“A Heavy Belly cannot produce a light mind.”  -- Old Proverb


1. Simplicius (sixth century commentator on Epictetus): We must escape from this world and separate ourselves from all accidentals, and we must not continue to be a body—soul composite in which the material part dominates, preserving hardly a trace of the spiritual. Now the other Soul, outside of us possesses the faculty to rise; it possesses the Beautiful and the Divine, which is superior to all. Either one uses the other Soul to become transcendent, and to live thus retired within oneself——or else one lives without this Soul, subject merely to Fate.

2. Clement of Alexandria (Ec. pr. 14:2): Fasting empties the soul of matter, and makes it, with the body, clear and light for the reception of divine truth. The food of the world is this present life and sin; God’s food is faith, hope, charity....

3. Epictetus (dis. 3.12.7): Let us say that I am inordinately inclined towards pleasure, Then I shall force myself, even beyond measure, towards the opposite, for the sake of ascesis. (En. 2.2) Change your inclinations toward those things which are against nature. (En. 33.7) With regard to the body, take noting beyond mere necessity, and circumscribe everything that smacks of pride, or luxury in food, drink, clothing, household, servants.

4. Basil (Reg. Fus. 16.2) By temperance we do not mean the com-plete avoidance of food (for this would merely result in a violent dissolution of the body), but a denial of the pleasant things, ordained, out of a motive of piety, towards the purifica-tion of the tendencies of the flesh. (Hom. Jul. 3): While you strengthen your body’s weakness with wine, recall to mind Him who gave you this gift for the joy of the heart and the strengthening of your infirmities. (Ep. 45) In weekly cycles you persisted in fasting and intercourse with God. . .And with rough sackcloth ir-ritating your body, pinching your loins with a hard belt, you perseveringly wore down your bones. You hollowed out your stomach with privations and exposed your ribs even to your back. . . and refusing to use a soft cincture, you drew back your belly like a gourd and tried to force it into the place of your kidneys.

5. Origen (Hom. Jer. 19.7) Though there is the opportunity to marry and not be troubled by rising of the flesh against the spirit, there are some who choose not to exercise the faculty of marriage, but to be humble and suffer, to chastise the body with fasting and bring it into subjection by abstinence from certain types of food, and completely to mortify the deeds of the flesh by the spirit.

6. Gregory of Nazianzus (Hom. Mt. 8): Monasteries are indeed houses of mourning. There we will find sackcloth and ashes, solitude, no frivolity or worldly occupations. There is fasting and sleeping on the ground, without the impure odor of rich food. There is a peaceful harbor.

 7. Chrysostom (De com. 10) : Men should not worry over the in-firmities caused by the loss of food, drink, sleep, pleasure, repose... Surely those who have lost Sons or wives do not worry about their health: why should the Christian who is mourning the loss of heaven?

8. Pseudo-Macarius (De cust. cord. 10): Just as a mother would mourn a son snatched prematurely by death, so too the Christian is constantly mourning for his own fall from grace.

9. Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. 4.27): We abstain from meat and wine while we fast, not out of any abhorrence as though they were evil in themselves, but because we are looking to our reward: that by foregoing sensual pleasure we may be able to enjoy that spiritual and supernatural table; that sowing in tears in this life, we may reap in joy in the next. Aramaic papyri from Elephantine c. 410 B.C. after the destruction of a Jewish colony: From the month of Tammuz of the fourteenth year of the Reign of King Darius up till now, we have been fasting and wearing mourn-ing; our wives are like widows; and we neither appoint ourselves nor take any wine.

10. Abbot Nilus (Tr. 1) It was the desire of food that spawned disobedience; it was the pleasure of taste that drove us from Paradise. Luxury in food delights the gullet, but it breeds the worm of license that sleepeth not. An empty stomach prepares one for vigil and prayer; the full one induces sleep. The mind is sober when it has a dry diet; a liquid one plunges the mind into the depths. The prayer of him who fasts flies up like the eaglet; but the prayer of the dissipater, weighted down with satiety, drags along the ground. The mind of the faster is a brilliant star among the heavens; the mind of the dissipater is concealed in gloom. Just as a fog obscures the sun, so a heavy quantity of food darkens the mind.

11. Basil of Ancyra (De vera virg. 7): As the body grows fat, it is inordinately stimulated by the sexual humor seething deep down, and it is goaded and driven on to sexual intercourse... As the stomach swells with food, the organs beneath it are neces-sarily stimulated towards their proper function by the deeply seething humors. For the overhanging stomach supplies these organs with the things which act on these faculties like a spur.

12. Gregory of Nazianzus (Com. Vit. 2.8)
Pneuma: But my pleasure is to have no pleasure, not to have my body swollen with things filling it inside, sick with the infirmity of the wealthy, breathing from my throat the sickly, sweet odor of filth, constraining my mind with the weight of my fat.
Kosmos: For me the sweetmeats!
Pneuma: Bread is my condiment, and my drink pure water, sur-passing sweet.

13. Athanasius (De virg. 6): (Fasting) cures disease, dries up the body’s humors, puts demons to flight, gets rid of evil thoughts.

14. Pseudo-Clement (Reg. 9.10): Even though (devils) are spirits, they have a desire for food, drink, and sexuality. And being frustrated in this because they lack the necessary organs,
 they enter into men’s bodies to obtain what they want... This is the reason why poverty and fasting and self-discipline are the finest means of banishing evil spirits.... Those men who, though they seem merely to be complying with the demands of nature, have the intention of committing sin by going to excess (in food, drink, sexuality), allow the devils to enter into them.

15. Basil (Hom. 27 in Act. 3): Let us make the soul itself more clear-sighted, make her wings light and her bonds looser. Let us feed the soul with holy discourse and with frugality, and feed the body only so much as will keep it healthy... (Hom. 57 in Mt. 5) . . .   The person who fasts is light and winged and prays with sobriety, extinguishes his concupiscence and propitiates God... For that reason the Apostles almost always fasted.

16. Gregory of Nyssa (De paup. 1): Now there is a spiritual fast, an immaterial temperance which is exercised with regard to the soul by the avoidance of, sin. And it is for this that actual abstinence from food is prescribed.  So fast from sin.

17. Hermas (Sim. 5.1.1.; 5.3.5.): God does not want a useless fast... This is the way you should fast for God; never commit sin in your life; serve the Lord with a pure heart. Keep His com-mandments and allow no wicked desire to arise in your heart.. Ab-stain from evil deeds of whatever sort . . . purify your heart of all the vain things of the world. Your fast will be perfect if you do this. And this is the way you should act: after fulfill-ing all you are supposed to on your fast day, then eat nothing but bread and water. And of the food which you were going to eat, measure out the same quantity and give this to a widow or orphan or other needy person.

18. Origen (Hom. In Lev. 10:2): If you wish to fast as Christ did, humble your soul.