www.byzcath.org
Posted By: harmon3110 the principles of Fasting - 05/07/09 10:59 AM


In the recent Byzcath survey , an interesting and unsettling fact came to light. Less than half of us are fasting outside of preparation for Liturgy, and the fasting that we are performing is often token. We get an A+ for our doctrinal and moral views, and we get a solid A for attending services, but we are flunking at personal asceticism --at less than 50% of people reporting fasting for more than preparation for Communion.

This is doubly disturbing because this is a select group. The people here at Byzcath are not just motivated Catholics (like at Catholic Answers), nor are they just motivated Orthodox (like at OrthodoxChristinaity.net or Monachos.net). The people here at Byzcath are motivated Catholics or Orthodox who also actively desire better relations with their counterparts in the other Church. Byzcath is part of the face of ecumenism in action. Yet, we who are so devoted to the Eastern Tradition of Christianity are by and large omitting personal asceticism by omitting fasting.

I realize that some here genuinely cannot fast: due to age, illness, infirmity, the order of their spiritual director, and so on. But, according to the survey, most of us here are middle aged men, presumably in good health. What's up with that?

I also realize that fasting is personal, that it represents one's personal struggle to overcome temptation on many private fronts, etc.; and therefore people should not judge the neighbor.

Yet, this is a subject we need to discuss -- and we need to move beyond the normal inspirational ideas or recipes.

The very Eastern Fathers whom we like to quote so much also insist that personal asceticism is necessary for the completion of the Gospel within us, as well as carrying it to others.

Moreover, there are no purely private sins. My private sin does affect someone: me. And I, in turn, affect others. And so it goes, in cause and effect, as we can see all around. Our unwillingness as a society to discipline ourselves shows up: in an epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and obesity; in a 50% divorce rate, men who are emotional adolescents, and women who are increasingly single moms; in an unremitting tidal wave of pornography and moral filth and wasteful greed in our culture; in a million children a year who are killed through abortion; in environmental degradation of water, food and air; in a catastrophic decline in religious vocations and in a very disturbing increase in the percentage of people who practice no religion; and so on. The sky isn't falling, but we have heart-disease of the soul: because we aren't controlling what we eat --literally and figuratively.

We are willing to practice self-control and sacrifice to achieve our goals. If it is for future "success" --in school, sports, business, relationships, and so on-- we are willing and eager to practice self-denial.

Our error is assuming that self-control and sacrifice is a short term solution for a problem, instead of a way of life.

Fasting corrects that mindset. Fasting teaches self-control and sacrifice are a way of life. And it does so with the selfless love and compassion of Christ -- which is the only way to overcome the pain-pleasure principle.

The Eastern Church's praxis is time-tested in this regard. It asks people to fast for about half the year: Wednesdays and Fridays, Advent and Lent, the first two weeks of August, and other times of the year too, as well as on the night before receiving Communion. The fasting isn't total, and people can work up to the goal, but the goal is a vegan diet and celibate behavior on the times of fasting. Thus, when fasting becomes a way of life, diet plans and birth control are no longer necessary: because, by the grace of God, we will already have self-control.

I would be really interested in a meaningful conversation on this topic. Not for self-disclosure, and not for recipes and motivational speeches. I would really like to participate in a conversation of the principles of fasting, and how to make them work, and how to entice others to do so as well.

In brief, here is the issue:

In ordinary life, how do we master the psychological mechanism of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, instead of being mastered by it, if *not* through fasting?

Looking forward to your thoughts,

-- John



Posted By: Latin Catholic Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/07/09 11:53 AM
I found this part of the survey difficult to answer because it did not distinguish between fasting and abstention, which for me as a Western Catholic is an important practical distinction.
Posted By: Altar Server Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/07/09 09:59 PM
True I've had that problem a time or two.
Posted By: amberpep Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/09/09 09:45 PM
I'm glad to see this topic ... this passed Great Lent was my first experience with true fasting. The schedule shown in my little prayer book (St. Ambrose) indicates that anyone over 60 need not fast. During Lent I abstained every Weds. and Fri., but felt guilty for not totally fasting; I take medications in the AM which I need and which also could upset my stomach, so Sunday morning before service and Mass, I just have a small bowl of cereal and cup of tea. But, then I feel conflicted about it .... age, medication, Eucharist .... I know I'm one of those "sticklers" when it comes to myself, but I've not yet worked this out in my own heart and mind.
Any input would be appreciated.
abby
<*)))><
Posted By: Altar Server Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/09/09 10:55 PM
Abby don't worry about it if you will premit me I'm going to give you the link to a traditional Catholic site that has some really good comentary on fasting.

The website is Fish Eaters and the person who writes the artical says somthing verry true

http://www.fisheaters.com/fasting.html

"True charity trumps all law, and law exists to serve true charity!"-from the artical

David:)


Posted By: amberpep Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/09/09 11:05 PM
Thanks so much David.
abby
<*)))><
Posted By: Altar Server Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/09/09 11:54 PM
No problem smile
Posted By: babochka Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/10/09 02:37 AM
Originally Posted by amberpep
I'm glad to see this topic ... this passed Great Lent was my first experience with true fasting. The schedule shown in my little prayer book (St. Ambrose) indicates that anyone over 60 need not fast. During Lent I abstained every Weds. and Fri., but felt guilty for not totally fasting; I take medications in the AM which I need and which also could upset my stomach, so Sunday morning before service and Mass, I just have a small bowl of cereal and cup of tea. But, then I feel conflicted about it .... age, medication, Eucharist .... I know I'm one of those "sticklers" when it comes to myself, but I've not yet worked this out in my own heart and mind.
Any input would be appreciated.
abby
<*)))><

Abby, I'm going to give you my experience from this past Great Fast. I am terrible at fasting. I'm terrible at self denial in general. For the past 8 years, I haven't had to worry much about it. I've been pregnant or nursing or both. I've always tried to make another sacrifice during the Great Fast, but I have not fasted from food. I'm still nursing, but this time around, I realized that I'd been using the nursing and pregnancy as an excuse. My baby was 4 months old and nursing was well established, and I decided that my milk supply would not be jeopardized by fasting. I can't begin to tell you the spiritual growth I experienced through fasting. Even if you're officially "exempt", I encourage you to fast to the greatest extent that your health will allow. Having said that, of course you might need to modify the fast for health reasons, and you can still experience the tremendous spiritual benefits.

Elizabeth
Posted By: Gabriel Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/13/09 05:44 AM
Quote
In ordinary life, how do we master the psychological mechanism of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, instead of being mastered by it, if *not* through fasting?

I have come to think that we human beings are so "hard-wired" by our Creator to seek pleasure that we cannot do otherwise, try as we may.

But thie highest pleasures to which any human being can aspire and strive are found in the presence of God. Let me quote Psalm 15:

8 I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved. 9 Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. 10 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption. 11 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.

This is the Douay Rheims Version, in which the Psalms are translated from the Septuagint. The King James Version says, "At thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."

The point is, we seek pleasure by nature. The ascetical life is in no way a turning away from pleasure but reorientation of our souls to seek pleasures of a higher order.

This is what needs to be understood about fasting. We are making sacrifices which may be a denial of pleasures - legitimate ones - of the lower order. But we do so for the sake of obtaining pleasures of a higher order. These pleasures include tranquility of conscience and peace of heart in following the precepts of the Church, the joy of drawing closer to God in following the example of Christ, the joy of drawing closer to God in prayer, the pleasure of conquering and mastering one's lower appetites, and in fruition, the supreme pleasure for which we were created and "hard-wired" to seek pleasure: obtaining by grace the communion of the Holy Spirit, abiding in our heart as in a consecrated Temple.

We seek pleasure. Period. But which pleasures will we seek? Earthly and worldly ones, which pass quickly and leave pain in their wake? Or those which are eternal, and for which we willingly enjoy a preliminary and preparatory joy of temporary deprivation in fasting?

This is the key to embracing the discipline of fasting with delight.

And we know, the pleasure of the Feast will always follow: whether that of Pascha in seven weeks, or Heaven in a mere speck of time when compared to eternity.
Posted By: harmon3110 Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/13/09 10:47 AM
Originally Posted by Gabriel
The point is, we seek pleasure by nature. The ascetical life is in no way a turning away from pleasure but reorientation of our souls to seek pleasures of a higher order.

That's an interesting point of view.

For me, I view fasting as a discipline to make me stronger to resist my own impulses. I have had plenty of negative consequences in my life from when I failed to control myself. I'd like to stop that, or cut down on that, and fasting helps me a lot in that regard because of the discipline and the prayer.

-- John
Posted By: StuartK Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/13/09 11:18 AM
"I have come to think that we human beings are so "hard-wired" by our Creator to seek pleasure that we cannot do otherwise, try as we may."

There is nothing wrong with pleasure, which, properly understood, is appreciating and enjoying the fruits of God's creation--all of which He looked upon and considered "good".

Our problem is not pleasure, but disordered passions, which are a consequence of the fall of Adam. In Paradise, man lived in perfect communion with God and shared in his nature, which included God's immortality and incorruptibility. But when, through disobedience to God and placing his own desires above God's will, Adam lost this perfect communion, he became liable to death and corruption, and was expelled from the Garden.

For man's self-preservation, God provided us with instincts--fear, anger, hunger, sexual desire. And these, too, are good in their place. As a psychosomatic entity, man according to the Fathers is comprised of a body, a soul and an animating spirit; and within man these ought to exist in a proper taxis or order, with the spirit and the soul controlling the desires of the body. But too often, we allow the needs of the body to dominate the soul and the spirit, and the good instincts with which God provided us become disordered passions, driving us to thoughts and deeds which are sinful.

Our ascetic practices are intended to give us mastery of the passions, so that the right order within us can be reestablished, for only when the spirit, soul and body are in their proper relationship can we attain the "stillness" needed to perceive God in his energies. Ascesis is, therefore, an essential component of our theosis, or sharing in the divine nature, which restores us to the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and to become by adoption what Christ is by his nature--true sons of God.

The Fathers understood that some passions are stronger than others, some are obvious, and others more subtle. All Christians are called to fast because fasting addresses the most basic--and thus easiest to recognize and master--of the passions: gluttony and lust. These so-called sins of the flesh address basic instincts: the need for food, and the desire for vicarious immortality through procreation. Our discipline allows us to put these in their place, to learn self-control, and thus prepare ourselves to engage the more dangerous sins of the intellect and of the spirit.

Most of us never master the latter, but we are assured that the process of theosis continues beyond this life, and that, eventually, we will become partakers of the divine nature.
Posted By: Alice Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 01:47 AM
Quote
All Christians are called to fast because fasting addresses the most basic--and thus easiest to recognize and master--of the passions: gluttony and lust. These so-called sins of the flesh address basic instincts: the need for food,



I wish that I could think less of food when I am hungry from fasting/dieting/etc....

I wish that I didn't turn to food when I am depressed (though the low winter seratonin levels do scientifically back the craving for and overindulging of carbs) or bored...

I sometimes wonder if I have a physical (eating) disorder of some sort; a spiritual disorder; or a combination of both!! eek

Am I alone in not being able to conquer this 'passion' of thinking about food even if I am not partaking of it?

Is this normal, or is this also a consequence of the society we live in, where we are both blessed and inundated by God's bounty, natural and artificial (processed foods) everywhere we look (even on this forum--as one will note the many threads through the year which mention 'recipes' and/or 'chocolate' wink )?

Are we all sinning (without realizing it) by enjoying food so much--besides cookbooks and recipes, we have a whole network dedicated to it now.

Alice

Posted By: harmon3110 Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 10:26 AM
Stuart,

That was a really good post.


-- John
Posted By: harmon3110 Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 10:37 AM
Alice,

Speaking for myself, I have come to the realization that I have to work at fasting and asceticism gradually, find my own limits, and work within them to then achieve progress. If I go beyond my limits too soon, I end up being more of a grouchy bear than I am already. ;-0

So, no, you're not alone in how you feel.

And the trick that I have found is to work within that reality instead of trying to not think about it. If I'm being good, that means giving myself permission to eat enough to get by and function well, and then praying the rest of the time (especially the Jesus Prayer) to get through the rest.

I also use positive reinforcement to help myself fast when I'm being good. For example, I enjoy *marveling* at my decreasing weight by being able to fit into some clothes that I had to formerly set aside. I also enjoy thinking that I might not be as susceptible to a heart attack, heart disease or diabetes as before. Etc. And, it makes the "treats" all the more enjoyable because I'm not a slave to them.

Anymore, I find that fasting and the other ascetic disciplines of spirituality are, like Stuart wisely observed, prescriptions for a better way of life by controlling the basic drives within us. Christ gives us the grace; then we work with it. And the "thinking about it" is difficult, but it can be overcome by prayer, positive reinforcement, and acceptance that discomfort is part of life but suffering is often a choice . . . of whether to take discomfort personally or to shrug it off as part of life.

Hope this helps, from a sinner,

-- John


Posted By: francis Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 01:14 PM
John,

Thank you for this important topic. I found your OP quite beautiful.

Quote
In ordinary life, how do we master the psychological mechanism of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, instead of being mastered by it, if *not* through fasting?

I think a primary practical way to help us fast from food is to first fast from popular culture, especially media outlets such as television. About a year and a half ago I got rid of my television, as I was tired of the constant commercialism and general immorality I was exposed to. A few months after that, I began to take more seriously the call to fasting and for the first time in my life (after many failed attempts) was able to integrate fasting into my lifestyle. I believe these two events are connected. The message promoted by television is that personal pleasure and comfort is all that matters. This cannot but seep into one's subconscious. If we remove the constant propaganda that our personal desires are our gods, then we can be more open to living a more ascetical lifestyle.
Posted By: francis Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 01:16 PM
Alice,

Quote
Am I alone in not being able to conquer this 'passion' of thinking about food even if I am not partaking of it?

No, you are not alone. I too have struggled with this, especially during the winter, when my cravings for carbs and sugars spikes. I just try to have the attitude that when we fall, we must get back up.
Posted By: harmon3110 Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 02:21 PM
Originally Posted by francis
I think a primary practical way to help us fast from food is to first fast from popular culture, especially media outlets such as television. About a year and a half ago I got rid of my television, as I was tired of the constant commercialism and general immorality I was exposed to. A few months after that, I began to take more seriously the call to fasting and for the first time in my life (after many failed attempts) was able to integrate fasting into my lifestyle. I believe these two events are connected. The message promoted by television is that personal pleasure and comfort is all that matters. This cannot but seep into one's subconscious. If we remove the constant propaganda that our personal desires are our gods, then we can be more open to living a more ascetical lifestyle.

Francis, I think you make a really important point here.

I found that after I turned off the TV and otherwise avoided distractions from popular culture, I was much more free to focus on my ascetic practice.

Stillness and silence: the Fathers were right . . . ;-)

-- John
Posted By: Filipe YTOL Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 04:14 PM
Hello all,
I think this is a very generalized problem.
In the west, at least, I think one of the problems, besides the culture issue, is a lack of understanding about why fasting is important, what it is useful for.

We are still recovering from an idea of sacrifice as an objective in itself. The idea that I am willing to make a sacrifice to show how much I love God.

The modern mentality is that God does not require us to make sacrifices to show how we love him, and that is true, but the result has been to dismiss fasting and other forms of sacrifice as obsolete or even counter productive.

Of course both these ideas miss the mark, and the true meaning and use of fasting has been most elequently explained in posts above.

As for myself, I have struggled with this issue over the past year.

For example, every year at lent I had the same problem. Around a week before Ash Wednsday I started craving meat, and every Friday, all I could do was think about steak.

This year I decided to give fasting a bit more of a chance. I didn't fast completely, instead I would only have a bowl of soup for lunch, instead of a full meal that I used to have.

I am lucky to have several churches near my work, and I am blessed to be able to go to mass every weekday at lunch. So I would go to mass anyway but, with the time left over from not having a full lunch, I would spend 20 minutes meditating in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

The results were immediate. The feeling that I was no longer a slave to my hunger or my greed was wonderful, and even after lent ended, I continue to abstain from lunch two or three times a week. It helped me understand that in general I was eating more than I needed to, and that some of the time that occupied could be dedicated to nourishing my spirit.

On a different note, fasting is something that East and West have in common, even though the dates and "rules" may differ. A rediscovery of this treasure, both East and West (although I feel that in the West we need it more), could help to bring us closer together, rather than stressing what seperates us.

Finally, I also think it is worth learning more about the idea of fasting for a cause, or for a person, this is another subject which has fallen into disuse because people just don't understand it anymore.
Posted By: Alice Re: the principles of Fasting - 05/14/09 11:48 PM
Dear Phillipe,

First of all, I would like to tell you that I liked your post very much...

Quote
Finally, I also think it is worth learning more about the idea of fasting for a cause, or for a person, this is another subject which has fallen into disuse because people just don't understand it anymore.


This is still done in traditional Orthodoxy when one is up against an obstacle and/or oppression of some sort, whether of their own, or of a family members...because Scripture tells us that 'this kind (of demon) can only be fought with prayer and fasting'...

A story I love to remember is that of St. Nektarios of Aegina. When he was the Dean of the Rizarios Theological school in Athens, Greece, a group of seminarian students were at great odds and anomosity with each other. They were brought to his office for discipline. Instead of punishing them, he told them that he would go to his room and that he would fast from food completely and pray, until they were able to make up with each other!! You can imagine their shock! The saint was going to starve himself, and in a manner of speaking, punish himself, for *their* bad behaviour! I believe he spent one day in complete fast coupled with prayer before the young men all made up and became friends.

Alice

© The Byzantine Forum