St Basil the Great: Do You Revere the Antiquity of Fasting?

Feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastia

Basil_Square_5.jpegDO YOU THINK that I posit the antiquity of fasting on the basis of the law? Indeed, fasting is older than the law. If you were to stay a bit longer, you will discover the truth of my statement. Do not suppose that the Day of Atonement (which for Israel was assigned to the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month — cf. Lv. 25.9) was the beginning of fasting. Come then, let us go through the historical narrative and investigate the antiquity of fasting. For it is not a recent discovery; it is the treasure stored up by our ancestors. Everything that can be traced back to ancient times is venerable. Revere the antiquity of fasting!

Fasting is as old as humanity: it was legislated in paradise. It was the first command that Adam received: “You shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gn. 2.17). “You shall not eat” legislates fasting and self-control. If Eve had fasted from the tree, we would not need this fasting now. “For those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mt. 9.12). We have been injured by sin; let us be healed by repentance. But repentance is futile without fasting. “Cursed is the ground; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you” (Gn. 3.17-18). You have been ordered to be sorrowful, not to indulge yourself. Make satisfaction to God through fasting. Now the manner of life in paradise is an image of fasting, not only insofar as man, sharing the life of the angels, achieved likeness to them by being content with little, but also because those who lived in paradise had still not dreamt up what humans later discovered through their inventiveness: there was still no drinking of wine, still no animal sacrifices, not to mention whatever else beclouds the human mind.

—St Basil the Great, First Homily on Fasting

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