Last time, I wrote about how fasting helped us to remember God and what the positive consequences were of fasting when done for the right reasons. Now, I want to address some practical matters related to fasting and put closure on this so I can move on to other preparation topics. There are three issues I will address. 1) Some practical considerations on how to fast. 2) The role of the parish priest in helping people to figure out how to fast. 3) What if someone doesn't fast? Does that mean they should not approach the cup?

How should we fast? Some may look at the rules of the dietary fast and view them legalistically. They might apply them uniformly thinking in terms of what is fair and equal. The rules are no meat and dairy products, so therefore they should be applied to all equally. From what little I have read about fasting I don't believe our Tradition takes this view of fasting. St. Basil the Great makes the point in his teaching to monks that some monks because of the nature of the work they do, require more food and nourishment than other monks who do less physical labor and can fast more strictly. So the rules are applied to some more strictly and to others more leniently. If I am 70 pounds overweight and need to start exercising. I am not going to start by doing 100 sit-ups and run three miles a day. I am going to start by doing 10 sit-ups a day and maybe run a quarter of a mile. I will then gradually build up to higher level of exercise as my body is ready to handle more. If someone doesn't have a history of keeping a fast, I wouldn't expect that person to keep a strict fast even if they had no health problems. I might start by telling them not to eat meat on Friday (when it comes to the Wednesday/Friday fast) and then within two to three months, have him build up to keeping a stricter fast on both Wednesday and Friday. Then there are people who have health problems that require taking food with medication, or require consistent habits of eating to help regulate such things as diabetic conditions. The rules would and should be relaxed in such situations. But eating a piece of toast and drinking juice Sunday morning with medication for health issues is more in the spirit of keeping the fast than pigging out on sausage and eggs Sunday morning supposedly in the name of health issues. One has to do with a health need, the other has to do with feeding a passion and lust for food!

There is also the consideration of this modern age that fasting rules don't address. With the advent of I-Pods, cell phones, laptop PC's, sophisticated video games, and the like, we need to think about fasting from these things as well. We have become a culture that very much needs to be entertained throughout the week. If a kid has grown up on a steady unchecked diet of video games that give instant gratification, it would be no surprise to me that standing quietly in an Orthodox Liturgy for even 10 minutes would be hard for that kid! Our fasting to remember our Lord needs to involve periods where the secular icons of the TV, the I-POD, and the video game are shut off or used for spiritual purposes on fasting days. If you have shut off the secular icon, say some prayers before the icons of the saints you have hung up in your home!

There are other considerations. What if my spouse is not an Orthodox Christian? What if both parents work during the day; how does that affect fasting? How do I know if I am doing too much, too little etc? This brings up the second theme to address; TALK WITH YOUR PRIEST! This is especially important to do during the longer 40 days fasts before Christmas and Easter which may be harder to keep for some. The reason it is important to seek out the priest is that he is there to help you to stay within the spirit of the fast and to encourage your spiritual growth through fasting. Fasting is a communal event in the church (even though we are to fast in a private manner, as stated in Matthew 6:14-21). We are not to make up our own rules about how to fast. If you are not able to keep the full fasting rules due to certain circumstances, make a point of speaking to the priest. He can help you to take the fasting rules of our church and to properly apply them to the situation(s) you may be dealing with. The fasting rules are not to be understood as laws to be uniformly legislated "with equality and justice for all!" Because of this, when I fast, I am not to be concerned about how someone else fasts. I am to take note of how I fast. Don't look for uniformity in the parish. Some will fast more strictly and others more leniently, and that is how it should be. Don't draw any conclusions or make any assumptions involving the words "better than" or "worse than". Don't compare yourself to others. To do so, runs the risk of becoming arrogant like the Pharisee in the gospel story of the Pharisee and the Publican in Matthew.

How is fasting then related to whether we should, or should not approach the Eucharist? Are there any situations where a failure to fast and remember our Lord would mean we are approaching the Communion Chalice wrongly and thus we should not partake? People need to examine their consciences here. We are on the trust and honor system in our church. Priests don't have fasting alarm detectors they can turn on in your homes to determine if the foods you have been serving have butter or eggs in them! If you are doing the best you can to fast and are learning from your fasting that you really can't live the Christian life without God's help; are coming to a real experiential knowledge of this; and if you are learning to pray like the Publican, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!", then the fasting has done its job. Come to the cup as "the chief among sinners" and receive the body and blood of our Lord partaking "to the healing of soul and body." On the other hand, our Lord said in Matthew Chapter 6, not "if" you fast, but "when" you fast. From this it is clear that we cannot ignore fasting as a spiritual discipline in our church. It is a command that comes from our Lord Himself. If we willfully disregard the mandate of our Lord in the gospel, and those teachings that have been given us by His Apostles through Holy Tradition about fasting, perhaps it would be wise not to approach the cup. Once again an outright refusal to fast is not about food, it is about failing to remember our Lord's life saving Passion on the Cross. When our bellies are full we tend to loosen our belts and fall asleep. When we refuse to fast and let our passion for created things enslave us, we tend to forget our Lord, and thus approach His Eucharistic cup ungratefully and without proper preparation.

Since we come to the Eucharistic cup as "chief among sinners" this brings us to the reality of being mindful of our sins. What does that mean? We have as one of our sacraments in the Church, something called Confession. How does going to the sacrament of Confession help us to remember God? For the next three months I will be addressing the theme of repentance and how the sacraments of Baptism and Confession relate to repentance and to the practice of receiving Holy Communion in our church. Take care, and God bless you, Fr. Paul

Last time, I wrote about how fasting helped us to remember God and what the positive consequences were of fasting when done for the right reasons. Now, I want to address some practical matters related to fasting and put closure on this so I can move on to other preparation topics. There are three issues I will address. 1) Some practical considerations on how to fast. 2) The role of the parish priest in helping people to figure out how to fast. 3) What if someone doesn't fast? Does that mean they should not approach the cup?