This and similar passages – for example, But meat commendeth us not unto God (I Cor. 8:8) – are usually cited by those who do not like to fast, supposing that they thereby sufficiently justify the fact that they do not fast according to the rule and custom of the Church.
Everyone who is faithful to the Church knows how invalid this excuse is. Fasting decrees that we abstain from some foods not because they are defiled, but because we can more conveniently refine our flesh by this abstinence – something crucial for inner progress. This meaning of the law of fasting is so essential that those who consider some foods to be defiled are numbered among the heretics.
For those who are not well-disposed to fasting it is better not to insist on this point, but on the point that fasting is not obligatory, although it is definitely the means for overcoming sinful urges and the strivings of the flesh. There is no way that they can resist on this point.
If inner progress is obligatory, then the means by which it is obtained is also obligatory, namely, fasting. Each person’s conscience says this to him.
In order to soothe their conscience, they assert: I’ll compensate for my omission of fasting in another way; or, fasting is harmful for me; or, I’ll fast when I want to, but not during the established fasts.
However, the first excuse is inappropriate because no one has yet managed to cope with his flesh or to order his inner life properly without fasting.
The last excuse is also inappropriate, because the Church is one body, and to separate oneself from others within it means opposing its good order. One can remove oneself from the general customs of the Church only by leaving it; but, while someone is a member of it, he cannot say this or demand that.
The second excuse has a shade of validity. Indeed, among the limitations of fasting, the obligation is lifted from those upon whom fasting acts destructively, because the fast was established not to kill the body, but to mortify the passions.
But if one were to conscientiously count the true number of such people, it would be seen that they are so few that they do not even count.
Only one real reason remains – lack of desire. There is no point in arguing with this. You will not be brought to Paradise against your will.
FROM: St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year According to the Daily Church Readings from the Word of God (Moscow/Platina, CA: Sretensky Monastery/St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010), pp. 196-197.
Thanks to FWD from Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna; Image Source