|h/t to Steven Robinson (Pithless Thoughts)|
In the second and third centuries, there was only ever a 2-day fast. It was a fast of complete abstinence - no food or drink whatsoever. In the third century, this was extended to a six-day fast for Holy Week. By the fourth century, however, documents such as the Pilgrimage of Etheria (or Egeria) show that a forty-day fast had been well-established by then. By now, it was a fast not of abstinence, but more of a limited diet.
So, what I call fast, you call diet. But it is important to understand that fasting is not just a matter of diet - it is diet partnered with prayer and almsgiving. In Greek, 'almsgiving' is known as eleimosini - which means acts of mercy. Fasting is a grouping of three. And, as we heard in the hymn last night: "true fasting is to put away evil". Be careful - it is very easy to think of fasting in terms of diet only, and even easier to let this diet control Lent. But it gets a bit ridiculous when our fasting food reaches gourmet status. If we are spending more time preparing fasting food than we would on normal food, we are doing something wrong. Whatever we eat, the most important thing is to thank God for it.
The Church knows that we're only human, and that it is difficult for us to jump straight away into this full-on kind of fasting. Therefore, it prepares us for the start of Lent by gradually easing us into both different eating patterns, and emphasising the spiritual requirements of Lent. In particular, there is a huge emphasis on repentance, forgiveness and not judging. Think of the Gospel readings we have heard over the last few weeks:
The tax collector and the Pharisee: think of how the Pharisee judged the tax collector. The Prodigal Son: not only a lesson in repentance, but also judgement - look at how the elder son judges the younger son, and suffers jealousy through his actions. Jesus separating the goats and the sheep: the lesson here is that Jesus is the only one who can judge people. The Epistle reading of St Paul: "let him who eats not judge he who does not eat ..."
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May we all have a blessed Lent.