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November 22, 2013

Elder Epiphanios Faces Challenging Fasting Questions

Fasting and Dieting

The Elder (Epiphanios Theodoropoulos) often responded to challenges regarding fasting. He was once asked:

"Father, who fasts better during a fasting period, the one who eats two dishes of fasoulada without oil, halva and other such fasting foods, or one who eats one boiled egg?"

The Elder replied bluntly:

"The first! The second is simply dieting."

He justified his response by saying:

"Fasting has two objectives: the ascetic pursuit of abstinence for the body by limiting nutrient-rich foods, and conformity to the commands of the Church, which is an ascetic pursuit for the soul.

The one who eats one egg during a fasting period, for no reason of health, undeniably violates the mandate of the Church. It is like those who seek to find a good reason to pursue a certain diet that tells them to eat legumes and vegetables on Tuesday and Thursday, while Wednesday and Friday should be non-fasting days. Such contempt for the Church is challenging, since compliance of this kind is introduced because it is inexpensive and easy. Rather, Tuesday and Thursday they should eat non-fasting foods and they should fast on Wednesday and Friday. In this way the results in terms of the diet would be the same and there would be no violation of the fast. Clearly there is great ignorance and indifference to what has been established by the Church, if not worse, a Luciferian conceit."

It is understood that the Elder did not favor binging on fasting foods, or luxurious and sophisticated dishes during periods of fasting, even if they rank among the Lenten foods.

He always recommended austerity, whether or not it was a fasting period, both for the monks and the laity. Indeed, he emphasized often to control the excruciating self-restraint on food, which secular people regularly undergo to retain their figure, and certainly not for health reasons but rather for display.

Fasting and Name Days

The issue has often come up if the offering of non-fasting foods on a persons name day, during an exceptional event, a meeting with friends, etc., is allowed during fasting periods.

The Elder said that to take care of people is a great virtue, the practice of which cannot be suspended during fasting periods. However, at the table there will necessarily be offered fasting foods. With certain limits they can be better prepared or more delicious if we want to honor someone, but they must of necessity be for fasting.

Fasting and Hospitality

It is prevalent among many that for reasons of hospitality the abolition of the fast is allowed. As an example from the history of the Church there is brought forward the tactic of the Desert Fathers who stopped fasting in order to accommodate someone or to give hospitality to a certain brother when they were traveling.

The Elder cleared things up:

"Nowhere in the Gerontikon does it praise an ascetic or display them as an example because they abolished the fast for the sake of hospitality. What it does mention is that certain holy hermits abolished their personal ascetic fasting, which was much more austere than what the Church required.

For example, they ate a little uncooked food, soaked beans or raw greens, or soaked dry bread, and not every day, but every two or three days or even less often.

If they happened, then, to give hospitality to someone, then they boiled legumes or grasses, and if it was a day when oil and wine were allowed then they added a little oil and drank a little wine. They may have even added a little more effort to prepare their unassuming food to honor their guest.

Out of humility the same did not allow such hospitality for themselves the minimal times they left their place of asceticism.

Once the reasons for hospitality disappeared, they reverted to their strict fasting and possibly even more austerely to regain lost ground, just in case, for example, they fool themselves and consider hospitality an excuse to relax their fasting.

When a hermit was traveling and visited other ascetics in the desert, they would offer him a little wine (whether or not it was a day wine was allowed because a certain oikonomia was practiced for those who took the trouble to travel). He would drink this with sincere thanks, but when he returned to his cell, he would go for a certain amount of days without water for every glass of wine he received while traveling.

One of his disciples, who pitied him when they traveled together, would secretly beg the hosts not to offer any wine."

Source: From the book ΥΠΟΘΗΚΕΣ ΖΩΗΣ: από τη διδασκαλία του πατρός Επιφανίου, Έκδοσις Ιερού Ησυχαστηρίου Κεχαριτωμένης Θεοτόκου Τροιζήνας (σελ. 127-130). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.