Recently, quite a few news outlets reported on a scientific study done to test the effects of fasting on our immune system. The discoveries were presented in a paper that suggested that fasting reboots the immune system and encourages the creation of stem cells.
Isn’t it fascinating when science catches up with timeless wisdom?
If one were to take the fasting disciplines of the Orthodox Christian faith seriously, a purposeful follower of this wisdom would have a diet devoid of meat and dairy products for about half the year. The combination of the rhythm of dietary wisdom and focused food choices are meant to form a certain character within us.
And yet, all too often we Orthodox Christians leave this vital and spiritually rewarding tool in our huge tool chest of spiritual remedies for our soul.
I suspect because we suffer from a dual challenge: We don’t yet understand “what” is the root of our deepest hunger AND “why” fasting is such a valuable source for satisfying that hunger. But that makes perfect sense. The scripture wisely reveals “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6. It turns out what you don’t know (or actually refuse to know) CAN hurt you.
In our Gospel Lesson today we hear deep wisdom from our Lord Jesus concerning just how to properly priorities our lives for maximum joy and absolute preparation for our eternity with Him.
The Lord declares “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 6:31-34; 7:9-11
It turns out my learning how to say “no” to improper priorities is the absolute key to my being able to say “yes” to proper priorities. In fact, it is seeking “FIRST” the kingdom of God that allows all the other priorities in my life to come to proper focus and sufficient attention.
Fasting helps me reorient my priorities away from my immediate desires; which can be so unhealthy for me and those around me if they are not properly disciplined; and toward my truest and deepest desire and need – my relationship with God. Because that relationship is absolutely vital for all my other relationships with people, my career, my possessions, and even my own desires. My prioritized relationship with God, the disciplines that strengthen this relationship, the pattern of life that feeds this relationship, all serve to clarify my choices and my behaviors. I say “no” to foods and choices so I can learn to say “yes” to my truest “food” and my deepest hunger. Intoxicating myself with lesser “foods” only ruins my “appetite” for the spiritual nutrients my soul desperately needs.
This fasting, this willful and voluntary embrace of discipline as the path to authentic freedom seems paradoxical. But only if you forget that true freedom is only experienced in the doing of the good, never in merely acquiescing to my desires.
Today we will begin the Apostles’ Fast in anticipation of the Feast of the Apostles, let us have the courage to embrace seeking God’s Kingdom above all our other desires and passions. Let us learn the wisdom of strengthening our ability to say “yes” to eternal things by exercising our saying “no” to temporary desires. Learning how to feed our truest hunger is the key to lifelong joy and peace! So, why is fasting so hard for you? Don’t you want to be Orthodox on Purpose?
Father Barnabas, I look forward to your message daily. You are s blessing to my soul! We met you at the festival. It was only a brief conversation. My wife Maggie (Magdalene) and I enjoyed your explanation of many aspects of the Greek church you explained to a small group of us in the church. We are Roman Catholic, I was raised Lutheran, Maggie a craddle Catholic born in Hungry. We are good, longtime (32 yrs) friends of Russ and Stephanie Crosio. Keep up the good work Father.
Thank you and God Bless and keep you.
But the study shows that the health benefits comes from abstaining from food completely for a period of time, while fasting in the Orthodox church means not eating meat and dairy, so why even compare the two? You will not get the benefits you mentioned (reboot of immune system) by eating 3 vegan meals a day.
The discipline of Fasting is not primarily about physical health but spiritual health. If you are fasting for some physical health reason, that’s fine. But the spiritual discipline of fasting is about a focus on my spiritual relationship with God and others. Besides, the wisdom of fasting also includes complete abstinence from food on certain days, especially during Holy Week. And there is wisdom about reducing the amount of food one eats as well. So, our Faith is comprehensive enough to take in all the discovered wisdom of all human knowledge.