St. John Chrysostom on Fasting


St. John Chrysostom


Faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fast at least once a month.  Fasting can, obviously, be done at any time, but, church wide, members are asked to abstain, prayerfully and with purpose, from food and drink on the first Sunday of every month and to donate the money thus saved (and more, if possible) to a Church fund that is devoted to helping people who need assistance.  (This money is disbursed by local ward bishops, as opposed to the Church’s separate humanitarian relief fund, the Church welfare program, LDS Charities, and etc., which are funded otherwise.)


There are, however, some irregularities in the scheduling of the monthly fast.  Most recently, for example, the annual general conference of the Church occurred on the first weekend of this month (April), so local congregations were free to reschedule their fast days, and the “fast and testimony meetings” that accompany them, either to the weekend before or the weekend after that conference.  Accordingly, today was Fast Sunday in my ward.


With that in mind, here’s a comment on the Christian practice of fasting from St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407), patriarch of Constantinople, whose eloquent preaching earned him the epithet “golden mouthed” (Greek chrysostomos [Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος]):


“The value of fasting consists not only in avoiding certain foods, but in giving up of sinful practices. The person who limits his fast only to abstaining from meat is the one who especially lowers the value of it.

“Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eyes, your ears, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.

“You fast with your hands by keeping them pure from doing greedy things. You fast with your feet by not going to see forbidden shows or plays. You fast with your eyes by not letting them look upon impure pictures. Because if this is forbidden or unlawful, it mars your fast and threatens the safety of your soul. But if you look at things which are lawful and safe you increase your fast, for what you see with your eyes influences your conduct. It would be very stupid to eliminate or give up meat and other foods because of the fast but feed with your eyes upon other things which are forbidden.

“You don’t eat meat, you say?  But you allow yourself to listen to lewd things. You must fast with your ears, too. Another way of fasting with your ears is not to listen to those who speak evil or untrue things about others. “Thou shalt not receive an idle report. ”  This is especially true of rumors, gossip, untruths which are spoken to harm another.

“Besides fasting with your mouth by not eating certain foods, your mouth should also fast from foul language or telling lies about others. For what good is it if you don’t eat meat or poultry, and yet you bite and devour your fellow man?”



My thanks to Susan Steinhaus, a friend from high school days in California, for bringing this passage to my attention.  She is married to Father Gabriel Rochelle, of St. Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Christian Mission, in Las Cruces, New Mexico.



  • Big Brutha

    Lovely. St. Anthony would approve of that definition, as would my Coptic friends whose respect for St. Anthony and remembrance of him inspire them in their own fasting. Latter-day Saints take a different tack on ‘mortifying’ the flesh than the Orthodox. I do not always agree with their approaches. I think that extremes of asceticism are merely excesses of another kind. Still, I feel a certain awe for those whose love of God impelled them into the desert to try to ‘put off the natural man.’ I’m sure a little good old fashioned asceticism would probably be a bracing tonic for many of us that have been comfortable with a ‘softer salvation’ and an easier grace. Trying to purify ourselves may be, ultimately, futile, but it does have the benefit of making us appreciate Christ’s ability to do for us what we have not been able to do for ourselves, despite concerted and, at times, anguished effort.

  • Susan Steinhaus

    Glad the passage spoke to you Dan. I couldn’t help but smile at your typo or “auto-correct” of desert/Deseret. We are indeed St. Anthony of the Desert. We are part of the Ukrainian Orthodox juridiction. Wish we could sit down and all talk together. Utah just isn’t on our trail these days. We will be in Santa Barbara for a week this summer and probably Big Bear.

    • danpeterson

      Dang. I’ll go in and change that, immediately. It seems that my attempt at Mormon cultural imperialism didn’t pass unnoticed.

      Yes, it would be fun to chat sometime. I don’t get to New Mexico very often, though, either.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    It seems to me that Latter-day Saints are taught to live an ascetic life in all the ways that John Chrysostom spoke of as “fasting with out whole body”. Part of it is “fasting” from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. We “fast” from fornication and adultery. In the hours of voluntary service we give, foregoing many hours of time we might invest in personal pleasure, we “fast” with our hands, including the “Mormon Helping Hands” that give aid in disaster relief. When we serve two years as missionaries, we “fast” with our feet. The self-discipline and sacrifice practiced by thirty thousand new missionaries each year is in dire contrast with the typical behavior of their contemporaries.

    This kind of massive self-discipline seems to scare people, like the creators and patrons of “The Book of Mormon” minstrel show, who feel motivated to ridicule it so they can feel superior and condescending toward a people whose potential to achieve things, both individually and collectively, can be intimidating. It helps the fearful, the “Mormo-phobes”, to avoid thinking about the projection of Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark that, at the growth rates that the LDS Church has maintained for most of its 183 years, both through proselyting and larger than average families, it is likely to have between 150 to 250 million members before 2100. In other words, there is a very high probability that one or more of the children or grandchildren of those theater patrons will be a Mormon. And they cannot look for comfort in the statistical growth of “Nones”, who have no formal religious affiliation; Stark points out that Mormon growth is even higher in communities with higher percentages of “Nones” and other indices of secularization and the decline of traditional religious affiliations.