16 January 2008

Fastenzeit kommt!

We call it Lent in English. Good to remember, though, what it is called in our old service books (and still in the service books of Germany today): Fastenzeit, that is, Fasting Time.

And fasting is not first and foremost about avoiding mechanically a certain kind of food while stuffing yourself with other tasty treats. Recall the words of Martin Chemnitz about such fasting:

"A well-filled or richly treated belly, whether it is done with fish or vegetables, certainly is not fasting." (Examen IV:275)

He reminds us that fasting can be like this:

"When we do not abstain altogether from lunch or from dinner, but remove something when we lunch or dine, either in the quantity or the quality of the food, or do not take as much or also as rich as could be done even while maintaining temperance." (IV:259)

There is also, of course, abstaining totally from lunch or dinner:

"It is that that is most properly called fasting." (IV:260)

Anyway you slice it, real fast simply involves hunger. It involves not stuffing one's self and so letting the hunger of the body discipline us. For we are sad creatures who are used to filling our bellies with the first grumble. Or even worse, I think of mother's motto (truly the very opposite of fasting!): "You don't eat because you're hungry; you eat to keep from getting hungry!" She meant it humorously (I think!), but of course that's the pathway to gluttony and indulgence. Rather, the fast, the hunger, helps us train the body and keep it under subjection. For there is a hunger greater than the hunger of the body, and that is the thirst and hunger of the soul for God. And while food and drink can mask that inner hunger and help you to ignore it, there is nothing like the fast itself, going hungry, to unmask the inner hunger and remind us that in the end there is nothing that satisfies the ache of the human being, but God alone. "One thing have I desire of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple." Psalm 27

One way that the Church has guided her children in fasting is to suggest that the days of Lent, during Fastenzeit, food be significantly pared down. Nothing for breakfast, a regular but plain meal for lunch, and a very light meal at supper. Each Lent I am always amazed at how little it takes to keep the body going, how it is possible by God's grace to go hungry and NOT obey the stomach's dictates and orders, and how freeing it is to have more time for prayer and Scripture and acts of love. This is possible when food is intentionally and joyfully set "on the back burner" of one's life.

Fastenzeit kommt! Now is the time to begin planning on how you will observe it yourself and to discuss the implications of observing it for your home life.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In the Pennsylvania Dutch areas of Pennsylvania, it is a tradition to eat fastnachts on Shrove Tuesday.

William Weedon said...

If Dixie (Rose) is checking in on this, I'd really appreciate it if she shared how the eastern fast was modified to suit her eating Atkins.

Dixie said...

For me, the Eastern Fast on Atkins presents a challenge mostly in area of variety. I have permission from my priest to eat Atkins protein bars which I usually eat for breakfast. (The protein source in the bars is from milk, which is why I asked my priest if it was OK.) Other foods that I rely on are vegetables, the berry fruits, salads (I make a mean buffalo shrimp salad), lower carb nuts, hummus, peanut butter, avocado and on Fridays after Salutations, Chinese take-out (shrimp and/or scallops, no rice). Obviously induction isn't an option during lenten fasts but carbs can still be controlled. I will say that this kind of lenten diet sure nips that "love of food" thing I have going on. Toward the end of lent I find myself eating just to cut the gnawing feeling in my belly. What it is that I eat doesn't matter any more. Of course, with the subsequent feasting all that changes and I love food again...

Dixie said...

Oh, I forgot the most important thing...I love a good cup of coffee but I also like cream in my coffee. During lent I use soy creamer. It's not so terrible.

William Weedon said...


Cindi says: "Do tell about the buffalo shrimp salad." Can you email it to me or post it here?

Fr John W Fenton said...

If I may, two unrelated comments:

1. Somewhere along the way, fasting became a form of individual piety rather than communal piety. The biblical and historical records indicate that fasting is a communal act, not up to one's own piety, choosing, discretion, etc. (I don't say that to discourage fasting by individuals in contexts where the ecclesial community does not fast, but simply to lament a significant change in emphasis.)

2. When in a Byzantine church, follow the Byzantine fast. When in a Western church, follow the Western fast--which, btw, is markedly easier for the Atkins-restricted folks.


William Weedon said...

Fr. John,

The corporate nature of fasting is still observed in the sense that we announce and enter a time for fasting, but the nature of how each person fasts is, of necessity, going to be differ somewhat. I've always appreciated the words of Blessed John Cassian that the father's had but one universal rule for fasting: stop eating before you're full!

About the Byzantine vs. Western fast, indeed. The Western fast is infinitely easier for the Atkins folks. But I remembered that last year Dixie had mentioned that her priest adjusted the fast to fit a low-carb life-style and was curious to see some specifics on that.

Fr. Curtis and I were speaking a few weeks back that observing the letter of the fast, allows you to eat lobster and call it fasting. Perhaps in this day and age, the fast is more truly kept by the person who eats a small hamburger! That's why I appreciated Chemnitz' words - the focus on moderation, simplicity, and hunger are at the heart rather than merely focusing on categories of food.

William Weedon said...

fathers - grr!!!!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am actually going to forego any type of fast this year for a simple reason. I am not over my mono, and Advent did a toil on me (I've regressed in terms of energy to the beginning of November). Thus, in terms of bodily discipline, the normal activities of Lent will suffice for the discipline of my flesh.

Maria said...

"Nothing for breakfast, a regular but plain meal for lunch, and a very light meal at supper."

So what's one to do when that is one's regular fare? :-P (Yes, Maria is a college student with rather unpredictable eating habits...)

Fr John W Fenton said...

Pr Weedon,

It's the "in the sense" that I was lamenting.

But I'm sure you knew that.

Christine said...

Ah, recalling the wonderful "Faschingskrapfen" (or Paczki in my husband's Polish neck of the woods) made by my Lutheran and Catholic grandmothers -- there was never so tasty a treat preceding the Lenten fast in all the world.

Since my mom is no longer able to make them and I'm just too durn lazy I'll beat feat to my local grocery which offers a very decent variation thereof.

Now, as for fasting -- gets very difficult for one on a more or less vegetarian lifestyle.

BUT ... there's sure a whole lot of other things I can fast from -- a overly quick tongue, attachment to material stuff, bawdy television programs that have no place in my home, trying a little harder to see Christ in the coworker or family member that drives me crazy -- the list is endless.

mlorfeld said...

In my preparations for this week's sermon (Matthew 4:1ff), this has been helpful.

The Chemnitz quote especially brings out the distinction of the meritous idolatry of those false fasts and the true nature of fasting as our very confession says:
Thus fasting in itself is not rejected, but what is rejected is making a necessary service of fasts on prescribed days and with specified foods, for this confuses consciences. (AC XXVI.39 - Tappert)

Thus I can't help but also see such talk of fasting being "not up to one's own piety, choosing, discretion" as nothing more than a Satanic binding of consciences.