Tuesday, September 19 (6), 2023
Gal. 5:11-21; Mk. 7:5-16
"There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man" [Mk.7:15]. Opponents of fasting often quote this passage as well as related ones, for instance, "meat comendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse" [1Cor. 8:8]: they imagine this to be an excuse for their failure to keep fast according to the canons and customs of the Church.
That such an excuse is totally worthless is obvious for every loyal Orthodox believer. Fasting has nothing to do with defilement; when we fast, we refrain from certain food, keeping in check the flow of nutrients into our body, in order to succeed in the inner struggle. To have the right understanding of fasting is extremely important: those who call any kind of food "unclean" or "defiling" are renounced as heretics.
Though fast is a proven weapon to fight sinful impulses and craving of the flesh, foes of fasting would insist that it is not imperative. But this argument can be overturned just as easily. If fighting our sins is imperative, so is the necessary means of winning this fight, – namely, fasting: that's exactly what our conscience tells us. Various reasons are put forward to quell it: "I will compensate my neglect of fasting by other means", or "I will be fasting at some other time, not necessarily when it is appointed by the Church", or "Fasting is dangerous for my health". However, the first reason is pointless: no one has ever been able to defeat his flesh, to win a victory in the inner struggle, without fasting. Likewise invalid is the second reason, for the Church is one body, and separating from others is contrary to her constitution. Staying apart from other members of the Church means placing oneself outside of her fold: no one who wants to stay within may fancy or demand such separation. Finally, the third reason has a scintilla of truth in it, – for anyone can be excused from fasting on medical grounds, since fast is established to destroy not our body but rather our sinful passions, – but those who are truly sick are in fact so few that they can be hardly called a factor in the argument against fasting.
What remains is one single reason: free choice out of personal preference. Those who don't fast simply follow their whim. And there is no way to argue against it. Certainly no one will enter the Heavenly Kingdom against his free will. But take notice: failure to make choice for the Heavens amounts to making the opposite choice. In fact, that's what the Last Judgement and Hell are all about.