FASTING: The Weak & the West

The following two snippets, the words of Mother Mary and Metropolitan (then Archimandrite) Kallistos Ware, come from Fr Josiah Trenham’s site, The Arena.

The Meaning of the Great Fast: How the West Changed the Fast

“The second tendency [viewing the fasting rules as outdated] is doubtless the more prevalent in our own day, especially in the West. Until the fourteenth century, most Western Christians, in common with their brethren in the Orthodox East, abstained during Lent not only from meat but from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese. In East and West alike, the Lenten fast involved a severe physical effort. But in Western Christendom over the past five hundred year, the physical requirements of fasting have been steadily reduced, until by now they are little more than symbolic. How many, one wonders, of those who eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday are aware of the original reason for this custom- to use up any remaining eggs and butter before the Lenten fast begins? Exposed as it is to Western secularism, the Orthodox world in our own time is also beginning to follow the same path of laxity.”

The Meaning of the Great Fast: Firm Resolve and the Reasons for Contemporary Man’s Weak Fasting

“One reason for this decline in fasting is surely a heretical attitude towards human nature, a false ‘spiritualism’ which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life…Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer possible today…it needs to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and always involved hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once St. Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this he replied: ‘Only one thing is lacking- a firm resolve.’”

Fr Josiah notes: In coming issues of the ARENA you will excerpts like this above from the classic article written by Mother Mary and Metropolitan (then Archimandrite) Kallistos Ware introducing The Lenten Triodion published originally in 1978 by Faber and Faber Limited, reprinted by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press in 1994.

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