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Author Topic: How is fasting supposed to work?  (Read 2333 times) Average Rating: 0
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Cassiel
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« on: January 18, 2008, 07:40:34 PM »

I am wondering about how the asceticism of fasting is supposed to operate on us.  What, exactly, does it do?

I feel like I need to have a better idea of this so I can do my fasting in a better spirit.  A few factors are complicating my fasts - one, that I am already vegan, so I'm really not giving up anything (and alcohol disagrees with me so I don't drink either).  Two, that I am an endurance athlete who, in the past, lost a great deal of weight, so going without eating isn't a huge discipline for me.  Yet, going without eating becomes a smaller discipline still thanks to a lot of little tricks I've learned, like drinking lots of water to keep from feeling too hungry as well as to stay hydrated for hard exercise.  Trying to not feel hungry seems like missing the point, however.  Yes, it's a discipline not just to eat whatever I want and whenever - I'm a 6-small-meal-a-day girl, which feeds my workouts, so eating just three meals with nothing in between (meals strictly of vegetables) can be a challenge.  It just doesn't feel like that much, though.

And I wonder if there are other endurance athletes out there who find fasting a challenge in other ways?  I have a hard time shifting my thinking from "this is good for me, will make me lighter and faster" to "this is good for my relationship with God, and will help me become closer to Him."  That is what makes this a struggle.
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Tamara
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« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2008, 08:07:12 PM »

I am wondering about how the asceticism of fasting is supposed to operate on us.  What, exactly, does it do?

I feel like I need to have a better idea of this so I can do my fasting in a better spirit.  A few factors are complicating my fasts - one, that I am already vegan, so I'm really not giving up anything (and alcohol disagrees with me so I don't drink either).  Two, that I am an endurance athlete who, in the past, lost a great deal of weight, so going without eating isn't a huge discipline for me.  Yet, going without eating becomes a smaller discipline still thanks to a lot of little tricks I've learned, like drinking lots of water to keep from feeling too hungry as well as to stay hydrated for hard exercise.  Trying to not feel hungry seems like missing the point, however.  Yes, it's a discipline not just to eat whatever I want and whenever - I'm a 6-small-meal-a-day girl, which feeds my workouts, so eating just three meals with nothing in between (meals strictly of vegetables) can be a challenge.  It just doesn't feel like that much, though.

And I wonder if there are other endurance athletes out there who find fasting a challenge in other ways?  I have a hard time shifting my thinking from "this is good for me, will make me lighter and faster" to "this is good for my relationship with God, and will help me become closer to Him."  That is what makes this a struggle.

Maybe instead of on focusing on the fasting, since you are already a vegan, you might want to put more emphasis on the other two parts of the equation. Fasting is never done alone. It must be done in concert with prayer and almsgiving. You do not want to destroy your health by taking on a severe form of fasting if you are an endurance athlete. Also, there are other ways of fasting besides just fasting from food. I would recommend you read this article taken from St. John Chyrsostom's advice on fasting.  http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/ChrysostomFasting.php
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 08:18:26 PM by Tamara » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2008, 08:13:41 PM »

What she (Tamara) said...

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« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2008, 08:26:14 PM »

Here is a good link with lots of other articles on fasting: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/pr_fasting.aspx

I don't know if this will help at all, but here is an old article I have on fasting:

ON FASTING

      The Holy Apostle commands us saying "Let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." From the time of the Apostles, Prophets and Fathers till our own day, it is evident from the life of the Church that fasting is part of our "armor of light"; it is a mighty weapon against the enemy given into our hands by the Saviour Himself, Who is a type and example for us in all things and Who fasted in the flesh in order to teach us to fast. To those weak and ill, it is a medicine and antidote a bath in which to be washed and cleansed. Armored with holy fasting, St. Elias the Tishbite withstood Ahab and his army singlehandedly and called down fire from the heavens. By fasting St. Moses, the seer of God and the elder of Israel, prepared to ascend the mountain in the desert and behold the Glory of God. By fasting the Three Children were shown forth to be fairer than the other children in Babylon in the house of the king, and Daniel was shown forth to be a shepherd of lions. Fasting, therefore, should always be understood as a thing most necessary in our battle with the evil one. Only a man who has lost his mind would put down his weapons, strip himself naked of his armor and then jump into
the line of fire to do battle with the enemy. Such a one would be committing suicide. A man who calls himself a Christian and does not fast, is such a man.

In the final analysis he who does not fast does not believe in God, for he does not really believe in the existence of the enemy and the great victory gifted to us over him by our Saviour. He who does not fast does not believe in Him Who said to the enemy, "Man shall not live by bread alone." This is why Apostolic and Patristic canons proclaim that all who do not keep the fasts have fallen away from the Faith (i.e., have become excommunicated), and our Holy Father St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs us not even to speak with such persons. Those who fell away from our Holy Faith through schism and heresy, by distorting the dogmas and truth of Holy Orthodoxy, in consequence distorted the life of the Church also, and especially the teaching concerning fasting. Thus, to the Latins, fasting became primarily a means of atonement, satisfaction, retribution, payment for sins committed or for earning merits, wages, favor, etc., when all sins had been paid for. The Protestants correctly abhorred the use of fasting as "works" which won merits which, in turn, were banked as surplus in the treasury of the the Popes to be dispensed to "poor souls" in purgatory; the few that continued to fast, however, were not able to free themselves from the error of Anselm concerning atonement and punishment. Thus, after some centuries of keeping fasts as "a pious and ancient custom,' yet having lost the correct understanding and position of fasting in the life of the Church, both Latins and Protestants have totally abandoned fasting! Now we see that even those that were nearer to Holy Orthodoxy in Liturgy and practice—the Copts, Armenians, Jacobites, etc.—in their last gathering in Addis Ababa have "reformed" their rules concerning fasting. This was to be expected, since they have fallen into heresies and are separated from the Holy Church. But now we hear even from those who bear the name Orthodox similar trends and aspirations.

For us sinful folk, who nevertheless are still Orthodox in our Faith, this is one more indication that these people are despisers of and apostates from Orthodoxy. They are only proclaiming to all that have ears to hear that they no longer wish to walk in the way and tradition of our Saviour, the Apostles, Prophets, and Fathers, but rather wish to make "provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." Of them the Psalms say, "They mingled with the nations (heathen) and learned their works"; and the Holy Apostle says, "They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof."

St. Abba Isaac the Syrian says, "The Saviour began the work of our salvation with fasting. In the same way, all those who follow in the footsteps of the Saviour build on this foundation the beginning of their endeavor, since fasting is a weapon established by God. Who will escape blame if he neglects this? If the Lawgiver Himself fasts, how can any of those who have to obey the law be exempt from fasting? This is why the human race knew no victory before fasting, and the devil was never defeated by our nature as it is: but this weapon has indeed deprived the devil of strength from the outset. Our Lord was the Leader and the first example of this victory, in order to place the first crown of victory on the head of our nature. As soon as the devil sees someone possessed of this weapon, fear straightway falls on this adversary and tormentor of ours, who remembers and thinks of his defeat by the Saviour in the wilderness; his strength is at once destroyed and the sight of the weapon given us by our Supreme Leader burns him up. A man armed with the weapon of fasting is always afire with zeal. He who remains therein, keeps his mind steadfast and ready to meet and repel all violent passions."

Those who do not fast, especially those of the clergy—teach that fasting consists in not thinking and doing evil and quote from our Saviour, the Apostles and Fathers to support their views. They usually forget that our Saviour, the Apostles and Fathers all fasted the physical fast as well as the spiritual fast. When man partakes of the glory of God, he does not partake of it in the spirit only, but physically also in a complete sense. When one praises God, he does not praise Him only in the Spirit, but with physical voice also in chant and prayer. When one worships God, he does not worship him noetically only but physically also the body participating by standing in prayer, by making prostrations and using the fingers and hand to seal itself with the sign of the Cross. When one communicates God, he does not communicate in spirit only but eats the very Body and drinks the very Blood of the Lord unto healing of soul and body. Thus one praises God and is united with God not in part, but completely as one whole soul and body. When one labors in virtue, one labors not only noetically but physically also, even unto blood, in order not to deny our Saviour. Our Holy Martyrs did not witness just by words and thought, resisting evil in their hearts and minds, but gave their bodies up to torments and their heals to be cut off, that they might remain with our Saviour. Thus, since we are not just spirits, but "wear flesh and live in the world," we cannot possibly fast spiritually only and not fast physically also. There is a unity and interaction between the body and the soul. They cannot be separated while we are still in the body. In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John writes "Satiety of food is the father of fornication; an empty stomach is the mother of purity." He who always keeps his stomach full and he who fasts know the strength of this saying.

  --A Monk of the Orthodox Church

"The Faith which I was taught by the Holy Fathers, which I taught at all times without adjusting it according to the times this Faith I will never stop teaching; I was born with it and I live by it." (St. Gregory the Theologian)

Re-formatted to not stretch out the page so badly.
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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2008, 09:32:21 PM »

I really recommend that you not take a maximalist approach in your fasting. The inexperienced faster can seriously injure their health. St. John Chrysostom warns that fasting is a medicine and medicine must be administered by a doctor (priest). The facts that you are already on a very restricted diet, you are an endurance athlete, and you are not chrismated means fasting should be approached by you with the utmost caution. I would speak to the priest who is catechizing you about this subject and be wary of those who preach a one size fits all maximalist approach toward fasting or any other ascetic labor.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 09:33:45 PM by Tamara » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2008, 11:32:28 PM »

I like to consider fasting in the same terms as an athlete's regular training. By training ourselves to say no to certain foods we enjoy, we better prepare ourselves to say no when really big temptations come our way. It is training ourselves to be disciplined.

Having said that, it cannot be stressed enough that fasting must be done in concert with prayer, otherwise it is simply a diet.

If fasting from food is not an issue for you though, consider the following:

Do you talk too much? Fast from that.
Do you get angry with certain people easily? Fast from that.
Do you spend money unnecessarily on clothes/accessories/books/car? Fast from that.
Do you watch a lot of television? Fast from that.

I'm sure you can think other things more pertinent to yourself.

John
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« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2008, 12:34:08 AM »

Thanks, everybody.  You've given me a lot to think about.  No, my catechist isn't at all one-size-fits-all, thankfully.  It's hard not to just want to jump right in and do it all, though! 
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Tamara
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« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2008, 12:57:47 PM »

Thanks, everybody.  You've given me a lot to think about.  No, my catechist isn't at all one-size-fits-all, thankfully.  It's hard not to just want to jump right in and do it all, though! 

Cassiel,

Your enthusiasm is admirable but I would recommend taking Orthodoxy in small steps. For some, conversion becomes a revolving door because they try to do it all at a monastic level while still immature in the faith. Then when they see how hard it is at that level, they give up because it is beyond their ability. As an endurance athlete, you probably understand this concept better than the average catechumen.
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Cassiel
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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2008, 09:46:29 PM »

Tamara -

Yes, I have thought of it in those terms, in fact.  One thing I tell new runners is not to try to do too much too soon, or you will end up injured and not be running at all. 

I guess I'm still a bit puzzled as to the purpose of fasting and how it is supposed to work, however.  For instance, yesterday as I was fasting I wondered what it's effect was meant to be.  In the Roman Catholic tradition in which I grew up, for instance, disciplines like fasting were in some ways considered expiation for sins, to work off time in purgatory.  Since Orthodox don't believe in purgatory I'm assuming it has nothing to do with that.  I can understand the importance of disciplining yourself so that food does not gain control of you, which is easy to have happen in our society where we like to be deprived of nothing.  It occurred to me, too, that fasting - causing myself physical discomfort - can sometimes turn me more toward God on the day that I fast, because feeling that discomfort reminds me of why I am doing the fast, which is for God.  Then again, it can also make my mind a little fuzzy.  That is both a liability and a benefit.  It simplifies my thinking and makes me more submissive in many ways, because I'm not so busy being skeptical or analyzing every little commandment.  I don't have the energy, so I just do them.  Then again, when I pray it is sometimes hard to keep my mind from zoning out - not wandering to other topics, necessarily, just not really getting my will behind the prayers. 

Thoughts?
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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2008, 11:42:52 PM »

Tamara -

Yes, I have thought of it in those terms, in fact.  One thing I tell new runners is not to try to do too much too soon, or you will end up injured and not be running at all. 

I guess I'm still a bit puzzled as to the purpose of fasting and how it is supposed to work, however.  For instance, yesterday as I was fasting I wondered what it's effect was meant to be.  In the Roman Catholic tradition in which I grew up, for instance, disciplines like fasting were in some ways considered expiation for sins, to work off time in purgatory.  Since Orthodox don't believe in purgatory I'm assuming it has nothing to do with that.  I can understand the importance of disciplining yourself so that food does not gain control of you, which is easy to have happen in our society where we like to be deprived of nothing.  It occurred to me, too, that fasting - causing myself physical discomfort - can sometimes turn me more toward God on the day that I fast, because feeling that discomfort reminds me of why I am doing the fast, which is for God.  Then again, it can also make my mind a little fuzzy.  That is both a liability and a benefit.  It simplifies my thinking and makes me more submissive in many ways, because I'm not so busy being skeptical or analyzing every little commandment.  I don't have the energy, so I just do them.  Then again, when I pray it is sometimes hard to keep my mind from zoning out - not wandering to other topics, necessarily, just not really getting my will behind the prayers. 

Thoughts?

Hi Cassiel,

I was taught to think of fasting as an athlete views training. We fast to control our passions and to be able to focus our mind and heart on prayer. Also, the early Christians fasted for another reason. They fasted so they could save the money they would have spent on food for themselves to give alms for the poor. This is the reason why during Lent many churches will hand out alms boxes so you can save money for the poor while you fast. When you limit the amount of food you eat or remove animal products from your diet, you will feel weaker physically (as you have mentioned) so this does allow your soul to be more open to God during prayer.
I have read that meat and animal products can arouse the passions because of their effect on the body. I believe this is the reason monastics are vegan most of the year. Although they may eat fish or a little chicken for feast days.
I was never taught that fasting would be considered an expiation for my sins. It is purely a form of spiritual training to benefit my spiritual growth and a way to save extra money for the poor.

If anyone else wants to add their thoughts please join in the discussion.  Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2008, 12:08:39 AM »

For instance, yesterday as I was fasting I wondered what it's effect was meant to be.

Reason 1.
I can understand the importance of disciplining yourself so that food does not gain control of you, which is easy to have happen in our society where we like to be deprived of nothing.

Reason 2.
fasting - causing myself physical discomfort - can sometimes turn me more toward God on the day that I fast, because feeling that discomfort reminds me of why I am doing the fast, which is for God.
 
Reason 3.
It simplifies my thinking and makes me more submissive in many ways, because I'm not so busy being skeptical or analyzing every little commandment.

I'd say you've got a pretty good grasp already. Wink  Your're way ahead of me when I was a catechumen.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2008, 12:10:46 AM by GabrieltheCelt » Logged

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