Wednesday of Cheesefare: Beware the Fruitless Fast
In vain do you rejoice in not eating, my soul! You abstain from food, but are not purified form passions! If you have no desire for improvement, you will be despised as a lie in the eyes of God! You will be compared to evil demons, who never eat! If you continue in sin, you will perform a useless fast: Therefore, remain in constant warfare, that you may stand before the crucified savior, or rather that you may be crucified with him who died for your sake: Remember me, Lord when you come in Your Kingdom.
~Apostika from Matins
In a world of nutrition, vegan, gluten-free, organic, non-GMO… the list goes on and on, it is exceptionally easy for Lent to become an obsession with food, rather than freedom from it. We live in a society of too many choices, and many of us spend hours scoring over vegan recipes to create fake pancakes, ice cream, pudding, chicken stir fry and whatever the heart desires. The list goes on and on. If not this, we spend time meticulously reading entire food labels and discarding the thing if the dreaded words “milk” or “animal fat” are included. Did you know Snyder’s pretzels are made with milk? Did you also know that Oreo’s were once non-fasting? I remember the celebration at winter camp when they changed the recipe and became “legal lenten food” I am sure this behavior is not what the church fathers had in mind when the fasting rules were set in place.
The church reminds us with 5 days left before the fast begins, that our fasting means nothing if not paired with fasting from sin. In fact, we are warned that we will be compared to the “demons, which never eat” if fasting is our only focus. Fasting becomes detrimental to us if it is not paired with a true spiritual renewal and change.
St Ephraim the Syrian, who wrote particularly extensively about virginity shared a similar sentiment in his letter to Publius,
…I saw no one there who was able to give any relief to his companion or to moisten his tongue in that burning fire. For that deep chasm, which keeps the good separate from the wicket, did not allow them to give any relief to those others.
I saw there pure virgins, whose virginity, because it was not adorned with the precious ointment of desirable deeds, was rejected. They impored their fellow virgins to give them some assistance, but they received no mercy and they asked that they might be given the opportunity to go and purchase for themselves some deeds, but this was not permitted them because the end, their departure from this life, was coming quickly. I drew near to the gate of the kingdom of heaven and I saw there those who did not bear the title “virgin” who were crowned with victorious deeds, for their virtues filled the place of virginity. For just as those who had been espoused to Him only in their bodies had been rejected because they were naked of any garment of good deeds, so too those who had espoused their bodies in a chaste marriage while their spirit was bound to the love of their Lord were chosen, and they word their love for Him like a robe with their desire for Him stretched all over their limbs.
And when I saw those there, I said to myself, “No one from henceforth should rely solely on the chaste name of virginity when it is lacking those deeds that are the oil for the lamps.
Do you see how the church and the fathers warn us of the danger of clinging to one maner of life only for the sake of declaring it! A woman is not truly a mother because she gives birth to a child, she earns her title of mother when she cares for and nurtures that child so the child can live and grow and become a healthy person. We are not Orthodox because we maintain a vegan diet, we are not holy because we follow the rules, we are not prepared for Pascha because we play the part. We are only sanctified through the marriage of prayer, fasting, and holy works. True forgiveness, complete humility and detachment to the material things of this world must all work together through the grace of God as we prepare ourselves for Great and Holy Pascha.