Why fast?

by Fr. Alexander Lebedeff

Fasting was established by God Himself. In the Old Testament, preparation for a special holy occasion included fasting and prayer. In the New Testament, fasting is mentioned often.. Our Lord fasted Himself for forty days, before going out to preach.

It is clearly not "optional," since Our Lord said regarding fasting "When you fast" (Matt. 7:16), not "If you fast." Marvellously simple, when you think about it.

Our Lord, speaking of His disciples, said that after His departure, they would fast (". . .when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they shall fast").

And, perhaps most importantly, our Lord said that we can overcome the devil only through prayer and fasting. When His disciples reported to Him that they had been unable to cast out a demon, Our Lord explained to them that ("this kind [the devil and his foul spirits] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting").

If we are given but two weapons in our battle against the demonic powers we should not cast one of these weapons aside and ignore it. Do you think that a soldier who is told that only two weapons work against a particular enemy would throw one away? I don't think so.

The Apostolic writings also mention fasting. St. Paul, in his first Letter to the Corinthians, speaking about marriage, counsels that husbands and wives not deny one another "except it be for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, and come together again.." Clearly, fasting and praying together are a part of a Christian marriage, according to the Apostle.

It is amazing to me, that the majority of Protestants ignore fasting, although it is very well documented in the Scriptures. So much for "sola scriptura." If something doesn't appeal to them, they will ignore it, no matter how many times it is mentioned in the scriptures.

The Church has established fasting periods that actually total up to about half of the year, averaging about 180 days, when you add them all together. Each of the seasons has its particular fasting period: Winter - the fast before Christmas; Spring - the fast for Great Lent; Summer - the Apostles Fast; Fall - the Dormition Fast. In addition, throughout the rest of the year, two days a week are assigned to fasting, and there are individual special fast days connected with Feasts, as well, such as the Eve of Theophany, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, and the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

Apart from being a spiritual discipline, it is actually very healthy. A recommendation has been made by a major doctors' group that everyone should avoid meat and dairy products two days per week, in order to help keep animal fats and related cholesterol problems under control. Amazing to hear contemporary physicians making a great "discovery" that the Church has known for thousands of years!

A final thought on fasting. The original commandment that was given by God to our protogenitors Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a fasting commandment ("eat of the fruit of all the trees, but this one"). If the fall of mankind and the loss of paradise was the result of breaking a fasting commandment, we should probably think twice before we ignore the fasts.

from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist,
Washington, D.C., USA

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