“I want a double… no make that a triple… with extra cheese and mayo on the side… I want fries, medium…no wait, supersize those fries, and I want a Coke…regular? No, better make that Diet, I’m trying to cut back.”
Among the many blessings I have received in discovering the “ancient faith” (that faith which has been believed “always, everywhere and by all”) is recovering again, the spiritual discipline of fasting. Yes, that’s right fasting; and no, it’s not a “Roman Catholic” kind of thing – rather it is “catholic” (according to the whole / fullness) kind of thing! So please don’t let any anti-Roman bias stop you! Fasting is a powerful tool of spirituality that the Church has utilized throughout the Scriptures, and is practiced by Jesus’ disciples to this very day. In Orthodoxy, Christians fast every Wednesday and Friday of the year. Wednesday in remembrance of the Betrayal of Christ by Judas, and Friday to remember the salvation that Christ won for the world on the Cross. At various other times of the year there are lengthy seasons of fasting, most notably the forty days prior to Christmas and the forty days prior to Easter. All in all, about half of the year is enjoyed utilitzing a basically Vegan diet; which by the way, just so happens to be a most excellent remedy to reduce or eliminate high cholesterol and blood pressure, and to remove excess weight.
But August is a special month because it begins today on the 1st, with the Dormition (“falling asleep” of Mary) fast, a two week fasting period from August 1st to August 15th, a time in which millions of Orthodox Christians around the world will remember the “Dormition of Mary, the Theotokos” (translation “God bearer”) This remembrance of Jesus’ Mother and her falling asleep, is of great significance for the Church from it’s apostolic and Acts 2 beginnings, until this very day, since Mary is “…blessed among all women…” and she is “…highly favored and full of grace…” and one whom “…all generations will call blessed…” and if you want to argue with that, I guess you can take it up with St. Luke, and his literary agent, the Holy Spirit.
But fasting? I mean really, it seems seems so un-American doesn’t it? “What do you mean I can’t get seconds, or thirds and a super size with that?” “What, me, offer something up as a sacrifice, a denial of self and flesh, for a feeding of soul and spirit- that’s not very exciting?” Fasting, or the simple denying oneself of “things”, most notably food, is not a punishment, nor is it a form of doleful and sorrowful, and joyless Christianity, as it was wrongly practiced in the Middle ages. On the contrary, fasting IS feasting!! To deny my flesh of something – in order to fill my soul with Him who is everything – is the essence of what the Christian faith is all about. Orthodox Christians for fifteen days will forgo animal products of all kinds: meats and dairy – we will forgo alcohol and oil. Why? Is it because we are “earning” our way to heaven? Never. Is it because we are trying to “placate” an angry God? No way. Is it because we enjoy painful, joyless and difficult things? Nada. We fast because fasting is feasting. Jesus said “when you fast…” not if you fast, and so we join with brothers and sisters all over the world, in one faith, one prayer, one hope, one race…and we deny fleshly things for a moment, so we can feast and partake of heavenly things more abundantly. The really cool part about fasting is this: it ends!
And then comes the feasting! No, we don’t gorge ourselves, or stuff our stomachs, but Imagine how good butter tastes, how wonderful a glass of wine is, how delicious a modest cut of beef is – after this athletic contest of self denial is over? Again, nothing in Orthodoxy happens without a reason; for you see, this momentary fasting throughout the church year is a reminder to us that earth is not our home, that there is before us a better way to live, a new kingdom, a “peaceable” Kingdom – where all creation, the Lion and the Lamb will lie down together at the feast of Christ which will have no end. Fasting prepares us for that eternity of feasting – by giving us a foretaste of it now.
What do you think? To fast or not to fast? That is the question.