Day 2 of the Preachers Institute 40 days of blogging exercise moves from the whimsical – beards – to something more substantial – fasting and spirituality. As with yesterday’s post there is again a nice coming together of events. Friday evening we had our monthly Family Night and guest speaker Fr. Ephraim Peters spoke on fasting. Abouna chose this topic because it was the first day of the Nativity Fast – the forty days leading up to Christmas. The Nativity Fast is equal in length to Lent but there are differences. Easter is the feast of feasts in the Orthodox world, with Christmas a distant second (or perhaps third – the Dormition of the Virgin Mary seems to be a bigger celebration in practice, possibly because it happens during summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere). The hymnography during Lent mentions the fast (though never the food you should or should not eat) but the hymnography during this part of the year never mentions fasting. Finally, in the Greek tradition at least, it is more common to start fasting after the feast of St. Nicholas or St. Spyridon (Dec. 6 & 12).
Fasting in Orthodoxy is not about the food. The idea is that when you limit what kind of food you eat, you end up eating more or less the same thing every day, and your thoughts move from food to other matters. This frees us up so we can think about spiritual matters and fire up our prayer life. So when talking about fasting we tend to emphasize the spiritual stuff and move our focus from food. But food is part of this. Fasting is inextricably involved in what we put down our gullets. If we are abstaining from meat and dairy, then we need to think of this when we make our eating choices. We never completely forget about food, so it makes sense to use this time to consider what we are actually putting into our mouths, even though, as Christ reminds us, it is more important to worry about what comes out in what we say. If we receive communion, and therefore the body and blood of Christ, we should make sure that everything else we consume is clean and proper as well. This means we need to read labels and educate ourselves about what we put into our bodily temple. Consuming food that is free of chemicals and is not genetically modified is not only beneficial to our health and everyday energy but is also conducive to creating the right environment within our bodies to welcome in Christ. Fasting is about spirituality but it is also a reminder to us to make sure we fuel our bodies appropriately.