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The Desert Fathers on Fasting

Abba Daniel used to say, 'Abba Arsenius lived with us many a long year, and every year we used to take him only one basket of bread, and when we went to find him the next year we would eat some of that bread.'

Abba Benjamin said, 'We went to an old man who detained us for a meal, and he offered us oil of horse-radish. We said to him, "Father, give us rather a little good oil." At these words he crossed himself and said, 'I did not know there was any other kind."

Abba John the Dwarf said, 'If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food, and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: if a man goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies of his soul grow weak.'

It was said of Abba Isaac that he ate the ashes from the incense offering with his bread.

Isidore the Priest said, 'If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.'

Once the order was given at Scetis, 'Fast this week.' Now it happened that some brothers came from Egypt to visit Abba Moses, and he cooked something for them. Seeing some smoke, his neighbors said to the ministers, 'Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.' The ministers said, 'When he comes, we will speak to him ourselves.' When the Saturday came, since they knew Abba Moses' remarkable way of life, the ministers said to him in front of everyone, 'O Abba Moses, you did not keep the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment of God.'

Abba Joseph asked Abba Poemen, 'How should one fast?' Abba Poemen said to him, 'For my part, I think it is better that one should eat every day, but only a little, so as not to be satisfied.' Abba Joseph said to him, 'When you were younger, did you not fast two days at a time, Abba? The old man said: 'Yes, even for three days and four and the whole week. The Fathers tried all this out as they were able, and they found it preferable to eat every day, but just a small amount. They have left us this royal way, which is light.'

Abba Poemen said, 'Just as smoke drives the bees away and also takes the sweetness out of their work, so bodily ease drives the fear of God from the soul and dissipates all its activity.'

Abba Sisoes' disciple often said to him, 'Abba, get up, and let us eat.' And he would say to him, 'Have we not eaten, my child?' He would reply, 'No, Father.' Then the old man would say, 'If we have not eaten, bring the food, and we will eat.'