Fr Alexander Schmemann: Did You Know Fasting Is Connected with the Mystery of Salvation & Damnation?

Feast of St Benedict the Righteous of Nursia

Schmemann_Square_1.jpgTHERE IS no Lent without fasting. It seems, however, that many people today either do not take fasting seriously or, if they do, misunderstand its real spiritual goals. For some people, fasting consists in a symbolic “giving up” of something; for some others, it is a scrupulous observance of dietary regulations. But in both cases, seldom is fasting referred to the total Lenten effort. Here as elsewhere, therefore, we must first try to understand the Church’s teaching about fasting and then ask ourselves: how can we apply this teaching to our life?

Fasting or abstinence from food is not exclusively a Christian practice. It existed and still exists in other religions and even outside religion, as for example in some specific therapies. Today people fast (or abstain) for all kinds of reasons, including sometimes political reasons. It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting. It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible: one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other at the beginning of the New Testament. The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us. Christ, the New Adam—and this is the second event—begins by fasting. Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation; Christ was tempted and He overcame that temptation. The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death. The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. . . . It is clear that in this perspective fasting is revealed to us as something decisive and ultimate in its importance. It is not a mere “obligation,” and custom; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.

—Fr Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

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