Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fasting According to the Church Fathers

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

The holy fathers and teachers of the Church, having proved by their own experience the beneficence of fasting, zealously inspired, agree with the teaching of Holy Scripture about fasting (Gen. 2:17; Ex. 4:28; Lev. 16:29-30, 2:27-2; Deut. 9:9, 18, 2; 2 Kings 12:16; 3 Kings 19:6-8, 21:27; 2 Chr. 20:3; 1 Esdras 1:4, 8:21, 9:3; Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 68:11; Ex. 58:3-12; Dan. 10:3; Joel 1:14, 2:12-18; Jon. 3:5-10; Zech. 7:1-6, 8:19; Esdras 5:1, 20, 6:3, 35; Mt. 3:4, 4:2, 6:16-18, 9:15, 11:18, 17:21; Mk. 1:6, 2:18, 20, 9:29; Lk. 2:37; Acts 10:9,30, 13:2-3, 14:23; Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 6:4-5, 11:27; Col. 3:5. Refer to Apostolic Canon 69; VI Ecumenical Council 29, 56, 89; Gangra 19; Laod. 50; Dionysius of Alex. 1; Peter of Alex. 15; Timothy of Alex. 8, 10), the necessity of the latter by their contemporaries. In view of this at the present time many now break the canons of the Holy Church about the fast, leading us to a few endurances of the fast from the writings of the holy fathers.

According to the teaching of Saint Basil the Great:

"The prophets gave birth to the fast which strengthens the powers; the fast makes wise the law-givers. The fast is a kind of protection for the soul, a reliable companion for the flesh, the weapon of the valiant people, the school for ascetics. It repels temptations, it anoints the ascetics in piety. It is the companion of sobriety, the practitioner of chastity. It performs valiant deeds in abuses, it teaches silence during the time of peace. It blesses the vow of abstention, it perfects the priest. Without the fast it is impossible to risk one's self in the liturgical action not only in the present sacramental and true service, but also in the transfiguring and lawful service."

"The fast sends up a prayer before heaven, being done as if with wings, before the mountain of Ascension. The fast is a complement of homes, the mother of health, the tutor of the youth, an adornment of the elders, the good companion of travelers, a reliable companion of those living together."

"The fast is the weapon for protection against demons because 'this kind does not go away, except through prayer and fasting' (Mark 9:28). Our guardian angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting. The fast is imitating angels, cohabitating with the righteous, the training for a chaste life."

"The fast protects children, keeps chaste the youth, and makes respectable the old adorned with gray hair worthier of respect by fasting. The fast is the most decent attire of women, a restraint in the prime of life, the defense of marriages, the tutor of virgins. Everyone in the home has access to such honorable services of the fast. But how does it order our life in society? Suddenly the whole city and all the people approach decency, quieting the shouts, rejecting quarrels, forcing an end to reproaches."

"If all accepted him in the counsel concerning their deeds, then nothing would interfere with the peace that would be in the whole universe: nations would not rise against each other; troops would not enter into battles between themselves, ... in the deserts there would be no robbers, in the cities, no slanderers, on the sea, no brigands."

According to the teaching of St. John Chrysostom:

"As incontinence in food occurring from innumerable causes and sources is malevolent for the race of man, and fasting and contempt of carnal pleasures always were the cause of inexpressible blessings for us. God, having created man in the beginning, and knowing, that healing is rather necessary for him for the salvation of his soul, immediately and from the very beginning gave the following first given commandment: 'You may eat of every tree in paradise; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die' (Gen. 2:16, 17). And the words: this, eat, but this do not eat, were in the paradigm of a fast. But man instead of observing the commandment, has broken it, and for that has been condemned to death."

"And the inhabitants of Sodom have drawn upon themselves the relentless wrath of God, over other crimes with these. For here is what the Prophet says: 'this lawlessness of Sodom, as in the surfeit of bread had sensual ease' (Ezek. 16:49). This defect in the very deed really is as though the source and root of all that is bad. But look now at the beneficent actions of the fast."

"The fast leads us to abuse from our enemies, delivers from slavery, returns us to freedom."

"He helps in the fiery furnace, protects us from the paws of the lions, banishes demons, changes the decisions of God, tames the fury of passions, allows us freedom, leads us to great silence in ideas."

"The fast restrains the body and bridles disorderly desires. On the contrary, it enlightens the soul, gives wing to, and makes even the scaling of the mountain with ease. The fast is food for the soul, and as food for the body fattens the body so the fast strengthens the soul, communicates easy flight to it, gives it the ability to rise to the heights and to think about the high place and delivers the pleasures and pleasantness from above to the present life. As the light judgment crosses the seas sooner, but the large overburdened cargo is more likely to capsize; so lent, making our mind much lighter, enables it to cross the sea of the present life more quickly, to aspire to heaven and be subject to heaven, and not to respect the present, but to consider more than the shadows and sleepy dreams."

According to the teaching of St. Isaac the Syrian:

"As satisfying the stomach is the beginning of any evil, so fasting is the basis of any virtue and the holy way to God. The fast is the protection of virtue, the beginning of self-sacrifice, a wreath of abstinence, the beauty of virginity and holiness, the shine of chastity, the basis of a Christian life, the father of prayer, the originator of chastity and wisdom, the instructor of silence, and the leader to everything good. As healthy eyes naturallyaspire to light, so the soul of the person observing a reasonable fast, naturally aspires to prayer. When you will fast then your mind will aspire and wish to converse with God. Equally the body, which is used to fasting, will also not want to sleep and lay on the bed all night. Whoever has accustomed the body to fasting, has turned over his mind to meditation with the perfect calmness, pours out his heart in prayer, expresses grief in his face, and will not have a place for shameful thoughts at all. Cheerfulness is not apparent in his visage. It is the enemy of passions and vain conversations. No one has seen that whoever fasts reasonably, cringes at any shameful passion. Reasonable fasting is great open space for all goodness. Whoever neglects it subverts all goodness. Therefore the commandment, issued right at the beginning of our existence, is fasting."

"Fasting is the weapon prepared by God for us. Whoever neglects it is not right. For if the Law-giver Himself fasted, is it not also necessary for those for whom the law is given to fulfill the fast? For a long time the human race was not able to win, for a long time the devil did not test the defeat of our nature; but at the very beginning he was weakened by this weapon. Our Lord was the leader and the first conqueror. He first delivered the victorious crown of our nature. Since then, whenever the devil sees that some one has this weapon, immediately he is afraid, immediately he imagines and remembers that defeat which he underwent by the Savior in the desert: his power is destroyed and disappears."

"Whoever does not love fasting, then in performing other ascetical feats, becomes lazy, careless, powerless and shows this to be a thin sign of the weakening of the soul and allows an occasion for the enemy to win a victory over him. Therefore it is clear that he enters the struggle naked and unarmed, and that he will return without victory; for his members are not armed with fasting. And whoever observes him, sees that he has a hard soul, ready for any opposition and, foreign to all evil passions."

"The basis of any blessing, and the liberation of souls from the captivity of the enemy, and the way leading to light and life, are the following two things: stay in one place and continually fast. From here comes an obedience of feelings, from here coolness of mind; by these means wild passions living in the body are tamed. From here come meekness of thoughts, bright ideas, diligence in deeds of virtue, and uplifting and fine concepts. From here at all times come eternal tears and the memory of death. From here comes that pure chastity which is completely foreign to everyone with seductive thoughts. From here comes insight and distant
enlightenment. From here proceeds the soul understanding, by the power of the Word of God, the deepest sacramental ideas and internal spiritual movements. From here comes the art to distinguish evil spirits from sacred powers, and true visions from vain dreams. From here comes constant vigilance of the mind, not allowing one the inclination for various ways and steps, and banishing laziness andnegligence. From here comes that flaming zealousness which scorns any danger and fears nothing. From here comes that fervent diligence, which does not bear any passion, expels it from thoughts and tries to erase from memory everything that passes through the soul. In short, from here comes the true freedom of the person, both the joy of the soul and the resurrection, and the tranquility with Christ in His Kingdom."

"Fasting is general peace of soul and body, a serene life, a consistent pattern of behavior, a way of life, pleasing God and grieving the enemy."

"Guards and vigilant protectors of the dwellings of the faster are angels, whereas those that turn themselves over to feasts and entertainment during the Holy Forty Day Fast are demons, these real friends of the greasy smell, fans of blood and accomplices of drunkenness."

"No one of the living in luxury was morally zealous, and no one given to feasts was the disciple of virtue, any not one lover of entertainment is a saint and no one in the living flesh is a member of the (heavenly) Kingdom."

"Fasting is a holy classmate; fasting is the originator of all good deeds. And as masters do not make their products without the help of tools, so the adherents of piety and those glorified for their spiritual talents never created anything wonderful and extraordinary without abstention. The fasting Elisha revived and enlivened the dead man. The fasting Moses saw God. The fasting Daniel overcame the sorcery and deceit of the Assyrians. Even the Lord overcame the temptations of the devil. Even the fasting Apostles made prayers about important affairs. The fasting Ninevites averted the threat of death. Speaking in general, the fast is the mediator before God, worthy of respect, and the most hopeful ambassador who soon bowing to God for those whom he raises up prayer. Therefore, every pious man, everyone, who loves God more than pleasures, start the days of abstention with joy and gladness. For no one having a sad visage at the beginning of a fight will be a brave fighter."

"The fast is not hunger, but a little diversion from food. It is not inevitable punishment, but voluntary abstention. It is not slavish necessity, but free philosophy."

Revealing the necessity, importance and beneficence of the fast, the holy fathers and teachers of the Church at the same time explain also those conditions which makes the observance of the fast saving for us.

St. Basil the Great teaches:

"The benefit of fasting is not limiting to one abstention from food, because true fasting is eliminating evil deeds. Destroy every connection with the unrighteous. Forgive your neighbor his offenses; forgive him his debts. Do not fast in judgment and quarrels. You do not eat meat, but you eat your brother. You abstain from wine, but you do not abstain from insults. You wait until evening to eat food, but you spend the day in judgment places."

"Let our Lenten fasting be pleasant and pleasing to God. True fasting is the driving away of evil, the bridling of the tongue, the suppression of one's anger, the removal of carnal desire, slander, lies, and perjury. Abstaining from this is the true fast. In this fast are beautiful deeds."

St. John Chrysostom teaches:

"The deeds are not only that we come to church daily, continually hearing the one and the same, and fasting during the entire Holy Forty Day Fast. No if we from continual going here and hearing lectures shall not get anything, and from the fasting season we do not receive anything good for our soul: all this will not only not deliver any benefit for us, but will even serve our greater condemnation when, the Church taking such care of us, we remain the same as we were before."

"If we, coming here every day, and constantly hearing so much instruction, and receiving help from the fast, we do not conquer the passions arising in us: then what will be the forgiveness for us, what the justification?"

"Don't tell me, that I fast so much during these days, that I do not eat this or that, nor drink wine, or deprived myself, but rather show me that you did these things, that you are well disposed from the severe acts or if you are full of anger which overwhelms your flesh? If inside you are hatred and love of silver, then what is the benefit if you drink water? Do not display your fast as unpleasant, for one fast does not ascend to heaven."

According to the teaching of the Venerable Dorotheos, by the fast "we not only should observe the measure in food, but be kept also from any other sin, that, as we fast with the stomach, we should fast also with the tongue, keeping from slander, from lies, from celebrations, from abasement, from anger and in a word from any sin made by the tongue. Also we should also fast with the eyes, i.e. not to look at vain things, not to give the eyes freedom to look at anybody shamelessly and fearlessly. As well the hands and the feet should be kept from any evil deed."

"The respectable faster", teaches St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, "is the one who keeps himself from fornication, adultery and every impure one. The respectable faster is the one who rids him of anger, fury, rage and revenge. The respectable faster is the one who has imposed restraint of his tongue and keeps him from idle talk, foul language, inflammatory speech, slander, condemnation, flattery, lies and all kinds of foul speech. The respectable faster is the one who keeps his hands from theft, plunder, extortion, and his heart from coveting another's things. In a word:the good faster is one who departs from any kind of evil. You see, O Christian, what a sincere fast is! The carnal fast is useful for us because it serves us in the killing of passions. But the sincere fast is irrevocably necessary, because the carnal fast without it is just to eat nothing. Many fast in the body, but do not fast with the soul. Many fast from food and drink, but do not fast from evil thoughts, deeds and words. And what benefit is there for them from this? Many fast through the day or two or more. But do not want to fast from anger, spite and revenge. Many abstain from wine, meat, and fish, but with their tongue will bite people similar to them. And what benefit is that to them? Such existence with the hands often does not concern food, but extends them to extortion, plunder and coveting of another's goods. And of what benefit is that to them? The true and simple fast is abstention from any evil. So, if you will, O Christian, in order that the fast will be useful to you, fast carnally, fast sincerely, and fast always. If you impose a fast on your stomach, then also impose it on evil ideas and your whims. Yes fast intellectually from vain thoughts. Yes fast with your memory from spite. Yes fast in your will from coveting. Yes fast in your eyes from bad knowledge. 'Turn away your eyes, that they will not learn vanities.' Yes fast with your ears from corrupting songs and from slanderous whispering. Yes fast with your tongue from slander, judging, blasphemy, lies, flattery, foul language and any idle and putrid word. Yes fast with your hands from killing and plundering of foreign goods. Yes fast with your feet from going about evil deeds. 'Depart from evil and do good' (Ps. 33:15 (LXX); 1 Peter 3:11). Here is the Christian fast, which our God demands from us! Therefore bring yourself to repentance, and, restrain yourself from any evil word, deed and thought, learn every virtue, and always be fasting before God."

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