Hypocrisy of the Stomach

I have no intention in this posting to preach to those who struggle with gluttony, or, more likely, just feel guilty most of the time when they think of their weight, etc. Orthodoxy is not a weight-loss program. However, this passage offers wonderful insight into the struggle with the passions. It is quoted from Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ.

Eating itself is natural to a human being, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the food one eats; it is gluttony, rqther, which is a passion and a vice. As St. John Climacus describes it, gluttony is a false opinion about the way things are: “Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed and crammed, it wails about its hunger. Gluttony things up seasoning, creates sweet recipes….Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time.” Glottony has its own cognitive element, and one which is based in deception. Through the practice of fasting, controlling the stomach, one does not simply reduce one’s dietary intake to the minimum possible, but instead learns to break through the hypocrisy of the stomach, to know that one will not die if one does not eat as one has become accustomed to do. The “hypocrisy” of the stomach is not located in the bodily organ itself, but in the mind’s relation to the stomach.

It is a wonderful insight, and something that can be applied across the board to many of the passions.

19 Responses to “Hypocrisy of the Stomach”

  1. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Father Stephen, could you speak to the relationship of the ancient notion of “the passions” to the modern notion of “emotions”? It certainly does not seem to be a one-to-one correlation…

  2. Catechumen Says:

    I do certainly appreciate how that could be applied to any of the passions!

  3. Dale Says:

    Father,

    I think I understand. and yet it is not a complete understanding. I think wrestle with the understanding of all the passions. In this case, gluttony is the “misguided” use of what was created for our good. enjoyable food was created by God and I would think we should praise His name for giving it to us. And if a chef is doing his best to make a dish worthy of a king in the name of Christ I would think that an honourable use of the gifts God gave him. It is when the switch occurs where one is not serving God through the making of good food and is instead serving merely his stomach that it would become a sin. Or is there some reason that I am not seeing that would suggest a problem with enjoying a juicy steak and a glass of overly expensive red wine while praising God for what He has supplied?

    The same situation can be applied to all the passions although with slight differences and I tend to wrestle with how to appropriately deal with them.

  4. Visibilium Says:

    I’m impelled to think that I’ll die if I fast and that I’ll become homeless if I give to charity.

  5. Lou. Says:

    Relating, if not across the board, at least to another passion —

    C.S. Lewis compared gluttony to lust. He imagined a stranger who came across a large audience, one gathered to glimpse at center stage, just before the curtains fell or the lights dimmed out, a plate of pork chops or a piece of mutton, that stranger would think the audience had a deranged appetite for food.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    The passions are an inner derangement. It is as I quoted. The passion is not in the stomach but in the mind’s relationship to the stomach. It is a delusion. Fasting, etc., helps us to come to our right mind.

    It’s not a legal matter, but the healing of our inner life in Christ. In our culture we are pretty much driven by the passions – indeed most cultures are.

  7. November In My Soul Says:

    Father,

    As I sit here hungry wondering what I can scrounge up to eat before going to bed, I visit your blog. I have eaten plenty today and should not eat more but it is a bad habit I have developed. I went to a doctor recently and discovered that my cholesterol level was over 1,200. The doctor wants to get it down to 100 through diet, exercise and the old standby, pills. My gluttony, my unwillingness to master my cravings has put my health at very serious risk. Gluttony can ruin every aspect of our lives.

  8. Atlanta Says:

    Amen. Sometimes I play with the mind of my own hypocritical stomach and I am really brought to my knees when I find out who my real master is. Its quite scary. Thank God for fasting in the Orthodox church. Its my salvation.

  9. Mary Gail Says:

    Before my conversion to Orthodoxy, fasting was something of a stumbling block for me, I had trouble accepting the idea even though the spiritual and theological basis was clear to me. I decided I had to convert to Orthodoxy even though I had a hard time accepting the idea of fasting, I just thought I would have to “figure it out” later. So I converted. Now I see fasting as an opportunity to honor God through obedience. This small offering of very small obedience is something that I can do to honor God. It is a very small act compared to the waterfalls of blessings that He has granted me. This approach allows me to embrace fasting. Please note I follow a fairly moderate fasting regimen, nothing particularly severe.

  10. Stephen W. Says:

    If evil is nothing in itself would it also follow that the passions are only distortions of the virtues? While gluttony is a serious problem, it tends to be noticed more from the outside, throwing some into a cycle of guilt that can become psychologically damaging. I have heard the stomach described as a gateway to the passions and also that gluttony and lust are close relatives. Lust may be wanting something you shouldn’t or can’t have. Could we not say the same of gluttony, although it is much easier to hide lust?

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Generally the fathers say that the passions are distortions. Indeed.

  12. Michael Bauman Says:

    Lou quotes,
    “C.S. Lewis compared gluttony to lust. He imagined a stranger who came across a large audience, one gathered to glimpse at center stage, just before the curtains fell or the lights dimmed out, a plate of pork chops or a piece of mutton, that stranger would think the audience had a deranged appetite for food.”

    Ever watched The Food Network? Mr. Lewis quote is a pretty accurate description of a good portion of their programming. Troubling since I watch it frequently.

  13. Michael Bauman Says:

    November, you are not alone. Next time you get the midnight munchies, say a prayer for me and I’ll do the same for you when the urge comes to me.

  14. Gina Says:

    It seems to me that our culture not only mentally but physically tries to stimulate gluttony. Real nutrition, taste and smell is taken out of food, and is replaced by powerful chemicals like MSG and super-sweeteners which even if you want to are difficult to avoid. The “flawed” organic produce sits next to the supersized, gassed, wax-painted and cheaper versions, which are generally so tasteless you end up eating more of them. It really is sinister, even if no one person or company sets out to make it that way.

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    Gina,

    Our food industry is certainly in sad shape. I have seen two teens in the last few years, who spent some months in countries that do not have our processed food model, and certainly less seasonal variety, but both had significant health problems related to food. Both were remarkably healthier upon their return from their journeys. It’s sad to live in one of the richest nations on earth and yet have a food industry that is becoming more toxic year by year.

  16. luciasclay Says:

    Father,

    The connection between the stomach and the mind and spirit I can understand. It makes sense. Fasting is good for any number of reasons. I suppose the idea is connected to giving, ie. the food I don’t eat someone else who needs it can eat.

    When I looked at the saints calendar on the Greek Orthodox in America website today I noticed it had the fasts as well. Gracious there are an awful lot of fasts.

    Do most Orthodox strictly follow those or are they simply ideals that are strived for ?

    Last time I went to my parish the Father spoke to the catechumens briefly about it. He advised to fast to the requirement but not beyond it lest pride become ones downfall. Also that if you cannot make the full fast at least make some attempt. And also never to look down on another, or up to yourself, feeling more pious because of how severely you fasted.

    This all has me wondering about fasting. How much is required. And more importantly how much does this tie to salvation -vs- more and more closeness to God etc ? Not looking for the minimalist definition of salvation but wondering how precisely obedience to things like this figures into it from the Orthodox view ?

    I hope to go again Sunday and perhaps ask more questions about this.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    luciasclay,

    It varies from person to person. But in my experience, Orthodox take fasting fairly seriously, moderating mostly only for health reasons.

    It is very much about closeness to God – not about leaving more food to others. It is learning and getting used to saying yes to God and no to self. The first sin in the Garden of Eden was the refusal to keep the fast God had set. You can eat of everything except from this one tree. Of course, that’s the one you want the most….

    I generally teach, in accordance with the Tradition, that to properly keep the fast, it must be combined with prayer (more than usual) and with almsgiving, in addition to our regular support of the Church. The Fathers say that fasting without prayer is the “fast of demons” because “the demons never eat, but they never pray, either.” Fasting without almsgiving is largely unknown in Scripture or in the consciousness of the Church.

    Christ began His ministry with a strict fast of 40 days. How can His disciples expect not to fast?

    I find that, towards the end of one of the fasting periods, I am “lighter” spiritually, more able to pray, better able to concentrate. It helps to center our attention on God.

    Fasting is not a law, nor is it about “kosher” in which certain foods are unclean. It’s simply how the Church has fasted through most of its existence. If it’s any consolation, Monastics keep the fast in a far more strict manner than the rest of us.

    At the very least, an important part of a fast should be to leave the table “slightly hungry” rather than “full.”

    I sometimes have catechumens start more easily than attempting the whole of the common fasting practice – by abstaining from just meat, for instance. But it’s up to you and your priest.

    I find it helpful that the fast is generally not based on “what do I want to give up” but rather on the settled practice and tradition of the Church. I don’t need to be in charge of creating my own fast. Part of fasting is not being in charge of everything.

  18. luciasclay Says:

    I had never heard the concept of Eve and Adam not keeping a fast. Thats interesting.

    I know that in the New Testament we see Christ fasting, the apostles fasting as Christians, even Paul speaking of fasting to the believers. But it has no application in the churches that I grew up in or frequented since.

    It is also interesting for me to notice that in certain translations, the mention of fasting has even vanished from scripture, at least in 1 Cor 7:5. For instance the NIV, which like for many people of my age was common, but which I long ago figured out wasn’t the most reliable translation. Also the RSV which I’ve usually found to be a good translation and is my most common version to read, drops the word fasting there even though the text seems to have it clearly defined. Likewise in 2 Cor though in those cases fasting comes through as hunger in those versions.

    Ironically, for me at least, the fasts, other than the strict fasts, do not seem to hard. I grew up vegetarian. Due to being raised in a church that, in contradiction to the words of the New Testament, believed we were still bound by the clean/unclean foods laws of the Old Testament. And then went beyond that and added the notion that it was even better to be a vegetarian, indeed many thought it mandatory. The bigger challenge for me is understanding that the fasts are not just another variation on that same theme.

    Tied up in this is the deeper issue of the Church having authority. In this case the authority to set specific fasts that the members follow. In my background the Church had no authority. Though ironically we all depended on the authority of the Church to define the canon of scripture but refused to admit that we relied on Church authority in that matter.

    Is there uniformity among Orthodox churches regarding which saints are honored when and which days are which types of fasts ? I suspect that there is overall uniformity but some variance in some cases on the calendars.

    Thank you for your blogging and for allowing me to ramble out loud while I ponder these things.

    Regards,

    Lucias

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    There is general agreement on the saints. If a saint is canonized by a local synod, he is a saint (local synod would mean “national synod). Some saints are better known in some places rather than others and are commemorated more where they are known. Everyday has probably 10 to 40 saints or more. Thus you will see some variety. Also there are occasionally instances when a saints day varies. I thinkt the Greeks commemorate St. Herman of Alaska one day different than the OCA and Russia. for instance.

    The Church’s authority in fasting is not to say “you must fast” but “it is now time to fast and this is how it will be kept.” There is no sin in the fast being ameliorated for health or other proper reasons. But there is great virtue and strength in doing this together. If I fail others can encourage me and help me along. I do not have to fast alone.

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