About Fasting: Part Three

Fasting on the Word

by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

We repeat — fasting is for man, and not man for fasting. Food given for the support of the body should not be used to destroy it.

Very important is the quality of food. The forbidden fruit of Paradise, although it was beautiful in appearance and tasted delicious, had a fatal effect on the soul. It imparted to it a knowledge of good and evil, and thereby ruined the innocence in which our first parents were created. And now food continues to have a powerful effect on the soul, which is particularly noticeable in the use of wine. This effect of food is due to its diverse action on the flesh and blood, and to the fact that the vapors and gases produced by it rise from the stomach into the brain and affect the mind. For this reason all intoxicating drinks are forbidden to the ascetic, since they deprive the mind of soberness and vigilance, and so of victory in the war of thought. The defeated mind, especially when it has been defeated by sensual thoughts in which it has taken pleasure, is deprived of spiritual grace. What was acquired by many protracted labours is lost in a few hours, in a few minutes.

“A monk should not use wine at all,” said Saint Poemen the Great.

This rule ought to be followed by every pious Christian who wishes to preserve his chastity and virginity. The Holy Fathers followed this rule, and if they did use wine, it was extremely seldom and with the greatest moderation. Heating foods should be banished from the table of the abstinent since they arouse bodily passions. Such are pepper, ginger and other spices.

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The most natural food is that which was assigned to man by the Creator immediately after his creation — food of the vegetable kingdom. God said to our fist parents:

“Behold I have given you every seed-bearing plant, the sowing seed which is on the whole earth; and every tree which has within it the fruit of seminal seed shall be to you for food” (Gen. 1, 29).

It was only after the flood that the use of meat was allowed (Gen. 9, 3).

Vegetable food is the best for an ascetic. It is less heating for the blood and less fattening for the flesh. The vapors and gases it produces and which rise to the brain affect it less. Finally it is the most wholesome because it produces less mucus in the stomach. For these reasons, when vegetable food is used, it is particularly easy to preserve purity and mental alertness, and the power of the mind over the whole man; also the passions act more feebly, and the person is more capable of engaging in the labours of piety.

Fish foods, especially those prepared from large sea fish, are of quite another kind. They act more perceptibly on the brain, fatten the body, heat the blood, and fill the stomach with harmful mucus, specially when they are frequently or constantly used.

These effects are incomparably more violent in the case of meat. It has an extremely fattening effect on the flesh, it causes a special corpulency, and heats the blood. The vapors and gases it produces are very oppressive to the brain. For this reason it is not used at all by monks. It is the prerogative of people living in the world who are always engaged in hard physical labor. But even for them the constant use of meat is harmful.

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“What!” at this point would-be wiseacres exclaim, “Meat is allowed man by God, and do you forbid its use?”

To this we reply in the words of the Apostle,

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10, 23).

We decline from the use of meat not because we regard it as unclean but because it produces a special corpulence in our whole constitution and hinders spiritual progress.

Holy Church, by her wise rules and regulations, has allowed Christians living in the world to use meat. Yet she does not allow its constant use, but has divided the year into seasons of meat-eating and seasons of abstinence from meat in which the Christian is detached from his meat-eating. This fruit of the fasts can be discovered by experience by everyone who keeps them.

For those living the monastic life the use of meat is forbidden. In its place the use of milk foods and eggs is permitted during the seasons of meat-eating. At certain times and on certain days the use of fish is permitted them. But mostly they can use only vegetable food.

Vegetable food is used almost exclusively by the most zealous ascetics and exponents of piety, especially those who have felt within them the movement of the Spirit of God,* on account of the convenience mentioned above and the cheapness of this food. For drink they use only water and avoid not only heating and intoxicating beverages but even nourishing ones like all the drinks made from bread.

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The rules of fasting are appointed by the Church with the object of helping her children and to supply direction for the whole of Christian society. At the same time it is prescribed for everyone to examine himself with the help of an experienced and discerning spiritual father and not to. impose upon himself a fast which is beyond his strength.

We repeat — fasting is for man, and not man for fasting. Food given for the support of the body should not be used to destroy it.

“If you control your stomach,” said Saint Basil the Great, “you will mount to Paradise; but if you do not control it, you will be a victim of death.”

Here by the name Paradise should be understood a state of grace and prayer, and by death a passionate condition. A state of grace during our life on earth serves as a pledge of our eternal beatitude in the heavenly Eden. A fall into the power of sin and into a state of spiritual deadness serves as a pledge of our fall into the abyss of hell for eternal torment.





About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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