Two Homilies to Encourage Fasting (St. Gregory Palamas)

NOTE: The following two homilies of St. Gregory Palamas are rarely read in the monasteries. The main essence of fasting in the monasteries is abstaining from the required foods on the appointed days. The wise Nicephorus Theotokis writes something that reflects the practices in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries to a tee.:

“When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down:  the earth in order to collect seeds, produce, fruit, spices, and every other kind of growing edible; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, snails, sea-urchins, and anything edible therein.  We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and from these ingredients we concoct many and motley dishes, seasoned with oil, wine, sweeteners, and spices.  Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat.  Moreover, since these foods stimulate the appetite, we eat and drink beyond moderation.  And after that we imagine that we are fasting….

Nikephoros Theotokis
Nikephoros Theotokis

“And whoever taught those who fast in this way that such a variety and such quantities of food constitute a fast?  Where did they read or hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food?  Fasting is one thing, great variety in food another; fasting is one thing, eating great amounts of food another.” (Fasting and Science,  18-19)

The invention of various soy and tofu products has enabled the monastics to eat “fasting” cheese & meat products on fast days: “fasting” cheese, ice cream, milk, meat, etc. Dessert recipes are converted into fasting recipes, thus enabling the monastics to eat cheesecake, custards, chocolate cake with icing, etc. On fast days allowing oil, veggie burgers with veggie cheese slice and French fries are common. This will be served either on days there are no pilgrims, since “they don’t understand Geronda Ephraim’s fronima and scandalize easily,” or the monastics may be instructed not to eat much for dinner, as this will be served after Apodeipno in private. There are even aladato (without oil) veggie burgers that are eaten on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Tricks to get around non-oil fast days are numerous in the monasteries. Grape-seed oil isn’t considered oil so it is used in many of the meals on non-oil fast days. Also, tahini is manipulated, squeezed and strained to extract a tahini oil product which is also used in many meals. Products that have less than 2% of whatever classification is prohibited is discounted because, “We’re not Pharissees; by that point the product is so far removed from its original state that it might as well not even be in it.” Interestingly, despite this spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law, lactose intolerant monastics still have allergic reactions to these products.

Even in non-fasting periods, the nuns have developed recipes manipulating tuna and spices to taste exactly like meat, thus enabling them to eat gyros and keftedes which they proclaim with big smiles, “it tastes exactly like the real thing, as if they were made with real meat!”

As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries—both male and female—ways are found to sustain sumptuous eating lifestyles while still technically remaining within the framework of the Church-ordained fasts.




This homily can be read here:


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