Fr. Micah Hirschy grew up in St. Paul, MN and attended St. George Greek Orthodox Church. He graduated from Hellenic College in 2004 and continued his studies at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where he graduated with an M. Div. in 2007. Upon graduating, he began working at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis, TN as Pastoral Assistant. He was married in 2011 to Anastasia Hartzes of Mobile, AL and was ordained to the Deaconate and Priesthood by Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta in December of 2012. He currently serves as Ephemerios at the Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham, AL.
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. –Matthew 6:16-18
The Gospel accounts are replete with examples of how not to fast; the above reading from Matthew’s Gospel account is perhaps the one with which we are best acquainted. Our Lord reminds us that fasting, and in fact all virtue, that is autonomous and selfish is not only contrary to righteousness but to be condemned. It is only when fasting is an act of love for God, a hunger and thirst for the presence of Christ, that fasting is redemptive.
Our Lord is clear on how we are not to fast; however, the question remains, how should we fast? It seems to me that there are three specific ways in which people fast.
The first way I call the Individualist’s fast. This kind of fasting sees fasting as a way for an individual to give up or sacrifice something they like. There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with this. It can help us learn to live with less, instill within us a sense of gratitude, and can help free time for more noble pursuits. This might come as a surprise to some, but this is not the fasting of the Church. This fasting might help us pursue virtue, but it leaves us as isolated individuals.
The second way I call the Religious fast. This kind of fast keeps the form, often quite rigorously, of the Church’s fast, but lacks the true spirit of the fast. This is the fasting that leads us to read the ingredients on the side of the box of cookies. We sadly shake our head if we see that it was made on a machine that might have come into contact with egg, and with great self-discipline, we return the box to the shelf. Or, if the cookies are without animal product, we rejoice and celebrate by eating half the box… needless to say, this is not the fasting of the Church.
The third way is the Ecclesial fast. This is the fast that we share and the fast that the Church as our faithful Mother teaches us. This is the fast that is an act of fellowship with the fullness of the Church; we fast and we feast as a community. With this fast, eating, drinking, hunger, and thirst, experiences of self-preservation, are transcended, becoming events of communion. In fasting as the Church teaches, we have a common experience with Orthodox Christians throughout the world, parents and grandparents, the martyrs, and the saints, and even those yet to be born who will strive to live their lives according to the rhythm of the Church. This is the fast of the Church – the bride of Christ, a fast of preparation and active anticipation for the coming of the Bridegroom and the celebration of His Resurrection.
The Orthodox Christian fasts in “obedience to the common will and common practice of the Church, and subjugates his individual preferences to the Church rules of fasting which determine his choice of food. And obedience freely given always presupposes love: it is always an act of communion.” (Dr. Christos Yannaras)
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