Fasting has been an enduring part of our world. Every religion practices it in one form or another. Fasting has entered through a variety of doors into our “modern” lives. We fast for medical purposes; we also fast in order to lose weight and look better. More recently, we have even begun to fast for ecological reasons.
Many times, as religious people, we find ourselves muttering that people should keep a diet to help themselves look or feel better, but they won’t take the time to keep the fast for a spiritual purpose. So much time is spent for the health of the body and not enough for the soul.
But dieting is much easier than fasting. Those who diet have an immediate goal in mind or a specific desire in heart — to lose weight or to improve health. Dieting has no meaning outside of ourselves, since it is a self-centered action.
Fasting from a religious perspective, on the other hand, involves much more than a simple diet; it is a commandment from God and, like His other commandments, was given to us for our benefits. Since fasting exists independent of our earthly desires or self-centered needs, the results that we hope to attain should benefit not only ourselves, but also others. The value of fasting extends beyond this earthly life.
Fasting helps us to take control of our feelings and to understand ourselves better. Our efforts to master our consumption by fasting can help us to take charge of our lives. Fr. Alexander Schmemann says that “Deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature.” Fasting, then, is a discipline, but it is also more than this. Fasting also involves almsgiving and prayer. It is indeed a complex act that involves growth of the whole person, which is why it is very difficult.
We live in a self-centered society for which fasting can be our remedy. We can free ourselves from the enslaving power of our possessions by practicing almsgiving. If we avoid expensive cuisine and engage in a total fast just to save money, we are not fasting. Only if the money that we save is given to the less fortunate among us, can we say that we have truly fasted. It is true that fasting is, therefore, an act of love, and it renews our relationship with others. St. John Chrysostom says, “Nothing equals the merit of almsgiving. Great is the power of this action. . . nothing so nourishes love as to be compassionate towards others.”
Keeping the fast also requires prayer, which can also renew our relationship with God. We can start by putting God first for a change. We must spend more time with and for God. The time that we save by not watching television and refraining from parties or other forms of entertainment, should be used for learning more about God and for praying and going to Church. So, from this perspective, fasting has a liturgical aspect. Fasting is a liturgical act. Like the Prophetess Anna, we should be “worshiping with fasting” (Luke. 2:37).
Fasting is an opportunity for the salvation of our souls. It can help us to get control of our lives. It is also an opportunity to help others. Fasting helps me to be a better me, a better brother to my fellow man and a better disciple of God. For these reasons, fasting should be part of our lives even though it is a struggle.
You are probably thinking by now that I am writing these thoughts to persuade you to keep the fast, however, this is not my intention. I am writing them down to help myself keep the fast. But, if in this process I convince you too, so be it; I have probably touched a spiritual summons deep inside of you.
This article was taken directly from the chapter “Fasting is Good for the Soul,” from Fr. Cornel’s book Seek First the Kingdom. This book can be purchased from Regina Orthodox Press by clicking their link here: http://www.reginaorthodoxpress .com/sefiki.html
This article was posted here with direct permission from Regina Orthodox Press and Fr. Cornel.