About 20 years ago, a parishioner asked me if her family could keep the fast on Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of Wednesdays and Fridays. When I asked why she made this request, she replied that it was easier to fast on those days. The simple response on how to fast is to just follow the rules. In doing so, fasting can be liberating and freeing. We don’t need to make up our own rules. Fasting is a sacrifice and, as such, it is not meant to be easy.
However, when I lived at Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery in Ohio for a year, I learned something fascinating about fasting. It was easy! How so? There is something about living the rhythm of the daily services, work, prayer in one’s room, and observing the fast that made a great deal of sense. The fasting got to the point that even on strict fast days, I had grown accustomed to being grateful for those meals (and I enjoyed them) just as much as the festal meals served on Sundays. Mind you, we did not eat meat at all during the year. With the work of the monastery, the daily services, and the fasting, Sunday truly became a day of rest, a festal day, and a Paschal day. We had the best meal of the week on Sundays. We even got into the habit of having pizza and a beer on Sunday evenings! Within the context of living the monastic daily cycle, fasting was not so difficult. It even taught me how to become joyful and grateful for the gifts given to me by our Lord. Some may think of rules as being confining and limiting. However in a monastic setting, I found freedom as I obeyed the rule.
Fasting becomes difficult in a world in which families and individuals face endless choices with regard to how to spend their time. Family life is not monastic life, and the home is not a monastery. Parents have jobs, and increasingly both parents work. Children go to school and study with people who most likely have different faith values and live different lifestyles. After-school activities keep parents on the run. So how does one fast in this context? Here are some points to consider.
- Follow the rules as faithfully as you can. Have children and teens pack “fasting lunches” to enjoy on fast days.
- It is important to understand that some people can observe a stricter fast than others. Those who engage in manual labor may require more sustenance than others.
- Those with health issues should follow their doctor’s orders.
- When you encounter difficulty in keeping the rules, speak with your parish priest, who can guide you as to how the fast might be adapted to your situation. Don’t adjust the rules on your own.
- Fasting is not as difficult when the family cook determines the menu. Eat what is put on the table.
I would like to write more on this next week, focusing especially on how to introduce fasting to those with no prior experience of it. The Lord’s blessing be upon you,