Desert Fathers: July 2007 Archives

On Fasting from St John Cassian


It’s easy to think of the great saints of the Church as some sort of spiritual super-heroes. However, in doing so, we risk forgetting that they struggled with many of the same problems we do today. After all, they were human, just as we are. But, as this quote from St. John Cassian shows, the thing that made them great is they approached spiritual matters with plain common sense.

I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to
gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I
shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies... A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.

Not many of us enjoy fasting, and not all can do it well; I know, I’m one of them. Yet, the discipline of fasting is not a practice that involves making huge sacrifices once or twice a year, say at Lent or during Advent. St. John is telling us that is not the case. What he does say is that we should do what we can do. More importantly, though, he says we should do it always. He is really saying we should exercise the virtue of prudence, even when we fast. His advice is simply to avoid over eating.

I think this is advice that can be applied across the board; remember the old saying about “too much of a good thing. . . .” Too much food, too much drink, too much fasting, in fact, too much of anything, is the problem the saint tries to avoid. Just exercise common sense in all things; becoming a saint does not meaning doing great things that no one else can do; I think St. John would say it means doing the little things well.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Desert Fathers category from July 2007.

Desert Fathers: October 2008 is the next archive.

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