The Meaning of Fasting
by Father Abraham Azmy
There are two meanings of fasting. The first one means abstinence of eating certain food for certain period of time. The other is broader and means suppressing all the desires of the body. The first meaning refers to fasting of the body. The second meaning refers to fasting of the soul and the body. Look to what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 "Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, as not uncertainly. I fight like that, as not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected."
Why do we have to bring our bodies and our souls into submission?
- The body with all its desires is the biggest obstacle for spiritual growing; "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one other, that you may not do the things that you desire." (Galatians 5:17)
- Submission of the body is the cross which we should carry on daily basis; "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts." (Galatians 5:24). In this way we become "always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:10). Our Lord Jesus Christ returned to Nazareth from Egypt after the death of King Herod who was seeking the young child to destroy Him. You also should kill your Herod who is seeking your soul to destroy it.
What is the Meaning of Fasting?
Fasting is the abstinence of certain food for certain period of time hand in hand with the spiritual soul, gradually from the obligation to the choice to do it. It is not weakening of the body. It is strengthening the spirit and the desire to flourish the spirit by the submission of the body.
The Rank of Fasting in the Spiritual Life
Fasting should precede any other virtue in the spiritual life.
In the Old Testament:
Fasting was very essential in the lives of the saints and prophets, such as Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Nehemiah, David, Isaiah and the people of Nineveh.
In the New Testament:
- Our Lord Jesus Christ fasted for us, not in need to fast but it was for us. He also spoke about fasting as a cornerstone in His sermon on the mountain. "Moreover when you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most assuredly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)
- Our Lord Jesus Christ showed us the power of Fasting when He said: "This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29)
How can I fast?
- Control your bodily desires. This means the spiritual fasting.
- Start fasting of the food, which is the easiest way of fasting.
- Fasting should be accompanied by affliction, and repentance; "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I afflicted my soul with fasting. My prayer returned into my own bosom." (Psalms 35:13)
- Fasting should include periods of abstinence of eating completely. This is the base of fasting and controlling the self. There is no fasting without periods of abstinence of eating. It has to have the feeling of hunger as the bible says about our Lord's fasting "When he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry afterward." (Matthew 4:2). The same about Moses' fasting "He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread, nor drank water." (Exodus 34:28)
- Fasting should be accompanied by prayers; "He (our Lord Jesus) said to them, "This kind (devil) can come out by nothing, except by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29)
- Fasting should be accompanied by giving the poor and needy "Isn't this the fast that I have chosen….to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Isaiah 58:6-7)
- Perform a balanced fasting; do not exceed what the spiritual father gives you.
We pray that God may accept our prayers and fasting. Glory be to God forever. Amen..
Credit and Attribution:
Father Abraham Azmy, Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church of Connecticut. This article originally appeared in the coptnet.com spiritual archives.
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