Front Row Fasting

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. But the publican stood afar off, and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted. [Luke 18:10-14].

Though we acknowledge the supremacy of God in our lives, we are often ungrateful, thinking ourselves independent. We celebrate our inconsequential efforts and exalt with presumptuous vanity in our trivial accomplishments.

Fasting can generate a type of self-deception that produces illusions of purity and sanctify. By fasting, we may believe that we are elevating ourselves above the average believer and far above the sinner. This arrogance originating in fasting fuels self-aggrandizement and contributes to plain, old “ego-tripping.”

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.” [St. Macarius the Great].

Fasting can produce an “I belong in the front row” mentality that infiltrates our sincerity and infects us with conceit, haughtiness and self-importance.

Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It [fasting] is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection [ St. Jerome].

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