By Subdeacon Wasim Shehata
In this article, we will continue Part 1 and 2, “The Church Fathers” opinions, by taking a closer look at additional two viewpoints on how the Church Fathers viewed fasting and their advice on how one ought to fast.
“For the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practice” John Chrysostom | Fasting in the eyes of the Church Fathers
- Abba Isidore (450 AD) said: ‘’If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself’’ [Ward, 1984. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p.106-107].
John Chrysostom elaborates on this saying: ‘’Do not say to me that I fasted for so many days, that I did not eat this or that, that I did not drink wine, that I endured want; but show me if thou from an angry man hast become gentle, if thou from a cruel man hast become benevolent. If thou art filled with anger, why oppress thy flesh? If hatred and avarice are within thee, of what benefit is it that thou drinkest water? Do not show forth a useless fast: for fasting alone does not ascend to heaven’’.
“When fasting, you should fast both in body and heart; abstaining from meat, gossip and slander.” Pope Kyrillos VI of Alexandria (1971 AD) | Fasting in the eyes of the Church Fathers
He furthermore said: ‘’For the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!’’ [John Chrysostom. Homily 3].
What are the works which the Fathers speak about? Pope Kyrillos VI of Alexandria (1971 AD) summarized it saying: ‘’When fasting, you should fast both in body and heart; abstaining from meat, gossip and slander. The fasting tongue is better than them fasting stomach, and when the heart abstains from wrath, that is better than both’’.
- Patriarch Zakka Iwas I (2014 AD) explained how the 40 day fasting period is something which the Church always has been fasting, saying: ‘’The apostles commanded the faithful to fast. The church abided by it and organized all fasts. The history of the church shows that from the dawn of Christianity, Christians fasted the Forty Days Great Lent, the week of Passion, and Wednesdays and Fridays of every week. The church imposed severe penalties on clergy and laity who broke the fasting commandment.
“Do not neglect the Forty Days; it constitutes an imitation of Christ’s way of life” Ignatius of Antioch | Fasting in the eyes of the Church Fathers
Elders, children, babies, sick, nursing, pregnant women, were exempted out of necessity. Saturdays and Sundays during which the holy Eucharist is celebrated, are excluded. After service the faithful will have fasting food’’.
The early Church Fathers said, regarding to the 40 day fasting period the following. Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century AD) said: ‘’Do not neglect the Forty Days; it constitutes an imitation of Christ’s way of life’’ and Irenaeus of Lyons (202 AD) added to this saying: ‘’For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more. In fact, others fast forty days. And this variety among observers [of the fasts] did not have its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors’’ [Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus. Fragment 3].
Athanasius of Alexandria (373 AD) said: ‘’The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of the month Phamenoth [Ash Wednesday]; and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of the month Pharmuthi [Palm Sunday], in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings’’ [Athanasius of Alexandria. Letter 3].
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