Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Discipline of Not Fasting

This Nativity has presented us with some interesting challenges.  Among them, keeping our toddler away from the Christmas tree, figuring out how to start the tradition of St. Nicholas and, most importantly (and relevant to this blog post) what it means to be Orthodox during the holiday season.  Like most converts, I think, we assumed that Nativity would mean fasting and going to lots of services.  A few weeks into it, we are coming to understand the less glamorous reality.  Namely, we can't fast and we make it to up to the monastery maybe twice a week.
I know that fasting with two small children, one of them nursing, would be against the teachings of the church, but there's a part of me that still feels like we're missing an important part of "being Orthodox" by not doing it.  This feeling is compounded by the fact that I've been losing weight since my pregnancy, losing too much in fact, and so not only am I not fasting, but doing rather the opposite: lots of full fat dairy products, rich oils, meats, etc.  This is the first year that I've really been aware of the Nativity fast and shown any inclination to join in, and yet I am completely and utterly unable to do so.
Going to services has been difficult as well.  When we first moved here, we thought being only a few miles from the monastery that we'd be going up multiple times a day.  Matins, vespers, vigil, liturgy; they'd have to lock the doors to keep us out; only feet of snow would keep us away.  Perhaps such hopes were the naivete of new converts mixed with that of young parents (a nasty double whammy, that).  Needless to say, we make it up to vespers maybe once a week ("we" usually being Peter getting the toddler out of the house so I can breathe for a while and make dinner).  Services are difficult for us to attend all together.  When one daughter is content, the other one wants to run up the stairs into the altar.  When she's finally contented with crayons or a book, the other declares (louder every week) that she's wet and hungry.  Usually, these disturbances occur during a reading, or the sermon, or (worst of all) during one of the times of silence which follow the sermon and the Eucharist.  We don't feel pressure from the parishioners or the monastics to keep the girls quiet, but it's awfully hard to thoughtfully consider the sermon when trying to calm a screaming baby or wrestle a headstrong toddler.
The further we go in this adventure of ours, however, I'm learning how to use all of these things to grow closer to Christ and becoming more like Him.  I hope in this season of life we can learn these important lessons: that fasting isn't the point, and neither is going to church.


  1. Your fervor to embrace Orthodoxy is wonderful! May I leave you with some thoughts? Can a random person off the street expect to be able to finish a marathon without ever having run even a quarter of a mile before the marathon began? You're entering a marathon and it takes time to build up to "full blown" fasting and attending all the services offered (especially with little ones) - let alone being pregnant also. Talk to your spiritual father for guidance on how and when to add more as you and your family build endurance. Fasting and church attendance are hard for you at this point so choose something you can do as a family at home - prayer before meals or bedtime (they can be very short to start), a jar in the middle of your table to collect your spare change for the poor during fasting and give the money away on the feast days. Start where you're at right now and don't expect to be able to run along side the marathoners immediately. They had to build up endurance too....and when we fall (and we all will), we can lend a helping hand to one another to get back up again through encouragement, help, ideas, and sharing our own stories.

  2. I yearned to fast when my boys were nursing and toddlers. I started a strict fast one Lent, and got very sick. I realized I was not a spiritual athlete, but an infant in my faith and prayer. I learned that my spiritual father would give me a less strick, but appropriate for me, discipline.

    When my boys were vocal at quiet times during the Liturgy, I would whisper lovingly in their ear, "We don't talk when Fr. is talking," and then I'd kiss their sweet little heads. Then remembered after a while...but it was harder to keep them from punching one another later :) Time goes by fast, enjoy them as they are now.