FASTING IS GREAT – LOVE IS EVEN GREATER
Fasting is a great thing, but love is greater. If it is by fasting that demons are driven out, passions tamed, the body calmed, and the spirit steadied, it is by love that God makes His abode with men. The Lord himself emphasized fasting as necessary, but proclaimed love as the greatest commandment.
In the first half of the last century, Jeladin Bey ruled over Ochrid. He was a rebel against the Sultan and an independent governor. At that time the Church was governed by Metropolitan Kalinik. Jeledin was a Moslem and Kalinik an Orthodox Christian, but although they belonged to different religions they were good friends and often visited each other. It happened that Jeledin Bey had condemned twenty-five Christians to death by hanging, and the execution was scheduled during the Great Fast on Holy Friday. The Metropolitan, deeply distressed by this event, went to Jeladin and besought him to mitigate the sentence.
While they were talking, the hour of the mid-day meal arrived, and the Bey invited the Metropolitan to eat with him. A dish of lamb had been prepared for the meal. The Metropolitan excused himself, as the fast prevented him from remaining to eat and he prepared to leave. The Bey was angered and said to him: “Choose; either you eat with me and free twenty-five people from hanging, or you refrain and they hang. The Metropolitan crossed himself and sat down to lunch, and Jeladin freed the Christians from the death sentence.
( From the Prologue Vol. 1 p 104).
This beautiful account reminds us of the superiority of love over fasting. Fasting is a necessary way of life in Orthodoxy where we habitually fast or feast in different days and seasons. And if we receive Holy Communion we would do well when we keep the ordained fasts. Fasting also promotes better eating habits, self control and obedience. To save lives of men condemned to death by eating instead of fasting is better choice.
Orthodox Christians fast at various times:
1. From meat, dairy, oil, and wine.
2. From meat and dairy only, using oil and wine.
3. From meat only using dairy, oil and wine.
Fasting has always been practiced by God’s people in both the old and new Covenants. Here are two examples from Holy Scripture.
“But I, when they troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 35:13).
“Anna was a widow of about 84 years, who departed not from the temple but served God with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37).
Fasting is necessary and great, but love is far greater.