The following story, from the book "Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos" by Archmindrite Cherubim, comes to mind in the context of what has been discussed above:
2. A CONTROVERSY OVER FASTING (pp.484-486)
At the end of the last century Chios produced renowned ascetics, like the famous Parthenius, founder of the Monastery of St. Mark; Pachomius, the former robber; and many others, men and women, known and unknown. Certain of these distinguished strugglers were connected with the great Elder of Kerasia, like the ascetics Hierotheus and Macarius, about whom we will write below.
These two monks lived a hesychastic life in a certain desert Kalyve. Either they were disciples of Hadji George from the Holy Mountain, or they had from the beginning lived a desert life in Chios, following faithfully his rule and instructions.
In those years the Metropolitan of Chios was Gregory the Byzantine (1860-1877), who apparently was ignorant of this particular form of ascetic life. Unable to comprehend the ascetic spirit, he came into conflict with the two monks. They had an inviolable rule never to taste oil or condiments. The Metropolitan thought it unacceptable for anyone to fast in this way, especially on Saturdays, Sundays, and great feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God. He put pressure on them to abandon their ways. But the two monks, seeing the ignorance of the Metropolitan in ascetic matters, did not intend to yield, since they had firmly determined to keep this rule. In their difficulty they sought the help of Hadji George. He then sent a letter to the Metropolitan, asking him to show understanding and to accommodate the monks in their ascetic struggles.
This remarkable letter has been preserved for us, and we print it here. We have only corrected some spelling errors.
To the Most Reverend Holy Metropolitan of Chios, the Lord Gregory:
Most Reverend Holy Master, I humbly kiss your holy right hand.
I entreat you and assure you that the monks, Elder Hierotheus and Elder Macarius, who live a hesychastic life in a Kalyve in your diocese, have loved and chosen the good part; may they endure in such a life, as they have vowed it for themselves. However, from today let them do so with your blessing. Let them keep their rule of fasting, because those who fast with humility as a sinner, or for the purposes of asceticism, or for the love of God, are not forbidden to do so by the Holy Fathers. We have witnesses from many places: many saints spent their whole lives eating only herbs, others legumes, like St. John Chrysostom. St. James the Brother of the Lord did not eat any animal products in his whole life. Many other anchorites have lived thus, including now my humble self. We are thirty brethren in one Kellion. I have spent forty years here, leading such a life. Neither on Pascha nor during Cheese-fare week do we break our fast. Many other ascetics live similarly, or live in silence by twos or threes, and they also spend their lives fasting.
When someone fasts according to the rules, dogmatically, then he is hindered; for strugglers, it is said, there is no law, for a struggler is always abstemious. Let these monks have the prayer and blessing of your All-Holiness, that their consciences may not disturb them for being disobedient. A monk must always be a good example to the people – thus the light will shine before men.
There is a great need that you be a careful pastor, which you are. You should oppose those who oppose fasting, which many Christians today ignore. With fear and admonishment you should teach them to not transgress the laws of the Holy Fathers and Councils of our Church, because they state that he who does not keep the Wednesday and Friday fasts, Great Lent, and the other appointed fasts should be excommunicated. Therefore we must teach men to not transgress the laws of God or perform unseemly works – such transgressors you should persecute. But the brothers who desire to fast, not with a bad purpose, you should not hinder. Seeing their struggles, rejoice that you have such virtuous men in your diocese, and have them as your glory. And if a need should befall them some time, you should help them. I think you weill obtain a great reward when you accommodate such men.
My Holy Master, consider well, for we also must die, judgment awaits us, and then God will judge every one according to his works. Forgive me the humble one for may audacity, for I am not worthy to open my mouth to speak a word to you. Hearing of your good renown, may your holy prayers be always with us. Amen.
Hadji George, monk
Holy Mountain of Athos
April 15, 1872