Why a Vegan Fast? Why sometimes allow fish? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

March 3, 2021

Why a Vegan Fast? Why sometimes allow fish?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen. 

We have seen in our previous two videos on fasting why fasting is essential for a Christian. We have also seen how fasting must be both a spiritual and a bodily exercise. Today, we dive into the question of why the Orthodox Church practices a vegan fast? Why can’t each one simply chooses to abstain from foods we enjoy 

As we have seen in the previous videos, Christian fasting is distinct from the fasting of other religions. Christ, Himself, fasted and through His fasting He conquered the devil’s temptations. Christ, Himself, did not need to fast as He is God and cannot sin. But He did so in the mystery of His incarnation, as the God-Man, to infuse human nature with power to conquer temptation and sin. As He fasted and conquered in His human nature, we too, as we share this same human nature and are members of His Body, through Baptism, we have access to that power in fasting. So when Christians fast, we fast in Christ. And therefore, that fast holds a certain mysterious divine power through which we can conquer sin and be transformed from glory to glory into the image of God. In other words, fasting is a tool to become saints. It is a tool to go back to our pre-fallen human nature before Adam and Eve sinned—before the state of corruption and death. And that is precisely what salvation is in the Orthodox Church. St. Athanasius says: “… for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation. In other words, salvation is synonymous with recreation. Recreating humanity was Christ’s primary work on earth. Recreating humanity to its original state prior to sin and more. This is not some sort of metaphor or poetry, this is mystically what happens to the members of the Body of Christ in the mysteries of the Church. Fasting is also a tool that propels us towards this recreation in Christ. That is why when we encounter those true saints who live amongst us, those who undergo true mystical spiritual experiences, without exception we discover that they live a true life of asceticism.  

Therefore, if our objective is to go back to our pre-fallen human state—to be recreated again—and this happens through the mysteries and through fasting, then we ought to have the same diet the first humans had. It is clear from verses like Genesis 1:29, Genesis 2:9 & 2:16 that the first humans were vegan. It is also clear from Genesis 9:3 that God allowed the eating of animals only after the flood. A that point in history, humanity had reached a very depraved state. Therefore, this was a concession from God’s end as a way of dealing with humanity’s depravity. He was willing to change His Laws to accommodate them since they would have not been able to keep His original standards. The Scholar Origen says the following: “… originally God permitted the use of foods from vegetation, that is, vegetables and the fruits of trees. But the opportunity of eating flesh is given to men later when a covenant was made with Noah after the flood.” In simpler terms, a human being in the pre-fallen condition was spirit, soul and body. Humans, then, were led by the spirit. They were embodied spirits as St. Athanasius would say. However, after the fall, this order was inversed and now the body is the one that is leading the soul and the spirit. Therefore, fasting is a tool to bring back the proper order within the human being—to recreate Him. To save Him. And that is precisely why during our fasts we completely abstain from food for a certain period of time and then we practice a vegan diet.  

There is also another vital reason for humanity’s vegan diet. On humanity in its pre-fallen condition, St. Gregory of Nyssa says the following: “Nature had not yet been divided; everything was completely fresh. Hunters did not capture prey, since people did not yet practice this. The beasts did not yet tear apart prey, since they were not meat eaters yet…. So was the first creation, and to this creation will be restored after this [age]. Humans will return to their original creation, rejecting hostility, a life encumbered with care, the slavery of the world to daily worries. Once they have renounced all this, they will return to that utopian life which is not enslaved to the passions of the flesh, which is freedom, the closeness to God, a partaker of the life of the angels. So beautiful. He says that the creation will be restored at the end of times. No more passions of the flesh. No more separation from God but a utopian life; humans will become partakers of the life of the angels. And that pre-fallen utopian life did not include animal slaughter. There was no killing. And since Orthodox Christianity aims at restoration while being still on earth, we ought to keep away from slaughtering, at least during fasting seasons. We have to comprehend that humans are the crown of the creation; yet, we are still a part of that creation. There is truly something unnatural about killing an animal whether it is done for sport or for consumption. We are not meant to kill and consume. Humanity is, in a sense, spiritually connected to the animal kingdom. And that is precisely what the word subdue means in Scripture. The western interpretation of the word subdue is that humans ought to aggressively subjugate the creation. This false understanding leads to death, pollution and consumerism. Again, the Orthodox understanding is that the human being is mystically spiritually connected to the rest of creation. And since humans are the crown of creation, we are responsible to care for the creation. It has been given to us by God as a responsibility. Humanity has dominion over the creation, not to subjugate it; but to care for it.   

To conclude this video, I will answer a follow-up question which naturally stems from the previouslymentioned conclusions: if humans are meant to be vegan, why did Christ eat fish? The answer is quite simple. In His incarnation, Christ took on human nature with all its weaknesses. Again, He was incarnate to recreate this fallen human nature so He took it as it was. The only caveat is that He did not sin. As St. Gregory the theologian says: “The unassumed is the unhealed.” Meaning whatever Christ did not assume in His humanity, He did not heal. Or, in other words, He did not recreate. In Oration 45, St. Gregory says the following about Christ’s humanity: “He was sent, but sent according to His Manhood, since He was hungry and thirsty and weary, and was distressed and wept, according to the Laws of human nature. Christ was a real human in every sense of the word. And He embraced this including the human diet of the time which included fish. As Christ says in Matthew 5, He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. So, He came to fulfill the Old Testament requirements, including respecting the food laws, and establish new ones through the recreation of humanity through the giving of the Holy Spirit. And it is precisely because Christ ate fish that the Church allows sea food in certain secondary fasts. This is done out of compassion for the members of the Body that are still growing in the faith.  


Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith


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