Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Don’t You Fast?

The Prophets Fasted
Moses: When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone...I was in the mountain forty days and forty nights, I ate no bread and drank no water. Deuteronomy 9:9 (LXX)
Prophet Jonah:  It was by fasting among other things that the people of Nineveh were saved from his prediction of peril.  Jonah 3:7  (LXX)
Prophet Joel:  “Now, says the Lord your God, turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting and with wailing, and with mourning. Joel 2:12 (LXX)
Prophet Daniel: And I set my face toward the Lord God, to seek him diligently by prayer and supplication, with fastings and sackcloth.  And I Prayed to the Lord my God, and confessed...  Daniel 9:3-4 (LXX)
Jesus Fasted:
Immediately after His Baptism, what did He do?
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry. 
What was His instruction for Apostles in the case of the epileptic boy whose demon the Apostles could not cast out?
This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
When challenged by Pharisees about His disciples what did He say? 
Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. 
The Lord Himself gave instructions for fasting:
But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; That you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret. Matthew. 6:17-18
Why did he say this?
Apostles fasted:
In the Acts of the Apostles we read: As they ministered (liturgical rite) to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work where unto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
They coupled fasting with liturgical acts:
Paul: Apostle Paul describes his own spiritual life as one of sacrifice, vigils, thirst, and fasting lived “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”
He also refers to fasting in the context of marriage saying that by mutual consent husband and wife abstain from marital relations periodically while fasting and prayer.
The first century - Didache:
“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” 
Your fasts must not be identical with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Mondays and Thursdays; but you should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. 
The fasting referred to here was a complete abstention from both food and drink until sundown. 
Church Fathers fasted:
Ecclesiastical writer Tertullian (220) notes that spiritual growth requires confession and prayer fed by “fasting, ...not for the stomach’s sake, ...but for the soul’s.
St. Gregory (391) - practice of receiving the Eucharist after fasting.
Saint Basil (379) wrote much on fasting.
St. John Cassian (435): Therefore, fastings, vigils, meditation on the Scriptures, self-denial, and the abnegation of all possessions are not perfection, but aids to perfection: because the end of that science does not lie in these, but by means of these we arrive at the end. 
St. Athanasius (373) - Fasting is more than just food. ...let us vie with each other in observing the purity of the fast by watchfulness in prayers, by study of the Scriptures, by distributing to the poor, and let us be at peace with our enemies. Let us bind up those who are scattered abroad, banish pride, and return to lowliness of mind, being at peace with all men, and urging the brethren unto love. Letter XIV.
St. Athanasius describes the benefits of fasting:
“...cures ills and dries up bodily humors, casts out demons and turns away evil thoughts; it makes the mind brighter, the heart clean, and the body holy; and it presents man before the Throne of God.”
Modern Saints Fasted:
St. Nectarios of Aegina (1920) Fasting is an ordinance of the church, obliging the Christian to observe it on specific days.  ...He who fasts for the uplifting of his mind and heart towards God shall be rewarded by God, Who is a most liberal bestower of divine gifts, for his devotion.  
...unless one lifts his mind and heart towards God through Christian--not Pharisaic--fasting and through prayer, he cannot attain a consciousness of his sinful state and earnestly seek the forgiveness of sins.. Prayer and fasting--Christian fasting-- serve as means of self-study, of discernment of our true moral state, of an accurate estimation of our sins and of a knowledge of their true character.
(Vol 7 of Modern Orthodox Saints, 2nd ed., p 178)
The purpose of fasting is chiefly spiritual: to provide an opportunity and preparation for spiritual works of prayer and meditation on the Divine through the complete abstinence from food, or the eating of uncooked food or frugal fare.  
However, fasting is no less valuable for physical health, since self-control and simplicity of life are necessary conditions of health and longevity, as dietetics tells us.
Canons of Church require fasting:
If you do not honor the Wednesday and Friday fast you are to be excommunicated.
Must fast prior to taking Communion.
Strict fast during entire Lenten period.
Do not fast on Sunday and Saturday.
If ill or weak relaxation of guidelines appropriate.
Always been essential part of Orthodox Christian Life. 
Necessary discipline to combat the passions and open the door to the renewal of the Holy Spirit. 
Why don’t you fast?
Fasting foods should be simple and plain and not extravagant. 
The more effort that goes into their creativity and preparation, the more its value is reduced. 
They should not be prepared to satisfy our craving for certain tastes.       
• Break from our automatic response to food,
• Give thanks to our Lord,
•  Increase our self-control.


  1. Well, gee, let me think. I think you mean 'why don't you fast according to to churches rules of fasting', right?
    Because the church rules on fasting (Orthodox,Catholic,Anglican,Lutheran)
    is really fasting at all! It is just different levels of abstention.
    To appeal to Moses and the Prophets, Jesus the Christ and the Apostles is really laughable. THEY FASTED! They did not abstain. Yes, there were a few different fasts such as the Daniel Fast but mostly fasting meant and means no food for various periods of time.
    Most people don't even follow the abstentions let alone keep the whole thing. The so-called Lenten and Advent Fasts are just a nice way for people to think they are doing what God wants and when they fail, they feel guilty.
    Sorry for venting but I find this whole thing a waste of time. When I fast for a day or two when I need it for my own benefit, I fast. No food, only water. Some how I don't think God is too concerned with our foolish attempts.

  2. Though Great Lent is kept with rigor in Orthodox Tradition, there is nothing unusual asked of believers – nothing that we do not do on many days throughout the rest of the year. We fast; we pray; we give alms; we attend services, etc. But we do these with greater intensity and frequency during the Great Fast (the more universal name of the season). As preparation for the feast of Pascha, the “feast of feasts,” all of these disciplines drive the point of the Christian faith further and deeper.

    Much of modern Christianity lives as a stranger to ascetical discipline. Few Christians fast, and the fasting of many others have forgotten the traditions of earlier generations. Various historical factors have turned the Christian life into a set of beliefs rather than a way of life.

    I take issue with the overwhelming volume of "Lenten Recipes" that seem to proliferate this time of year. Eating sumptuous meals that conform to the “letter of the law” defeats the purpose of the Fast. I seriously doubt that Christ and the Holy Fathers would consider a lobster and shrimp dinner with non-dairy buttered rolls and tofu cheesecake fasting. Eating simple meals (of less volume), praying more for those in need, and alms giving to the poor is what we all should strive for, not trying to figure out how to stuff ourselves.

    Yours in Christ
    Jim Kolettis

  3. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”(Маt. 15:11)

    St. Theophan the Recluse on Fasting - The Lord did not say this because he did not approve of fasting or because he considered fasting unnecessary – indeed, He Himself fasted, and taught His disciples to do so, and established fasts in His Holy Church. He said this, then, not to discourage fasting. Rather, he says it to teach us that when we fast we should not limit ourselves merely to eating little and avoiding cooked foods, but should also refrain from indulging the appetites and passionate inclinations of the soul. This is, of course the most important thing. Fasting, in its turn, serves a powerful means of accomplishing this.

    The passions are rooted in the flesh. When the flesh is weakened through fasting, then it is as if the fortress of the passions has been undermined, and its strength crumbles. On the other hand, to overcome the passions without fasting would be as remarkable as standing in a fire without being burnt. How is it possible for one who continually indulges his flesh with food, sleep and rest to maintain any sort of attention and purpose in spiritual matters? For such a one to turn from the earth, directing his attention to invisible things and striving them, is just as difficult as it is for an enfeebled bird to rise up from the earth.

    Yours in Christ,
    Jim Kolettis

  4. Good comments.
    Fasting is a means to strengthen our soul so it can tame the passions for the purpose of enabling us to live a more virtuous life. Fasting is not a virtue. Our fallen condition is one where we are dominated by our bodily needs and demands. We are easily tempted and fall into sinful ways even when this is not our intention. Fasting is a means proven by our church fathers, when coupled with prayer and participation in the sacraments to lift us up from the deplorable condition that we find ourselves.
    When we deny our hunger, we are putting our soul in control. Hunger is the most basic of our bodily needs. As we develop the strength to control this most basic passion we can more easily deal with all the others.