Eating With Thanksgiving 


If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. (1 Corinthians 10:27)


Sometimes parishioners, especially converts, would ask about how to handle visiting non-Orthodox relatives or friends during fasting periods. Should they inform their family/friends that they are fasting from certain foods and tell them they would only visit if fasting foods were on the menu? While that is a possibility, one could take into account the words of St Paul above – if you accept a meal invitation from someone, eat whatever they serve without comment to the host, and with thanksgiving to God. This is following love and accepting hospitality with thanksgiving. It fits into other comments St Paul makes such as when he criticizes some whose pious behaviors …

enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4: 3-5)


If you accept an invitation to a meal, accept with thanksgiving whatever foods are graciously given you. This is pleasing to God. Besides, Christ taught us that our fasting is to be done in secret:

 And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)


In this same spirit here are a couple of stories from the desert fathers which enjoin a gracious etiquette regarding food and eating with others. These stories come from monks committed to a life of fasting and asceticism, but who understand that Christ our God’s commands to love others supersedes any monastic fasting rules (which are just manmade rules):

One story tells how during a period of fasting at Scetis some visitors came to see Abba Moses and he cooked some food for them. Seeing the smoke rising from his cell, some of the brothers said to the ministers, ‘Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.’ The ministers agreed that when Moses came to join them for the Sunday synaxis they would speak to him about what he had done. However, when the time came, the ministers, who knew of Abba Moses’ ‘magnificent way of life,’ chose not to condemn him for what he had done, but to praise him instead. They declared, ‘O Abba Moses, you broke the commandment of men, and kept the commandment of God.’  . . .


We see a similar motivation at work in two other stories. In the first, two brothers came to see an old man whose custom it was ‘not to eat everyday.’ When [the elder] saw the brothers, ‘he rejoiced and said, “Fasting brings its reward, but he who eats again through charity, fulfills two commandments, for he gives up his own will and he fulfills the commandment.” And he refreshed the brothers.’ We see here another example of the monk’s willingness to suspend mere customs –whether personal or local—in any situation which called for an expression of generosity or love. ‘Eating again through charity,’ while clearly compromising the elder’s strict ascetical regime, became a means of fulfilling the commandment.


Another story tells of a brother who went to see an anchorite, apparently causing the old man to break his fast in order to tend to the needs of the brother. As he was leaving the brother asked forgiveness from the old man ‘for having taken you away from your rule.’ But the anchorite showed himself to be utterly unconcerned with this perceived breach of his ascetical regime and told the brother, ‘My role is to refresh you and send you away in peace.’  (Douglas Burton-Christie, THE WORD IN THE DESERT, p 288)

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