Thursday, June 23, 2016

At the Council: The Serbian Church speaks on fasting

(Белешке са Сабора) - Statement of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church on behalf of young theologians, Orthodox youth from Serbia and the US on fasting
The way we fast nowadays (when we only eat certain types of food and avoid others) has annulled all other kinds of fasting, which are found in the tradition of fasting and which demonstrate the creative nature of Christian fasting (for example, in our tradition we find: 1. complete abstinence from eating, 2. fasting until mid-afternoon, 3. eating less in order to save money for charity, or 4. abstaining not from food, but from favorite activities, etc.). What mattered was the reason for fasting, not the duration, which was directly dependent on that reason. Also, the real meaning of fasting lied not in the type of food, but on abstinence. But unfortunately, very often, delicious and luxurious dishes are welcomed by our Church as fasting food, provided they do not contain prohibited ingredients. In that way the Church enables rich Christians to be good Christians, who can fast for months using different types of very expensive food; while poor Christians become bad Christians because sometimes they take some cheese or eggs, if they cannot afford to eat Lenten foods for more than six months every year, or only two or three types of food that they can afford.

Another quandary for our Church’s actual understanding of fasting are vegetarians and vegans. What shall the Church do with vast number of vegetarians and vegans who do note at meat anyway? According to Church rules concerning fasting, such people already fast all the time. So, our current understanding of fasting deprives them of the possibility to be, from time to time, engaged in the common enterprise of the Church, because the Church already sees them as fasting from particular foods all the time.
Also, fasting as we now understand it, with the fasting periods on which the Church insists (which is more than half a year), on the one hand, is not really possible for many categories of Christians (for example: the old and the sick), who, on the other hand, being Christians, want to fulfill the commandments of their Church. As such we create an inner conflict in these people without reason.

Furthermore, our Typikon is not in accordance with our fasting regulations. Let me take only one example: the Feast of Transfiguration of the Savior (6 August). One important aspect of the meaning of this feast is that it represents a sign of the final resurrection of all. But the way we practice fasting on that day (only fish is allowed, but not meat, cheese or eggs) contradicts not only the meaning of the feast, but also the principle that the feasts of Christ cannot be “subordinated” to other feasts. As you know, it was the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise (886–912) who abolished the festal character of the Transfiguration feast, banned meat, which was formerly allowed on this feast, and joined its five fasting days with the Dormition Fast. Yet we know that even after one century some continued to celebrate the Transfiguration properly, as a non-fasting day. Why wouldn’t we do this today?

Moreover, it is of special importance that, as late as in the 12th century, the Byzantine canonist Theodor Balsamon insisted that only the fasts of Wednesday, Friday, and the Great Lent were the obligatory ones, established by the Holy Canons, whereas all the others were not obligatory. Therefore, the history of our Church shows that multiplying and extending the fasting periods has never been a unanimous and unquestionable practice. Long fasting equally as “long prayers” are not necessarily a token of piety; they may well be reason enough for condemnation (suffice it to compare Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark 12:40; and Luke 20:47).

Thank you for your attention.


  1. Early on in my formation, my spiritual father taught me that if, during the fast, I had the choice between a beautifully prepared gourmet meal, strictly in keeping with the dietary restrictions of the fast, and an old piece of tough beef, eat the beef.

  2. I guess we now know why the Serbian Church 'changed its mind' with respect to attending the inter-Orthodox meeting in Crete - they obviously have some modernist ideas they are particularly dedicated to and didn't want to miss the opportunity to forward them whatever the cost. Keep an eye on what they say about marriage next...

    Why shouldn't fasting work like everything else in the spiritual life? Humble yourself to the obvious canonical standard - perhaps imperfectly at first, eating 'luxurious' fasting foods - and push yourself toward true spiritual fasting. If the objective standard is removed I fear that things are going to get 'Roman Catholicy' post Vatican II really fast. Both 'luxurious' and 'simple' are too subjective and leave fasting practically ungrounded; we have to believe that there was wisdom behind the way the Holy Fathers set out the categories!

    Even worse, this confirms what many have been fearing, ie, that even if this council fails in its attempts to advance dramatic ecclesiological change, it is going to harm the spiritual life of the faithful such that we will be even less capable of discerning truth in the future, having forfeited the grace of discernment by officially embracing a worldly.

    Kyrie elesion! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!

    1. Father, forgive me, but I think you are looking for controversy here where none may exist. He never mentions removing any kind of objective categories. I think there is wisdom in how the Fathers devised fasting, but as he points out, they have changed over time according to certain circumstances. And he brings up some instances where we are being pharisaic in our understanding of fasting and never getting to the true spiritual fasting that everyone agrees should be the goal.

      So I think before we condemn him or the council for advancing dramatic ecclesiological change, we should see what the document says about fasting. They may have rejected his concerns or they may have thought that they can be handled through pastoral economia as is done now.

      I think his main point was to remind us that fasting was made for man, not man for fasting. It's our faith in Christ that will save us, not what we eat.

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  3. Fr. John,

    You have to look at the source, which is "young theologians, Orthodox youth from Serbia and the US" - perhaps Josephus can give us a better indication of the group itself. ALL "jurisdictions" have this progressive, non-ascetical, ordain-women-and-marry-homosexualists modernist contingent unfortunately (it is the way of the world after all). Why, the very phrase "young theologians" is an oxymoron...

  4. This was penned by Bp. Maxim I believe. We might have to ask His Grace. :)