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.