When we had come from the region of Syria and had sought the province of Egypt, in our desire to learn the rules of the Elders, we were astonished at the alacrity of heart with which we were there received so that no rule forbidding refreshment till the appointed hour of the fast was over was observed, such as we had been brought up to observe in the monasteries of Palestine; but except in the case of the regular days, Wednesdays and Fridays, p. 243 wherever we went the daily fast 864 was broken: 865 and when we asked why the daily fast was thus ignored by them without scruple one of the elders replied: “The opportunity for fasting is always with me. But as I am going to conduct you on your way, I cannot always keep you with me. And a fast, although it is useful and advisable, is yet a free-will offering. But the exigencies of a command require the fulfilment of a work of charity. And so receiving Christ in you I ought to refresh Him but when I have sent you on your way I shall be able to balance the hospitality offered for His sake by a stricter fast on my own account. For the children of the bridegroom cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them: 866 but when he has departed, then they will rightly fast.”
The allusion is here to the sparing diet and voluntary fasts of the monks, among whom but one meal a day was usual (see the note on III. xiii.), and though this was ordinarily taken at midday, yet many of the more celebrated anchorites never broke their fast till the evening; e.g. S. Antony is said never to have eaten till sunset (Vita Anton.) and S. Jerome gives a similar account of Hilarion (Vita Hil. § 4), while other instances of voluntary fasts are given by Cassian in the following chapters, xxv.–xxvii. The “station” days, however, viz., Wednesday and Friday, being of ecclesiastical authority, were strictly observed as a matter of rule, but these other voluntary fasts at other times were to be freely broken through on account of the arrival of visitors. See the Conferences II. xxvi., XXI. xiv., XXIV. xxi., and cf. Rufinus, History of the Monks II. vii., Palladius, the Lausiac History, c. lii. So the Rule of S. Benedict (c. liii.) orders that on the arrival of visitors the Superior is to sit at table with them and break his fast, unless it be a special fast day which may not be broken; but the brethren are to observe the regular fasts.243:866
S. Matt. ix. 15. The Latin has sponsus in each clause.
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