Fasting without Force

The following is taken from Wounded by Love: the Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios

You don’t become holy by fighting evil. Let evil be. Look towards Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love – the adoration of Christ which cannot be expressed, which is beyond expression, which is beyond… And such a person attempts to undertake ascetic exercises and to do things to cause himself to suffer for the love of God.

No monk became holy without ascetic exercises. No one can ascend to spirituality without exercising himself. These things must be done. Ascetic exercises are such things as prostrations, vigils and so on, but done without force. All are done with joy. What is important is not the prostrations we will make or the prayers, but the act of self-giving, the passionate love for Christ and for spiritual things. There are many people who do these things, not for God, but for the sake of exercise, in order to reap physical benefit. But spiritual people do them in order to reap spiritual benefit; they do them for God. At the same time, however, the body is greatly benefited and doesn’t fall ill. Many good things flow from them.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





17 responses to “Fasting without Force”

  1. Rhonda Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for a very good reminder!

  2. Lisa Avatar

    This was exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  3. Jim vivanco Avatar
    Jim vivanco


  4. Brian Avatar

    “All are done with joy.”

    This is the key to Orthodox Christian asceticism. To love, to give the gift of self to one’s Beloved is always a joy regardless of the sacrifice or the pain involved. All the work, all the sacrifice, all the pain are seen only by those who are on the outside looking in, while they are as nothing but joy to the one who loves. Everyone who has ever truly loved another another person knows this intuitively.

    Without love there can be no joy. Without love the practice of self-denial is no longer Christian, having become warped – reduced to drudgery at best or the heresy of salvation by works at worst.

  5. Aunt Melanie Avatar

    Would you recommend fasting for a person who has an eating disorder? Also, at what age would you recommend that a person begin fasting?

    I am open to answers or suggestions from anyone; and especially Fr. Stephen if you have the time.

  6. Philip Jude Avatar


    This is somewhat off topic, but . . .

    Can a Jew who comes to Christ generally, and the Church specifically, continue to observe the Law? If not, why did God command Israel to keep the Law for perpetuity?

    Is the Law sufficient for salvation of those Jews who do not follow Christ?

  7. Aunt Melanie Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    I have a few posts on Old Testament Law on my blog:
    I will be making more such posts in the future, probably on a weekly basis.

  8. navyguns Avatar

    Phillip, the Law was not sufficient for anyone, else why did Saul suffer so much in preaching Christ? Please read through his epistle to the Galatians. Yeshua Ha Machiach fulfilled the Law in all respects, the only Jew ever to do so, and the last that ever needed to do so. Salvation/reconciliation is now and has always been by faith, repentance, and humility before the Almighty. Paul sets forth Abraham as our example. Before ever there was the Law or circumcision, Abraham was justified by faith. We, with the same faith as believing Abraham, are justified as well. Abraham looked forward to the seed which would bless all nations, we look back to the seed, Christ.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Navyguns. St. Paul’s arguments are, of course, correct. But they rarely apply to Judaism today. It’s been 2000 years and Judaism has taken a number of forms and has a very subtle relationship on the question of the Law. Frequently modern Christians only know about a Judaism that was part of an argument at the beginnings of the Christian faith. I would add, that much that today is considered “justification” is a mishandling of St. Paul (sort of St. Paul read through the lens of Luther). We are saved by God’s grace, through Christ alone, no argument.

  10. Philip Jude Avatar

    Does the Old Testament speak of the Messiah as the one who fulfills the Law? Is this a clear messianic standard established in the OT?

    It has just always bothered me: If the Law was so imperfect, why does God (supposedly) establish it for perpetuity? I have read Galatians, and I understand Paul’s argument. Of course, many Jews “understand” Paul’s argument — and disagree with it because they have contradicting premises.

    Does the “perpetual fulfillment” of the Law by Christ have something to do with the Son’s infinite Godhead? If the Law was meant to be temporary, a didactic place-holder, so to speak, why is it spoken of as ever-lasting? Are these the words of man’s tradition, imposed upon the Divine command of God? If so, what does this say about our understanding of the Scripture?

    I am, of course, a practicing and (I’d like to think) pious Catholic, so I am not arguing from a position of unbelief, just uncertainty. This has always bugged me, and a clearer understanding would make it much easier to hold conversations with my Jewish friends.

    I appreciate all the help thus far.

    +Philip Jude

  11. mushroom Avatar

    “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

  12. Andrew Avatar

    Like everything else under the sun, the law is only another way of speaking about the love of God. A circumlocution. Saying it, without actually forming the words. That’s why heaven and earth pass away before one jot is abrogated.

  13. Byzantine Jewess Avatar

    Father Stephen, thank you for your thoughtful and nuanced response to Philip’s question – as one of those rather ambiguous Jewish Christians, I appreciate it muchly!

    and Philip, thank you as well for posing such questions.

  14. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    You are a source of good things. I looked up “Wounded by Love” on Amazon and other sources. Not only can people not stop praising him and his works, but the areas he addresses seem to all be very relevant and practical to the issues we struggle with most. Definitely on my list. Thanks again for your guidance in these dark times.


  15. Lina Avatar

    This is my own pondering on the law, so here goes. Laws are basically designed to protect us. Our communities have laws that say, for instance, that we don’t go through a red light. I do not receive a reward for obeying this law. I could get a fine, cause an accident, or kill someone because I didn’t obey this law. Or I might get away with it.

    It seems to me that God gave us the Law for three reasons.

    1. So that we might better know Him: what kind of a god is he?
    what are His standards? What does he expect from us?

    2. He gave us the Law so that we can know what pleases Him.
    Just as a child will want to please his parent or teacher
    so we need to know what pleases God.

    3. He gave us the law for our own protection. Often we are our own worst enemy. We kid ourselves when we say that we have reason and can set our own standards. The Law gives us a standard to measure our thoughts and behavior.

  16. Aaron Taylor Avatar

    Father, do you know the page number for this passage?

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