St John Climacus – On Fasting

“Eat, drink, and be merry”, these are the words of the rich man in the parable recorded in Luke 12:16-21, but God replies saying: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you”. So what is wrong with enjoying the good things in life, after all, the rich man worked hard to fill his barns didn’t he?

In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Saint John Climacus explains that it is not food but rather finding comfort in food or over-eating which is evil. That is gluttony, “the prince of passions”, which enters a person through the nature of foods, and whose offspring are fornication, hardness of heart, sleepiness, “laziness, talkativeness, familiarity in speech, jesting, facetiousness, contradiction, a stiff neck, obstinacy, disobedience, insensibility, captivity, conceit, audacity, boasting, after which follows impure prayer, whirling of thoughts…”. From these, he concludes, proceed “waves of filth

[and] depths of unknown and unnamed impurities”.

On the other hand, fasting is “the prevention of lust, the uprooting of bad thoughts, deliverance from dreams, purity of prayer, the light of the soul, the guarding of the mind, deliverance from blindness, the door of compunction, humble sighing, glad contrition, a lull in chatter… health of body, agent of dispassion, remission of sins, the gate of Paradise and its delight”.

As we approach the Feast of Pascha, St John notes that “the slave of his belly calculates with what dishes he will celebrate the feast, but the servant of God considers with what graces he may be enriched”. Moreover, he states that insensibility is “the friend of a full belly” and causes its subjects to be “completely stony, hard and darkened” when they stand at prayer, and to feel nothing when they see the holy altar.

Thus, the glutton not only misuses the occasion of the Feast, which is meant primarily for spiritual nourishment, he looks forward to filling his belly and ultimately ends up with spiritual malnourishment, that is, the “deadening of the soul”. The cure to this insatiable passion is to use the “stone of fasting” to quench “the involuntary burnings of the body” and the “pencil of fasting” to inscribe in us a reminder to be constant in vigil and prayer.


Source: February- March 2014 Lychnos Edition