Friday, February 28, 2014

Fasting for Non-Monastics

I repost a lot of the works of Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov. I now happily call your attention to "Fasting for Non-Monastics" as it is a timely article for this journey once again into the Great Fast. This is well worth reading for people who have fasted all their lives, converts, and the simply curious.

A curious phenomenon can be observed in the interactions between pastors and their parishioners at the beginning of each major fast of the Church. Pastors attempt to call their parishioners’ pious attention to the spiritual heights of fasting: the fighting against sin, the conquering of passions, the taming of the tongue, the cultivation of virtues. In turn, parishioners pester their pastors with purely dietary questions: when fish is allowed, whether soy milk or soy hotdogs are fasting, whether adding milk to coffee is breaking the fast, or whether there is some dispensation that can be given to the young, the elderly, those who study, those who work, women, men, travelers, the sick, or those who simply do not feel well. In response to the overwhelming preoccupation with dietary rules to the detriment of the spiritual significance of fasting, some pastors, seemingly out of frustration, began to propose in sermons and internet articles that dietary rules are not important at all: if you want yogurt during Lent, just have some as long as you do not gossip; if you want a hamburger, then eat one, as long as you do not devour a fellow human being by judging and backstabbing. Unfortunately, such advice rarely helps eradicate gossip, judging or backstabbing. Rather, it seems to confuse people into thinking that since they have not yet conquered these and many other vices in their hearts, they do not have to fast from hamburger either. Thus, I would like us to discuss the very topic which fascinates so many lay people: what the fasting rules are and how they are to be followed by those of you who have not taken the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

The Rules, the Rules, Let Us Attend

So, what are the fasting rules? Most of us refer to a calendar we buy at a church kiosk to tell us what to eat and what not to eat on any given day. But where do the people who print the calendar get their information? Where does it really say how to fast? Well, you may have heard the Russian saying about not going to someone else’s monastery with your own rules. The fact is that fasting as we have come to know it nowadays is a monastic discipline, and fasting rules come from monasteries. The rules we use in the Russian Orthodox Church today, for example, largely come from the Monastery of Saint Sabbas near Jerusalem. There are several paragraphs in chapters 32 and 33 of the Typicon which outline the rules of fasting. There are also some local variations—usually relaxing the fast—that have to do with either memories of saints or life in northern climates. The Solovki Monastery, for example, is quite a bit north of the Monastery of Saint Sabbas; not too many vegetables grow there year round, but fish is plentiful. But most of us do not live in Solovki or Alaska...

Complete article here.

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