Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers

eating

20 Entries

...when you eat or drink, reflect that it is God, Who gives all food a taste which pleases us. So, delighting in Him alone, say: 'Rejoice, O my soul, for, although you can find no satisfaction, delight or comfort in anything outside God, you can know Him and cleave to Him, and can find every delight in Him alone, as David invites, saying: "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8)...' Lorenzo Scupoli (Unseen Warfare: Chapter 21)



According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needful and sufficient for normal nourishment., Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger" (Lk. 6:25). St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needful and sufficient for normal nourishment., Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least do not become a glutton, shall hunger" (Lk. 6:25). St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

And so, partake of the dishes which are offered in silence and with prayer, and do everything as written above. At the same time guard yourself carefully also in this: Satisfy your body with food in such a way that you do not feel full or heavy, but have still a little hunger and thirst. Nourish rather your soul with the God-inspired words and lives of the Holy Fathers which are read during trapeza. . . . The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. II, from the Counsels of Elder Nazarius of Valaam

Concerning the measure of continence in food and drink the Fathers say that one should use both the one and the other a little less than necessary, that is, one should not fill the stomach completely. And everyone should determine for himself his measure both of cooked food and of wine. During wintertime no one drinks much; however, even then one should drink a little less than necessary, and he should act likewise with regard to food. In addition, the measure of continence is not limited only to food and drink, but extends also to conversations, to seep, to clothing, and to all the feelings; in all of this there should be a measure of continence. “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990)

Constantly reflecting thus and reproaching yourself, decide for yourself how much you should eat and drink every day to satisfy the needs of nature. Avoid as much as possible not merely overeating, but even eating just enough to be full. Keep in mind what was said above, that one should eat and drink only to the point where one is still a little hungry and thirsty. The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. II, from the Counsels of Elder Nazarius of Valaam

During a time of disturbance and warfare of thoughts, one should lessen a little even the ordinary quantity of food and drink. “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990)

Having guarded ourselves against distractions and worries, let us turn our attention to our body on which mental vigilance is completely dependent. Human bodies differ widely from one another in strength and health. Some by their strength are like copper and iron; others are frail like grass. For this reason everyone should rule his body with great prudence, after exploring his physical powers. For a strong and healthy body, special fasts and vigils are suitable; they make it lighter, and give the mind a special wakefulness. A weak body should be strengthened by food and sleep according to one's physical needs, but on no account to satiety. Satiety is extremely harmful even for a weak body; it weakens it, and makes it susceptible to disease. Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance…. (pp. 133-134) The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991)

Having reflected thus, at least say to yourself from your whole soul and with heartfelt sorrow: Eat, unworthy one, enough so that you will not die. Dry up your body; confine your insatiable desires; grieve and belittle yourself. Will not the most merciful Lord look down upon this grief and contrition of my heart which are justly deserved? Even though my contrition itself is imperfect and insufficient, will not God Who is endless in mercy still have mercy on me and forgive the great evils that I have done? The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. II, from the Counsels of Elder Nazarius of Valaam

He Who had everything in common with us except sin, and Who shared all our sufferings, did not think hunger a sin. Therefore He did not refuse Himself to undergo this experience, but accepted the natural instinct to desire food. Having remained forty days without food, He afterwards was hungry; for when He desired it, He allowed His human nature to act in its normal way. But when the father of temptations realized that He, too, was affected by hunger, he advised Him to meet the desire with stones. Now this means to pervert the desire for natural food into something that is outside nature. He says, 'Command that these stones be made bread.' St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes.

I have need of one hundred grams of bread a day, and God blesses it. He blesses those hundred grams, but not one gram more. So if I take 110 grams, I have stolen 10 grams from the poor. St Cosmas Aitilos, a great martyr and preacher in Asia Minor

I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies... A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. St. John Cassian, On the Eight Vices in The Philokalia, Vol. 1

In order to remain in vigilance, it is necessary to guard the freshness and brightness of the mind with all care. The mind becomes darkened from imprudent use of food, drink and sleep, from much talking, from distraction and from worldly cares. Attend to yourselves, said the Lord, be on your guard and take care that your hearts are never weighed down, dulled and depressed by self-indulgence, overeating and drinking, or worldly cares and pleasures, lest that day (the day of Christ's dread judgment, the last day of the world) catch you unawares. For it will spring like a trap upon all who are living on the face of the earth. So watch and pray at all times for the strength to escape or survive all that is going to happen, and to stand before the Son of Man [Luke 21:34-36].... (pp. 131-132) The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991)

Just as we must beware of overeating, so too we must beware of excessive temperance or abstinence. Excessive temperance weakens the body, destroys wakefulness, coolness and freshness which are indispensable for vigilance, and which fade and weaken when the physical powers succumb and fail. Said Saint Isaac the Syrian: 'If you force a weak body to labor beyond its powers, you subject your soul to double darkness, and lead it into confusion (and not relief). But if you give a strong body rest and ease and idleness, all the passions dwelling in the soul are intensified. Then, even if the soul has a great desire for good, even the very thought of the good that is desired will be taken from you

. . . . Measure and time limits in discipline illumine the mind and banish confusion. When the mind is upset by a disorderly or imprudent life, darkness clouds the soul; and with darkness comes disorder and confusion. Peace comes from order; light is born from peace of soul. And from peace, joy fills the mind.' [Mystic Treatises, Chs. 46 and 45] The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991)



Let us be satisfied simply with what sustains our present life, not with what pampers it. Let us pray to God for this, as we have been taught, so that we may keep our souls unenslaved and absolutely free from domination by any of the visible things loved for the sake of the body. Let us show that we eat for the sake of living, and not be guilty of living for the sake of eating. The first is a sign of intelligence, the second proof of its absence. St. Maximos the Confessor (On the Lord's Prayer, The Philokalia Vol. 2, pg 300)

Sitting at meals, do not look and do not judge how much anyone eats, but be attentive to yourself, nourishing your soul with prayer. Seraphim of Sarov

The Three Degrees of Eating
According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needed and sufficient for normal nourishment. Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied.

Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least, do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger" (Lk 6:25). Remember also that rich man who ate in this present life sumptuously every day, but who was deprived of the desired bosom of Abraham in the next life, simply because of this sumptuous eating. Remember how he longed to refresh his tongue with a drop of water.

St. Basil not only did not forgive the young people who ate to satiety but also those who ate until satisfied; he preferred that all eat temperately. He said, "Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires."'

St. Gregory the Theologian has also noted in his poetry: "No satiety has brought forth prudent behavior; for it is in the nature of fire to consume matter. And a filled stomach expels refined thoughts; it is the tendency of opposites to oppose each other."

Job, too, assuming that one could fall into sin through eating, offered sacrifice to God for his sons who were feasting among themselves. "And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said: 'It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts'" (Jb 1:5-8). In interpreting this passage Olympiodoros wrote: "We learn from this that we ought to avoid such feasts which can bring on sinfulness. We must also purify ourselves after they have been concluded, even if these are conducted for the sake of concord and brotherly love as in the case of the sons of Job."

Surely then, if the sons of Job were not at a feast but in prayer or some other spiritual activity, the devil would not have dared to destroy the house and them, as Origen interpreted the passage: "The devil was looking for an opportunity to destroy them. Had he found them reading, he would not have touched the house, having no reason to put them to death. Had he found them in prayer, he would not have had any power to do anything against them. But when he found an opportune time, he was powerful. What was the opportune time? It was the time of feasting and drinking." Do you see then, dear reader, how many evils are brought forth by luxurious foods and feasting in general? A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, by St. Nicodemos (Chapter 6)



The question of Abba Dorotheus to the Great Elder: I am being strongly attacked by sexual passion; I am afraid that I may fall into despondency, and that from the infirmity of my body I will not be able to restrain myself; pray for me, for the Lord’s sake, and tell me, my Father, what I should do?

A: Brother! The devil, out of envy, has raised up warfare against you. Guard your eyes and do not eat until you are full. Take a little wine for the sake of the body’s infirmity of which you speak. And acquire humility, which rends all the nets of the enemy.

And I, who am nothing, will do what I can, entreating God that He might deliver you from every temptation and preserve you from every evil. Do not yield to the enemy, O brother, and do not give yourself over to despondency, for this is a great joy to the enemy. Pray without ceasing, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me from shameful passions," and God will have mercy on you, and you will receive strength by the prayers of the Saints. Amen. "Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life," trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990)



The use of food both in the refectory and in the cells should be regulated by prudence in regard to quantity. Novices should take food almost to fullness, but not to satiety. Fasting, which is so useful for a monk later, in the case of a novice should be moderate. If a novice does not eat outside the refectory, such a fast will be fully sufficient for him.

The partaking of food in the refectory almost to fullness is necessary for a novice because he is obliged to do his obediences which are sometimes difficult, and so as not to weaken his bodily strength excessively. For the due weakening of the body, the quality and quantity of the monastic food in the refectory is sufficient. The passions diminish in novices not through violent fasting, but through the confession of sinful thoughts, through labors, and, through shunning free intercourse with others. (p. 262) The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991)



To act “according to one’s strength” means to use a little less than necessary both of food, and drink, and sleep . . . . As for food, restrain yourself when you wish to eat a little more, and in this way you will always make use of it moderately. “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990)





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