Do I have to fast from food or can I fast from social media?
This is a very common question and sometimes makes sense to a lot of us, because social media can be more distracting to our spiritual life than food.
How about if I am vegetarian does that mean there is nothing for me to do during the fast?
To add to the argument, we have many sayings of the church fathers that speak of fasting not of food but of gossip and other bad habits. This leads people to concentrate on fasting from things other than food and neglect fasting from food.
“I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too.”
– St John Chrysostom
The first point we need to consider is that we are fasting because Jesus fasted, and when Jesus fasted he fasted from food therefore making fasting from food a primary factor in fasting.
When we read the Desert Fathers, who are much more experienced in spiritual practices, they unanimously agree that the stomach is the key to self-control. If you control your stomach you control your whole body.
“If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy’s city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food, and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh. If a man goes about in hunger and thirst, the enemies of his soul grow weak.”
– Abba John the Dwarf
On a psychological level when every time you eat something you stop and ask yourself if this is fasting or not and reject it if it is not fasting, you unintentionally do the same with your actions. When sin comes knocking, then you stop and reject sin.
What the saying of St. John Chrysostom is saying is that it’s important to fast from food as well as from sin. So if I am vegetarian, then I am doing only the basic fast. I should be doing my best to abstain from other distractions.
Another important point is that fasting is not only changing my diet from eating meats to vegetables. It also includes a period of abstinence, meaning I skip a meal in the morning and the cost of this meal I give to a poor person who does not have the means.
As we enter Holy Week, let us keep these practices in mind in remembrance of our Lord and Savior.