March 18, 2013

Dialogue With an Athonite Elder on Fasting

Mount Athos...

A fragrant-smelled saint-walkled land. Strewn from end to end with the relics of the saints. A meeting place of the descendants of Adam with their forgotten Creator. Here man is trying, he is struggling. God is constantly being offered. The same with man. Athos is a Holy Altar, a place of sacrifice. You move forward and the soul breathes. Every meeting is a spiritual education. You throw your nets and fish for spiritual food from the seas of paradise.

Bless Elder.

"The Lord bless you, my joy."

Are you on Mount Athos for many years?

"I've been here for sixty years, but what is sixty years to God; it is a breath.

Elder, I would like you to tell me a few things about fasting.

"In order to say something you must experience it, you must live it. Only one who was born near the sea or is a seaman can speak of the sea. But I will be obedient to your will and tell you what the Fathers said who were friends of fasting."

Elder, is fasting the aim?

"Fasting is not the aim, but the means towards it. See, it was your aim to come to Mount Athos, it was your destination. The boat which brought you was the means by which you arrived. Such is fasting; it is one of the means given to us by the love of God to crave for Him. God is our destination."

When did fasting appear?

"Fasting is commingled with humanity. In Paradise it was given to man by God, says Basil the Great."

But why did God give fasting? To reduce man?

"No, in order to free him! The Sacred Chrysostom writes that when God created man He took him and placed him in the hands of fasting, which is an affectionate mother and excellent teacher. He entrusted it for his salvation. Though fasting is a teacher, it does not limit but it cultivates man."

Is fasting necessary, Elder?

"Chrysostom will again reply to you: 'If fasting was necessary in Paradise, it is much more necessary outside of Paradise. If medicine was useful before an injury, it is much more useful after an injury.' Do you understand?"


"Fasting was given in Paradise as a precaution to not fall. Since man fell it is given therapeutically."

Then what is the purpose of fasting?

"Fasting withers evil desires, says Saint Maximus the Confessor; and Saint Symeon the New Theologian says it softens our hearts. Through fasting every good work is accomplished and perfected, says Saint Gregory Palamas. For all these reasons Sacred Chrysostom confesses his love for fasting: 'I love fasting, because it is the mother of wisdom and the well of philosophical acts.'"

How should we fast?

"Fasting is a means and spiritual tool which is not limited to food, but the entire man must participate in it psychosomatically. Listen to what John Chrysostom says: 'Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of greed. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fish, but bite and devour our brothers?'"

How do we bite and devour our brothers?

"With slander and criticism, which proceed from the lack of love for our brother."

Thank you, Elder. You have benefited me much.

"May we thank God for enlightening our saints."

Your prayers.

"Go in goodness, and may the Grace of God cover you, the Panagia protect you, and the saints accompany you. And don't forget that fasting is primarily to hunger for God!"

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos