Fasting and Hospitality

“What should one do if engaged in a voluntary fast and one ends up at a dinner party or with an unexpected guest? Stay the course or entertain with a five-course? Of course, with respect to canon law, Christians are obliged to follow the norms. So, for example, if it is a required day of abstinence, one is religiously required to avoid eating meat. But what about the weekly Christian living, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as prescribed in the Didache of the Twelve Apostles?
I had a memorable experience when I was a student. One day, I was fasting on bread and water. I had been sharing my class notes with an international student, who chose to express his gratitude that evening by bringing to class some juice for me. It was very thoughtful, and so I set the fast aside to enjoy it in his presence out of gratitude for the act of charity. But I questioned myself, ‘Should I have persisted in my fast? should I have saved the drink for later? or did I do the right thing?’ Perhaps you have found yourself in the same situation. I think this is common in the Christian experience—one sets out to fast, and some kind person in true charity and not knowing of the secret fast randomly gives sustenance through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is clearly the testing of God. I think the lesson is to help us be “detached” from the fast.

In the sayings of the desert fathers, some of which are related in Whitacre’s reader, I found a helpful story related by Abba Cassian. Here is my translation of the original Greek.
cassian and desert fathers
“Cassian and the Desert Fathers”, illum. MS., Conlationes, Paris, 1498

Abba Cassian related, “Holy Germanus and I visited with an old man (τινα γέροντα) in Egypt and he entertained us hospitably (φιλοξενήσας) and was questioned by us, “Why in the reception of foreign brothers do you not keep the canon of fasting we received in Palestine?” And he answered saying, “The fast is always with me. But I cannot always hold you with me. The fasting is a useful and even necessary thing, but it is our choice. But the law of God demands the love of neighbor from necessity. Receiving Christ in you, therefore, I need to serve with all haste. If I should send you forth, I can recover the canon of fasting. For the sons of the bridegroom cannot fast as long as the bridegroom is with them. But when the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast with authority.”

Fasting is an important choice—the γέρων (old man) says useful and necessary. But love of neighbor is beyond choice; it is a commandment. In other words, love of neighbor must always come before our fasting. Hospitality (from φιλοξενέω, i.e., to love strangers) is recognizing the presence of Christ the bridegroom in a brother. By the grace of God, I did the right thing at that time. Drink the juice, the desert fathers seem to say; resume the fast at another time.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: