Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fasting and the Ego

An excerpt from Orthodox Spirituality by the great Romanian theologian, Fr Dumitru Stăniloae:
Fasting foods also have the purpose of weakening the uncontrolled power of appetite, which makes man a slave, which takes away from him the ability of seeing anything else in what he eats except material to be consumed. By weakening the appetite, eating becomes an act of reflecting and thinking about God. Reason in no longer the servant of appetite, but regains the role of leadership. A spiritual light descends on the act of eating; it is no longer an irrational act, shrouded in darkness. But fasting also means an act for the glorification of God, because it is an act to restrain our egoism, inflated by spiritual and fleshy appetites, to such an extent that there isn't room for anybody else, not even for God, creating for us the illusion that only my person exists and that everything is for it. Man suffers from a monstrous swelling of the ego, because its egoistic extension isn't a true growth, but a sickly inflation, which wants to encompass everybody and everything. It is produced by the convergence of all the passions; it is the manifestation of the work of all the spiritual bacteria in our ego. Fasting is the antidote against this pathological extension of our appetites and of our egotism. It is the humble return of the ego to itself, but by its transparence it sees God and is filled with a life consistent with God. This is the growth of the spirit in man, from the Divine Spirit. Only in God and from God the Infinite can man grow spiritually and in harmony with everyone and with everything. But because man's egotism wants to grow without God, without loving relationships with his fellow creatures, it grows only in appearance and for a little while.
It's interesting to compare this passage with the words of St Nicholas Cabasilas here and of St Irenaeus here, both of whom speak about the human production, eating, and offering of food as acts "of reflecting and thinking about God" – to which fasting should help us return. Fasting, after all, is neither anti-body, nor anti-food; if anything, it returns them to their proper relationship.

Photograph: Fr Dumitru Stăniloae.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thankyou. I like the end where you stated that fasting is not anti-body. I think that is a good point. Whenever I fast I get to this point where I get the feeling that continuing on would just be more or less egotistical. It would seemingly be an attempt to separate me from my environment. Right? Anyhow, this is compacted by a guilt trip following taking food. Or to be more exact, what kind of food or/and how much. Maybe some sort of balance is trying to manifest itself.