The Maronite Synod of 1736 required that in the lead up to Christmas, abstinence was required for the twelve days from 13th – 24th December. This meant abstaining from eating all meat, oil, wine and animal products (eggs, milk, cheese etc.).
While this is no longer a requirement of the Church, it is one of the traditions we can all benefit from reinvigorating, especially in the lead up to great feasts such as Christmas.
Traditionally fasting in the Maronite tradition comes before a great feast. It allows us to prepare ourselves spiritually for the feast. It is a wonderful example to our children.
The tradition of fasting originates from very early times. In the Old Testament we hear from Daniel: “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” Daniel 10:3
Moses also fasted. “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments”.
We know that Jesus fasted. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Matthew 4:1-2
Jesus also tells us
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18.
So why fast?
Fasting is not profitable unless it is accompanied obedience to Gods word. This becomes apparent in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was asked by the disciples of John “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Matthew 9:14.
Our Eastern Fathers have written extensively on the importance of fasting.
“Fasting is medicine.” St John Chrysostom declares in his beautiful homily on fasting. He continues:
“Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins.’
St John Chrysostom did not discourage fasting from food, but insisted that fasting from food must be accompanied with fasting from sins
“Fasting secretly purifies the soul”, St Ephrem the Syrian declares in his hymn. He writes extensively on fasting and uses it as poignant imagery in his hymns.
Of course our founding father Mar Maroun was a hermit and as such fasting, prayer and meditation would have been a major part of his life.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline.
So in the twelve days leading up to Christmas from 13 December let us consider fasting. It is an excellent time of year to challenge ourselves to give up such things as alcohol. With Christmas parties alcohol can be a contributor to bad judgement. Consider giving up sweets and meat in order to avoid the excess we may all consume at this time of year at Christmas parties.
What a great discipline to teach our children so that they may understand the need of others.
Mostly importantly let us also consider how we are going to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas. We may choose to partake in the Christmas Novena that starts on 15 December, commit to daily liturgy, say the rosary or assign a time for prayer each day.