. “Eat foods but fast from television or something like that.”

Although I didn’t consider myself a “TV addict”, I quickly realized I watch considerable TV material on Netlix and Amazon Prime. So, I followed this advice and discovered something interesting: I had become somewhat attached to “my favorite programs”, and the fasting was a good way to break the hold that these things had on me.

I remembered the wisdom of the ancient fathers in living a life of detachment. As St. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12)

Another aspect of fasting in the Orthodox tradition is the close kinship this ascetical practice has with almsgiving. For those of us who cannot fast physically, it’s important to remember that we can still participate in what the fathers referred to as a “complete fast”; that is, don’t just “subtract” foods, but “add” the practice of giving to the poor.

It’s interesting that the Hebrew culture in the Old Testament, while rife with numerous rules about dietary concerns, also spawned the practice described in Isaiah in his discussion on fasting:

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Clearly, a complete fast transcends the idea of following dietary verbotens, and yes, is definitely more difficult. May God have mercy on us to approach this consideration with courage and faith.

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