A growing awareness of specialized diets for health conditions presents an challenge for those who wish to pursue the traditional fast of the Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox Christian who desires to engage with the fast, but who cannot for medical reasons, there come a whole host of concerns:
- The kind of example you are setting for your children and others–will they understand?
- That others may misunderstand & judge you for what you choose to eat if they are unaware of your private health concern
- Feeling left out of the fast, because it changes your ability to participate in social eating in some way
- Feeling as though you’re not truly fasting, because you aren’t able to do so in the traditional way
When the fast changes for you, you can lose a sense of cameraderie. You exception may feel invalid or minor compared to someone else’s. But as always, all that matters is that your fast is dedicated and truly from your heart, worked out through prayer and with spiritual guidance. To those whose fast is different because of health conditions, please remember that your fasting, however “small,” is a part of a larger spiritual practice–we are called to greater prayer and almsgiving during Lent, both of which are just as important as the practice of fasting.
I think this is why St. Paul so wisely spoke in Romans, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:2-4 ESV)