Monday, February 24, 2014

The Dangers of Fasting

Yesterday, besides being the day in which the Church commemorated the Last Judgment, was the last day to eat meat until Pascha. If you are fasting according to the teachings of the Church, today begins your long journey of finding food substitutes and new vegan recipes for your favorite meals. The Great Fast is almost upon us. It actually begins NEXT week, but the Church begins our fasting one week early by asking us to abstain from meat beginning this week. Last week was known as Meatfare Week, while we rushed to make use of the meat in our refrigerators before it spoils. This week is known as Cheesefare Week, and is the final week of dairy before the Great Fast. Fasting is such an amazing spiritual discipline of the Church, but it can be misused so many ways, so today I thought I would warn you of about some danger signs that your fasting is on the wrong track.

  1.       You know the fasting guidelines of the Church, but you insist on creating your own plan for Great Lent – Anytime you look on the teachings and sacred traditions of the Church as a buffet menu from which you can pick and choose which practices you like and which you think are not valid, you have lost the entire purpose of fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline through which we learn to subdue our ego and desires. If we instead feed our desires by choosing our fasting routine, we have lost the opportunity to conquer our ego, and fasting becomes nothing more than a diet regiment. If you are unsure where to begin your fasting, it is better to ask your spiritual father, than to make up your own plan. He has received the grace of God through Holy Ordination to guide you along your spiritual journey.
  2.       You view fasting as “giving something up” for Great Lent as a sacrifice for God. The term sacrifice, as used in the Church, means “to make holy” and is not associated with what has become a practice of “self-denial.” The Great Fast is not meant to deny your body the things it craves. It is meant to sanctify your heart. The idea of “giving something up” for Great Lent is more of a punishment rather than a discipline, and leads to resentment of the Church rather than the purity of your heart.
  3.       You scrutinize every food label just to make sure nothing forbidden has been included. You search for “may contain whey from milk” as a warning that the food doesn’t “pass muster” on your Orthodox menu plan. As with any rule in the Church, you must keep focused upon it purpose. Bread in general is a fasting food, but nearly ALL bread in the store has at least one ingredient that “breaks the rules” if you read the ingredients panel. If you need a piece of toast with breakfast, it would be better to have it (without butter obviously) than to worry that there “might” be egg in the dough. With the industrialization of the food industry, it would be nearly impossible to find “legal” bread unless you make your own.
  4.       You have never fasted before, but THIS year you decide to keep the strict fast. This might be the most dangerous warning sign of all. As with any discipline, you must gradually increase the practice. Otherwise, you are destined for failure. Compare fasting to running. If you want to run a marathon, you would NEVER just put on your shoes and begin to run 23 ½ miles. You must first build up your stamina before the race. The same caution must be used with fasting. If you want any benefit from your fasting, you will allow your spiritual father to help you with where to begin, just like you would allow a trainer to create a running and training routine.

 Here are more posts on fasting

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