Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A time to fast and a time to feast

This won't be a long, scripture-strewn article. Instead a few words on a contemporary topic.

If you look at the year as a journey from one place to another with stops in-between, you acknowledge that there are times when you pack lightly and times when you have a train of luggage behind you and times when you stay home and settle into your home with a good book and a hot cup of tea. Throughout those 365 days of sojourning, sometimes the trip calls for light meals and other times great sumptuous banquets and still other times no food at all. This week my inbox is full of emails about how to "eat smart" this holiday season. Ignoring the egregious abuse done to the adverb, it is worth pointing out that these communications miss the point. There are times to feast, but there are also times to fast. For the person who lives the year liturgically the bountiful Christmas meal is as welcome and reasonable as the hummus and crudités of the days preceding it. The person who fasts with the Church should most definitely feast with the Church.

There is a lot of guilt and even more emails built up to inform us as to how to enjoy parties without enjoying them "too much." Really, though, we should celebrate when it is time to celebrate and mourn when it is time to do so. No one would recommend constantly checking work emails or getting on conference calls during a vacation in the Bahamas (nor would your spouse or children appreciate it). And when it is time for somberness, no one will think well of the man who cuts his sadness with some funny Youtube videos played on an iPhone or a deli sandwich eaten during a funeral while sitting in the pews.

We were not meant to live our lives in this constantly muted and self-recriminating way always taking careful steps across flat and monochromatic wastes. There should be climbs toward high peaks where we exult in the beauty of creation and careful descents into woods where the insularity of densely growing trees lead us to introspection. So, this holiday season and in those to come, the emails will roll in offering "tips" and "tricks" and "helpful pointers" on how to "escape the trap" of holiday eating. I say, "Rejoice in the Lord!" and do it with egg nog in hand.


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  2. On the whole, I agree about the time for fasting and the time for feasting. And absolutely agree on not taking advice on much from the secular world. So yes, the day of, and even the week after the feast, we should feast, but the sin of gluttony is a serious sin, and it's a risk whether one is observing a fast or is in a feasting period, although maybe a little more of a concern and temptation when feasting. When I remember that monastics feast on fish, it helps me put my feast meals in perspective, and reminds me that, as you said what's important is the remembrance of the event commemorated and the exultation in the beauty of creation, but not so much how much meat I can eat.

    1. I took that extreme as a given. Schmemann has some good words on gluttony (I believe related to the Paschal feast) about people stuffing their faces. I'm not talking about the man with the mixing bowl of mashed potatoes and a serving spoon sitting in a corner ladling out gravy. I'm talking about the man with a nervous, fidgety mien asking himself "Should I or shouldn't I have a slice of pie."

    2. I hope I'm not seeming too critical. I really appreciate your call to attention to the true meaning behind the feast when we're supposed to feast. I'm rarely the nervous, fidgety mien asking himself "Should I or shouldn't I have a slice of pie", so would love to read Fr Alexander's words on gluttony related to Pascha. Do you know if they're in his book on Great Lent by any chance?

    3. It is.

      "But the understanding of Easter, alas so common, as almost an obligation to overeat and over drink is a sad and ugly caricature of the true spirit of Pascha! It is tragic indeed that in some churches people are discouraged from partaking of Holy Communion at Easter and the beautiful words of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Sermon—”the table is full-laden, feast ye all sumptuously! The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away”—are probably understood as referring exclusively to the rich contents of Easter baskets. The Feast is a spiritual reality and to be properly kept it requires as much sobriety and spiritual concentration as the fast."

      pg. 58