A Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba John the Short

“Abba John the Short, advising the young brothers to love fasting, told them frequently: “The good soldier, undertaking to capture a strongly fortified, enemy city, blockades food and water. In this way the resistance of the enemy is weakened and he finally surrenders. Something similar happens with carnal impulses, which severely war against a person in his youth. Blessed fasting subdues the passions and the demons and ultimately removes them far from the combatant.”

“And the powerful lion,” he told them another time, “frequently falls into a snare because of his gluttony, and all of his strength and might disappear.”

Let me be the first to admit, I don’t know much about fasting. When I was a student at a Roman Catholic elementary school, the nuns taught us to fast from meat on Fridays, to fast from meat in Lent, to give up something for Lent which we could resume as soon as Lent ended which made no sense ot me because if it was worth giving up for Lent, then surely it was better to do without the rest fo the time?

Then in my days with the evangelicals, we fasted to make God do our will, or so it seemed to me, and how messed up is that premise? We manipulate God? No, and again no.

In the decades I have been Episcopalian, I’ve never heard a single sermon about the value of fasting. Now that I am diabetic, I am not allowed to fast.

St. John Chrysostom has probably the best explanation that makes sense to me. We fast because doing without something makes us concentrate more on God. He uses a few more words than that. What interests me the most is that he says fasting should change our behavior. I’ll quote that bit for you and then link to the article.

St. John Chrysostom says:

If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!

If thou seest in enemy, be reconciled to him!

If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!

If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.

Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.

Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.





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