the fast : detoxification for the soul
“Showing joyfulness of soul in the Fast, let us not be of sad countenance, for the change in our “manner of living” during these blessed days will help us to gain holiness.”
The Greek word for diet means “our manner of living” and in all respects, that extends beyond the staples of our pantries, cupboards and recipe books. No, our “manner of living” embodies the very core of our being. In it’s truest sense, a manner of living is the nourishment not only of our physical bodies but also our soul.
In this way, food is not merely comprised of what is on our plates – but also what we read, and watch and hear. It is probably for this very reason that, back in the day, many Orthodox countries, like Greece, would have closed movie theaters and the tavernas would have actually had Lenten menus for their patrons to adhere to the Fast. The whole country participated in this normal manner of living. Fasting is certainly simplified when everyone does it.
Fasting is an enduring part of our world, and most religions practice it in one form or other. Beyond that, there are medical fasts, detoxifying fasts and physical fasts. And isn’t it funny, how comfortable one is knowing that a friend is fasting for health -perhaps they are vegan or paleo or gluten free – but turn the fast from health or beauty endeavors toward that which renders wellness of soul, and understanding may dwindle.
As a student of nutrition, eating healthy for vitality, fitness and beauty are very good aspirations. I counsel people on how to eat for their own unique physical situation to improve health, manage disease, detoxify and enhance digestion. Paleo eating has been incredible for our family, with one who is gluten sensitive and another who became incredibly ill last year, struggling to overcome Lyme disease. Foods that enhance the immune system and promote excellent digestion are paramount for physical health. Developing plant based healthy paleo recipes for the fast has been a fun challenge.
The difference between the Orthodox Fast of Great Lent and other ways of eating however, is that a diet to lose weight or improve health has no meaning outside of “self” whereas the Great Fast of Lent is, in the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian, “to chose God”. It involves entire communities committed to Christ, and as His body, our relationships with one another.
Fasting cleanses the soul. It reinvigorates our spiritual lymph so that we may detoxify our heart, mind and soul. Almsgiving, spiritual reading, attendance of the services and prayer provide nourishment and open the pathways of spiritual detoxification.
Cleansing our hearts through Confession, the acceptance of mercy, forgiveness of others, greater attendance (and attention) at the services – are all on the Lenten menu.
In so doing, however feeble our attempts, the Orthodox Christian strives to love God with all our heart and with all our mind and all of our soul, and love our neighbor as ourself.
These are blessed days of fasting!