Moderation in All Things

Orthodox Christians sometimes are known for the zeal in asceticism.  Some vigilantly keep the fasts of the Church and feel superior to those who don’t keep lent zealously.

St. Paul  tells us there are some things we should be doing always, constantly and in all circumstances:

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks are to be part of lenten efforts daily, 24/7, at every moment.   Zeal in asceticism, can be unenlightened (Romans 10:2).  St. Paul knew the danger of zeal: he repented of his own zeal which led him to persecute the Church (Philippians 3:6).  He does however advocate zeal in giving aid to others.  And, as noted above, he did feel there were a few things worthy of our constant engagement as Christians.   Ascetic effort is to be combined with and should consist of rejoicing, praying and offering thanksgiving.

What is to be remembered is that fasting as such is not the goal of the Christian life but a tool to help each of us develop an inner discipline.  Fasting is not a tool for us to hammer away at others!  Fasting is to help us on the road to the Kingdom, to help us practice self-denial so that we can love others.  The right practice of fasting requires wisdom.

“Moderation or ‘self-mastery’ is a bridle for desire, just as meek love heals anger from unnatural impulses. However, both are authentic only when they are present together in the soul. Abstention, asceticism without love, is not virtue but vice. The demons, of course, need neither sleep nor food and such things. …    As Evagrius says:

‘Better a meek, worldly man

than an angry, raving monk;

Better a sweet-tempered wife

than a raving, angry virgin.'”

(Gabriel Bunge, Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread, p 135)