As promised, today I want so share this wonderful explanation of fasting for spiritual purposes that was in our church’s weekly email newsletter this week:
The practice of fasting is rich with meaning. Many of the Holy Fathers throughout the history of the Church have written about the significance of fasting. Saint Basil, for example, tells us that fasting is not simply abstaining from food; it is, more importantly, the avoidance of sin. The Church in her hymnology describes fasting as the mother of chastity and prudence, as the accuser of sin and as the advocate of repentance, the life worthy of angels and the salvation of humans. Fasting becomes all of these when observed in the proper spirit.
In its most basic sense, fasting is abstinence from food. But it is far more than that. Through a very natural process created by God, we consume food for sustenance, energy, and life. However, we can be inclined to take more than we need or to be so controlled by our physical desire that we focus only on what we eat, neglecting our relationships and our spiritual needs, and even endangering our well-being. By subordinating the desires of the body, fasting helps us reestablish a proper order in our lives as Christians. It helps us to open our minds and souls to the guidance of the Spirit and to break away from our captivity to bodily appetites and selfish desires. Through fasting we overcome the burdens and pressures of physical gratification that are placed upon us in our world, and through our faith in Christ we are renewed and transformed into the holy people God created us to be. In addition, through fasting we move away from an entanglement and conformity to sinful passions and desires into a blessed life filled with the presence, power, and grace of God.
By fasting, we also demonstrate the sincerity of our repentance. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by refusing to fast from the forbidden fruit. They were controlled completely by their own desires. But now through fasting, through obedience to the discipline of the Church regarding the use of spiritual and material goods, we may return to the life in Paradise, a life of communion with God. Thus, the discipline of fasting is a means to salvation. It aids our journey from sin and death to eternal life by helping us focus on our need for God’s grace and forgiveness. Through fasting we are engaged in the struggle against sin, and through discipline and abstinence, the sincerity of our repentance is affirmed.
In the practice of fasting it is important to remember that we are not fasting simply for the sake of fasting. Our observance of the fasting days and periods of the Church is for our spiritual growth and greater communion with God. It is not to be a superficial practice aimed at obtaining the praise of others. Fasting is also not intended to be so all-consuming that we become fixated by how we can design methods and recipes to experience enjoyable food without breaking the “rules.” No matter how austere our fast or how much in accordance our fast may be with purely technical “rules,” it is void of faith and grace if we are not also committed to prayer and worship, study and growth in our knowledge of our faith, and philanthropic and charitable acts.
As Orthodox Christians, let us cherish fasting as a vital part of our spiritual lives and practice. Let us experience the great joys that come through fasting as it contributes to a life of repentance and prayer.