Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Is it dangerous to health to be on a continuous vegetarian diet with the aim of getting closer to God?

Before I address the "vegetarian diet" I would like to emphasize that simply fasting with food in mind is not enough to be considered fasting. St John Cassian wrote "we should not be confident that the outside fasting of food is enough alone for the purity of the heart and body, unless it is accompanied by the fasting of the soul." What St. John means is that there are other harmful types of nutrients that if the soul nurtures on them, they can be very dangerous to its health. These are anger, jealousy, envy, hatred and slander to name a few.

When we fast, we should subject both the body as well as the spirit to labor and abstinence. This presents an acceptable fasting to God. St. Paul urges us to focus on the inner man, "In the inner man that Christ may dwell in your hearts." Here St Paul explains to us that the inner man must be worthy of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ inside each of us.

How easy it is for us to deprive ourselves of special kinds of food, yet how difficult it is for us to prevent our minds from focusing on unprofitable thoughts. The second requirement in fasting is that it should be accompanied with humility--repentance, sorrow, and regret for our sins. When King David needed to do it, he showed us how he did , "As for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, I humbled my soul with fasting" (Psalm 35:14).

Fasting is a spiritual exercise meant to edify the body not to physically weaken it. When our souls are satisfied with God, the soul is elevated above food. This is the goal we are trying to accomplish through abstinence.. Fasting is an attempt to subdue and control the body and its desires.

Often when I think of fasting this verse comes to mind, "I will lift up my hands in Thy Name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness." (Psalm 63:4-5) David knew exactly what brought joy and utter satisfaction to his heart. David was after that fullness that would make him forget the world and what is in it. He also knew that it is only achieved by getting closer to God in prayers and being in His presence all the time. We cannot attain such a state unless we abstain from sin and all iniquities.

I do not encourage fasting to weaken the body. The exercise of strict fasting should always be undertaken with spiritual guidance by a spiritual father. God asked us to overcome the body not to kill it. The Holy Book of I Corinthians 14:40 specifically tells us, "Let all things be done decently and in order."

I encourage you to participate in all spiritual practices as advised and recommended by the Church. Encompassing all the aspects of fasting will bring one closer to God.
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