01 March 2006

Original Fasting

Consider this: When Our Father commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, He was commanding them to fast. For fasting is not simply the disciplining of our flesh, but also submission to Our Lord's command. True obedience is true trust.

Yet Adam and Eve did not obey. Which means, they did not trust the Lord and submit to His Word. And that was shown in their refusal to fast. And by refusing to fast, they lost the Garden and all that He made for them.

So our first parents lost their way when they indulged their appetite and gratified their flesh. Had they only fasted from that tree as Our Lord commanded, they would not have run from Him in fear. Had they only fasted from that forbidden fruit, they would not have stood naked and ashamed before God and the world. Had they only fasted from the devilish enticement to live as they please, they would never have lived to die.

Perhaps this is why Jesus doesn't suggest we fast. He doesn't say, "Should you fast" or "If, perchance, you happen to fast" or "If you wish to fast." Instead, He says, "When you fast." And so Our Lord bids, commands and directs us to fast.

But which fast should we follow. Again, consider Adam and Eve. If their self-chosen diet led to our downfall, then it stands to reason that our self-chosen fasts will not lead us closer but further from the kingdom. And if that's the case, then perhaps this Lent we should not simply "give something up"--something that we've deemed worthy of sacrificing. Perhaps, instead, we should submit to the church's fast.

Now the church has many fasting traditions--even during Lent. And just as your doctor knows which prescription is best for you, an attentive caring priest or pastor or spiritual father should be able to prescribe a fast that is well-suited to your spiritual condition.

So here's the point--no self-chosen fasts this Lent. Rather, submit yourself to whatever fast you are given.

For you see, in the end, fasting really is simply a matter of submission and trust. And it is given by the Lord through His Church not as punishment or repayment, but so that you don't lose out the golden fruit of the Tree of Life.


Fredric Einstein said...

Where in Holy Church tradition or the teachings of the Ancient Fathers is this metaphor of the "forbidding of the Tree of Knowledge" to "fasting" brought down? It may be a lovely thought, but I was unable to find it in the Fathers. I think that you must show evidence that this is a "genuine" tradition within the Holy Catholic Church.

fr john w fenton said...

Thanks, Fred, for pushing me to find evidence for this interpretation in the fathers.

Here is one place:

"Fasting, brothers, we know is the citadel of God, the camp of Christ, the bulwark of the spirit, the standard of faith, the sign of chastity, and the trophy of sanctity. Adam preserved this in paradise, but gluttony dislogded him from paradise." (St Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 12 [on the temptation of Jesus] in The Fathers of the Church vol 109)

If Adam may eat "of every tree of paradise" (Gen 2.16) save one, then what is the gluttony St Chrysologus refers to except the eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Also, notice the contrast between gluttony--which loses paradise--and fasting--which preserves paradise.

St Gregory the Great says a similar thing:

"Our ancient enemy rose up against the first human being, our ancestor, in three temptations. He tempted him by gluttony, by vain glory and by avarice. ... He tempted him by gluttony when he showed him the forbidden food of the tree, and told him, 'Taste it.'" (Homily 14 [on the temptation of Jesus] in Forty Gospel Homilies)

St Gregory then goes on to contrast the first Adam's fall into the temptation of gluttony with the Second Adam's insistence to maintain his fast when He doesn't change stones into bread.

I'm sure there are others, but these are the first two that I located easily.

Fredric J. Einstein said...

Thanks for the sources in the ancient Fathers. Please keep updating this with more sources as you come across/remember any others. I had never heard this before.

fr john w fenton said...

Here's another patristic comment concerning the original fast:

Having then found Him in the wilderness, and in a pathless wilderness (for that the wilderness was such, Mark hath declared, saying, that He "was with the wild beasts"(3)), behold with how much craft he draws near, and wickedness; and for what sort of opportunity he watches. For not in his fast, but in his hunger he approaches Him; to instruct thee how great a good fasting is, and how it is a most powerful shield against the devil, and that after the font,men should give themselves up, not to luxury and drunkenness, and a full table, but to fasting. For, for this cause even He fasted, not as needing it Himself, but to instruct us. Thus, since our sins before the fontwere brought in by serving the belly: much as if any one who had made a sick man whole were to forbid his doing those things, from which the distemper arose; so we see here likewise that He Himself after the font brought in fasting. For indeed both Adam by the incontinence of the belly was cast out of paradise; and the flood in Noah's time, this produced; and this brought down the thunders on Sodom. For although there was also a charge of whoredom, nevertheless from this grew the root of each of those punishments; which Ezekiel also signified when he said, "But this was the iniquity of Sodom, that she waxed wanton in pride and in fullness of bread, and in abundance of luxury."Thus the Jews also per- petrated the greatest wickedness, being driven upon transgression by their drunkenness and delicacy. (St John Chrysostom, "Homily 13 on Matthew")