As with any spiritual discipline, there are pitfalls to be avoided, and Jesus Himself refers to them. He warns against practicing our piety before others, so He lays down some rules for the kind of fasting He wants His followers to do. Specifically, we are told to avoid doing anything that would draw attention to the fact that we are fasting. He sure knows how to take the fun out of it. In a sermon given on fasting, St. Augustine of Hippo writes, “For in this work also we must be on our guard, lest there should creep in a certain ostentation and hankering after the praise of man, which would make the heart double, and not allow it to be pure and single for apprehending God.” If our fasting is mixed with a certain secret desire for people to notice us, we really are not concentrating on God, and our fasting will not be for the purification of our souls. This means that when you fast, you should not express irritation about fasting or what you are or are not allowed to eat, or ask others what they are doing, or come into church for Lenten services staggering as if faint from hunger. All of that just feeds the ego, and the devil blesses the effort.1
I think it is pride that causes us to loudly proclaim what we have done for Lent. Or pride that causes us to only consider giving up chocolate, as if that is a true spiritual discipline. Perhaps the best Lenten practices are those no one sees, is told to no one, and done quietly so that there is time only to hear the Voice of God.
- Michael Keiser, A Beginner’s Guide to Spirituality: The Orthodox Path to a Deeper Relationship with God (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2007), 62–63. ↩