While fasting is a rewarding spiritual exercise, it can also be very difficult. We often fast with our faith communities, and some people choose to fast in groups for support, but where can this support come from if you choose to fast alone? In this article, we’ll be looking at 5 quotes of St John Chrysostom on fasting.
Just like with any trying time, we can find spiritual support in the writing and lives of the saints and Church Fathers, including St John Chrysostom.
A quick note on fasting
While fasting has its own definitions in the secular world, for Catholics, fasting means taking one larger meal and two smaller meals throughout the day and not eating in-between.
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This type of fasting is expected of Catholics from the age of 18 to 60 during Lent, though individuals and groups can – and do – fast during other periods of the year as well. Some Catholics also engage in fasting for emotional healing not related to the calendar year.
The term “fasting” is also used to refer to the prohibition on eating and drinking anything other than water and medicine in the hour preceding sacred communion. For this article, however, we are talking about fasting in the first sense.
Fasting is often combined with “abstinence” – which in this context means going without meat. While periods of prescribed fasting and prescribed abstinence often overlap, as happens in Fridays during Lent, the two practices don’t have to go together.
Fasting for emotional healing
Catholics fast for a number of reasons – other than being told to. These include identifying with the Temptation of Christ, a 40-day period during which Jesus fasted in the desert as related in the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
There are also spiritual benefits of fasting and prayer, including doing penance and developing self-control.
St John Chrysostom
St John Chrysostom lived an ascetic life in the deserts of Syria in the late 4th Century. Political intrigue made St John Chrysostom the bishop of Constantinople – a powerful and illustrious office.
While St John Chrysostom took this role very seriously, the desert monk didn’t fit well into the glamorous role. He often butted heads with other church officials and politicians.
As a result, the same political forces that had elevated St John Chrysostom to the office conspired against him to have him removed. He was accused of not keeping his vows of chastity, of being a secret glutton, and of heresy.
While today the charges are almost universally believed to be completely without base, they were enough to have him removed as the bishop of Constantinople. He died in exile in 407 likely in a happier state than he ever experienced as Bishop.
He may have died in exile and disgrace, but he is remembered now as a saint and a Father of the Church.
5 quotes of St John Chrysostom on fasting
The writings of St John Chrysostom are extensive and many of them focus on the spiritual benefits of fasting and prayer. While the following list doesn’t touch on all of them, it highlights some favorites to guide and inspire you on your fast.
- The building on sand
“Even if you should have built a superstructure of things innumerable; even if almsgiving, even if prayers, even if fastings, even if all virtue; unless this have first been laid as a foundation, all will be built upon it to no purpose and in vain; and it will fall down easily, like that building which had been placed on the sand. For there is no one, no one of our good deeds, which does not need this; there is no one which separates from this will be able to stand.”
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- Blot out anger from our heart
“For that which others scarcely accomplish, I mean the blotting out of their own sins by means of fasting and lamentations, and prayers, and sackcloth, and ashes, this it is possible for us easily to effect without sackcloth and ashes and fasting if only we blot out anger from our heart, and with sincerity forgive those who have wronged us.”
- As long as they were suffered to be alone
“I know many men who have exercised perpetual restraint upon themselves, and consumed themselves with fastings, who, as long as they were suffered to be alone, and attend to their own concerns, have been acceptable to God, and day by day have made no small addition to this kind of learning; but (…) when forced to persevere in it, have abandoned their former strict way of living, and thus inflicted great injury on themselves without profiting others at all.”
- The body thus disciplined
“The habit of intense fasting, and sleeping on the ground, and keeping vigil, and refraining from the bath, and great toil, and all other means which they use for the affliction of the body are given up, when the body to be thus disciplined is not strong.”
- Even He fasted
“For not in his fast, but in his hunger he approaches Him; to instruct you how great a good fasting is, and how it is a most powerful shield against the devil, and that after the font, men should give themselves up, not to luxury and drunkenness, and a full table, but to fasting. For, for this cause even He fasted, not as needing it Himself, but to instruct us.”
Benefits of fasting and prayer
Hopefully, these 5 quotes of St John Chrysostom on fasting will help you not only to keep your fast but also why Catholics fast. Christ Himself served as a model for how we ought to fast for our personal benefit and to strengthen our bodies and souls against the temptations of the devil.