The Joy of Filboid Studge

I could squeak through fasting rules with a 'Virtue Cookie,' but should I try to?

BY: Frederica Mathewes-Green


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Now, even I knew there was something wrong with this picture. This, naturally, did not stop me from making up a bowlful of Virtue Cookies every night for a week. But somehow I knew it violated the spirit of the fast, that maddeningly amorphous standard that is so clear in hindsight and so foggy when viewed from the front. Technically, the dish contained no forbidden items. What nibbled at my conscience is that it was a treat.

This has been a point of confusion for me ever since I started keeping the fast. Nowhere do the guidelines forbid sweets. But there had to be something wrong when I'd stand in the grocery line and think, "I can't have a chocolate bar, so I'll just grab that bag of jelly beans." Or the time I left a service station with a Moon Pie, delighted that it had no dairy ingredients. (In fact, a Moon Pie probably has no natural ingredients. The whole thing may be a kind of hologram.)

Over the years, I've gone back and forth. Surely these letter-of-the-law squeakers can't be right. But on the other hand, who am I to make up the rules? Do I think I'm smarter than centuries of Orthodox believers before me? Don't the stories of the Desert Fathers warn against adopting heightened spiritual disciplines, and spurning the humble, communal norm? If the seventh-century authority on asceticism St. John Climacus says that Moon Pies are OK (well, not in so many words), they're OK.

All this got clearer for me the other night when a non-Orthodox friend was urging us to try her homemade meatballs. "Would God really mind if we had one?" my friend whispered to me. That's when it hit me: Of course God doesn't mind. We're not doing the fasting for God anyway. We do it for ourselves.

We Orthodox routinely use the image of athletics as the analogy for spiritual discipline but don't always think it through. Like other disciplines, the fast should make us stronger. It should help us peel away our attachment to pet, controllable pleasures that substitute for entering the bracing presence of God.

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