Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On True Apostolic Fasting


Χρήστος Ανέστη!  Christus resurrexit!




Bright (Easter/Pascha) Week is over, a week of joyful celebration as Pascha Sunday is celebrated for eight days as one day.  We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!  This season marks the reason we are Christian: the Resurrection.  This is what separates us from everyone else.  We do not believe in myth nor abstract thoughts as the pagans but in concrete events that happened in history.  This gives us the power to sing:

"Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!"

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Also, to throw in a wonderful Baroque song about the Resurrection that we all know:




Though the season continues until Pentecost, the fast free celebration of Bright (Easter) Week has come to an end.  Now we are called back to our cycle of joyous fasting.  First of all, Christ assumes that we are going to fast.  He had no need to mandate it, because He acted as if we were already knew that we had to.

The Didache (Διαχε), or "The Teaching of the Apostles," is a early Christian work dating possibly earlier than even some of St. Paul's.  It is a short summary of Christian ethics and actions, a proto-catechism of the early Church.  On fasting, it mandates:
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites [early Church term for unbelieving Jews], for they fast on the second [Monday] and fifth day [Thursday] of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day [Wednesday] and the Preparation (Friday).
This fasting is abstaining from all animal products, oil, and wine.  This consumption of only fruits and vegetables leaves us focused on a lack in our diet, forcing us to reflect on our sinful lack of God, and further forcing us to orient ourselves back towards Him.  In our control over our diet such as this puts us in the habit of controlling the rest of our passions to allow God to work through them the way He plans.  Food is not evil, but our overuse of food is.  Sex is not evil, but sex outside the proper context is.  Fasting forces us to re-orient our passions back to the Lord.

This fast of vegetation-based diet is not just only found in the Apostolic Fast (Wednesdays and Fridays), but is also the proper way to fast during Great Lent to prepare for Pascha/Easter and the proper way to fast during Advent to prepare for the Nativity.  Also, for my Eastern brothers and sisters, the proper way to fast during the two weeks proceeding the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of Our Lady).  The great wisdom of the liturgical calendar is that the fasting periods not only force us to re-orient our passions, but to also truly appreciate the feasts that celebrate the Resurrection, the Incarnation, and the icon of perfect Christian end.

The great thing is that secular health science supports this wisdom of the liturgical calendar even if it does not realize it.  I have read or heard from numerous sources, including a water show in Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, that it is healthy for both the human person and the Earth's ecological systems to refrain from animal products at least twice a week.  This does not even mention an additional two months of the year that Christians have already been doing from the beginning.  I also was listening to a favorite NPR science podcast of mine called Science Fridays that discussed the dangers of eating too much red meat.  Just further secular support of an already apostolic Christian habit.

Here in the West, we, unfortunately, only abstain from meat on Fridays.  During Lent (although unknown, we are still mandated to abstain on all Fridays throughout the year, or at least give up something of great pleasure). It seems as though we have forgotten in modern times.  This is one thing we can learn from the East: the laity partaking of the aesthetical fasts of Lent, Advent, and the Apostolic Fast (and the Dormition fast if we are daring).  Not only would Mother Earth thank us by not eating all her animals too quickly, but also our souls would thank us. To take it from Celeborn in The Fellowship of the Rings: "Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know."