Fasting : nourishment for the hungry soul
“Let Thy food be Thy medicine and let Thy medicine be Thy food.” Hippocrates
This is a quote used widely within the circles of holistic nutrition… indeed in our quest for health nutrition has practically become a religion unto itself. Many will change their diets and fast for outward physical health to an extreme, but what about spiritual health?
For Orthodox Christians, the Great Fast of the Church is upon us.
Already, these last weeks in Church we have been preparing for Lent, slowly giving up meat and this week we partake of our last bits of dairy. These weeks of preparation culminate this Sunday, when Orthodox Christians around the world will voluntarily deprive themselves of meat, eggs and dairy for the next forty days as we make the Lenten journey.
Despite what might seem to be fairly strict dietary guidelines, the Fast is not aimed at physical deprivation, but spiritual health and sobriety.
In fact, the very first act of the Fast and the ushering of Great Lent is the Sunday of Forgiveness – a time where we genuinely seek mutual reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. “For He then who hates his brother is separated from God, since God is Love.” (Saint John of Karpathos)
You see, without love for neighbor, there is no Fast.
Great Lent is a struggle and also a holistic journey of healing and rejuvenation. Each fasts to the best of their ability, age, physical health and medical circumstance in accordance with their Priest or Spiritual Father. We struggle in abstinence from foods, but perhaps the greater struggle is to forgive or find humility or to reconcile, to love and to pray.
It’s counterintuitive, but the Lenten dietary restrictions actually take the focus off of what we’re eating so that we might flesh out what’s eating us – and our relationships – with God and one another.
Orthodox Fasting is medicine and nourishment for the hungry soul.
The Fast is not about eating perfectly but is rather the salt of devotion and the quest for closeness to God. There are some who would say that this seasonal deprivation of certain foods is mindless or ritual, but to them the question, where is the ritual in the heart seeking God?
Others call Fasting a tool and that is true. It’s the anaphoric lever – lifting our hearts to God, Who is Love.
We eat less but are enriched and fortified with the spiritual nourishment of greater alms giving – love for our neighbor through charity and goodness; prayer; watchfulness and greater attendance at the services of the Fast. All of that is not to be taken lightly.
Fasting is joy, dependence on God, who is Life ~ and our thankfulness to Him, for all things. It is eating to live rather than living to eat.
Great Lent is about Love…
…because He first loved us. Lent is a spiritual movement. An interior progression – becoming closer, rekindling and renewing our relationship with God or perhaps even discovering it for the first time. This kinetic cooperation, our movement in Christ, spans the whole of our lives and is about the heart.
In that sense, the Fast is about the Greatest Commandment – to love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves.
We fast for the Resurrection and the Life of the age to come!
Wishing us all a joyous and profitable Lent.
Nourishment for the Fast:
† The Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian †
“Lord and Master of my life,take away from me the spirit of idleness, of despondency, of ambition and of unprofitable words. But give to me, Thy servant, the spirit of chastity, humility, of patience and of love. Teach me O Lord, to see mine own faults, and not to judge my brother. For Thou art blessed unto ages and ages. Amen”
† Saint Silouan – Wisdom from Mount Athos ~ On Love †
The man who knows the delight and love of God – when warmed by grace, loves both God and her brother – knows in part that ‘the kingdom of God is within us.’ Blessed is the soul that loves her brother, for our brother is our life.”
† Prayer of the Optina Elders †
Grant unto me, my Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me Grace to surrender myself completely to Thy Holy Will. For every hour of this day instruct and prepare me in all things. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy Holy Will. Govern Thou my feelings and thoughts in all I do and say. When unforeseen things occur, let me not forget that all cometh from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may bring them no confusion or sorrow. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all it’s passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer and to love. Amen.
Papou’s Lentils ~ Soup for the Soul
This is a Lenten Staple…
- 1/2 pound dried lentils – soaked over night in water
- 1 onion chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic chopped fine
- 1 small can tomato sauce, or 3 tsp tomato paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 7 cups water
The night before, place lentils in a bowl and fill with water three inches above the lentils. Let stand overnight. (You know, just like our grandmothers did… this breaks down some of the less digestible starches in the lentils and therefore provides greater nutrient availability at mealtime. It also reduces gas!)
Place lentils and all ingredients (except vinegar and flour) in large stock pot. Cover and bring to slow boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 and a half hours. In small bowl mix flour and vinegar until no chunks of flour remain. Stir into soup and cook for 10 more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted bread and a green side salad – with lemon or orange juice dressing!
Manley, J. (1990). The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox: daily scripture readings and commentary for Orthodox Christians. Menlo Park, Calif.: Monastery Books. (pages 680 and 690)