Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Nativity Fast

Our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters are preparing for the celebration of the Nativity by entering into the Nativity Fast.

This means giving up meat, meat products, dairy products on all days (On Wed. & Fri. fish, and olive oil are also prohibited.)

[This is more or less the same discipline practiced during Lent.] A Melkite friend of mine wrote this:
The East's approach to fasting, as I assume you know, is that of a maximalist perspective, as opposed to the West's minimalist approach. The maximum is always what the monks do, and an Eastern Catholic is supposed to take what they do, and apply it to their life as they're able to, according to their way of life. And, I always add: and do a little more, too, so you actually suffer. Regarding the non-Lenten fasts, it is not supposed to be as severe as Lent.
Some beautiful thoughts from St. John Chrysostom, on fasting.
I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too.

For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. "For the wrestler," it is said, "is not crowned unless he strive lawfully."

To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards when down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting.

The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it. ...

Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!

Is it said by what kind of works?

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

If thou seest an 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 ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

2 comments:

Troy said...

Why are we Catholics Minimalist? Is it a Western vs. Eastern Philosophy?

Gashwin said...

I'm not sure that was a formal philosophical statement on the part of my friend -- perhaps an articulation of the different emphases of Western versus Eastern spiritualities, particularly in recent times.

Of course, in all realms -- symbolism, liturgy, ascesis, etc. -- the Western (i.e. Roman) Church has moved in recent decades (in the aftermath, if you will, of the Second Vatican Council) to a "minimalist" approach -- minimizing gesture and form, and distinctiveness. Whether this was intended or not, I'm not the best judge. However, I'm not sure it was the best move ... and the relaxation of the fasting disciplines would fall in that category.