THE GREAT FAST
The period of the Forty Day Fast, offers many opportunities to believers to increase their relation with God and the benefits are great! This article will be of interest to those who try to keep the fast and who keep it strictly, according to the requirements of the Church. Fasting is an important part of our Orthodox Faith for through it we show obedience to God and reduce our passions. Also it fasting by calming the body’s desires, helps prayer to become more lively and joyful. The great Moses fasted for forty days on the mountain. Our Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days before He began His ministry. St. Paul, following His encounter with Christ, became blind and fasted three days and nights from all food and drink, and later became the greatest preacher of the Church.
Fasting has the distinction of being the very first law of God given to man, when the Lord told Adam, to completely fast from the forbidden tree, He established the penalty death. Orthodox Christian with a few exceptions, fast Wednesdays and Fridays, the Great Fast of Forty Days, Holy Week, the Fast of Peter and Paul begins a week after Pentecost, the Fast for the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos in the first two weeks of August, the forty days before the Christmas, August 29, beheading of John the Forerunner and Sep. 14th for the Exaltation of the Cross.
In this article we will not go into the details of bodily fasting as there are many sources available with detail on methods and reasons for fasting for medical, physical and spiritual reasons. Here we will deal with a different aspect of fasting that does not deal with material food and drink alone.
When we fast it is usually a bodily fast when we limit partially or totally the intake of food and drink, there is also another aspect of fasting which is vital.
As the body requires food an drink, our souls also require food and drink or they will starve. Everyone is familiar with eating drinking to keep the body healthy. During fasts we should be giving more attention to the soul than the body. The soul of man is the real object of fasting and the soul needs to eat and drink its food to stay healthy and fast from harmful things to avoid harm. The soul’s food is divine wisdom, and its drink is the sweet nectar of Holy Scripture and writings of the Apostles and Holy Fathers and Lives of Saints which the soul needs in order to be fed.
It is well known that the entrances to the soul are through the body’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, touch, and may remain in the soul’s memory. These entrances pour floods of continuous soul-food into the soul which is sometimes wholesome but may be harmful or poisonous food. Obviously we need to feed the soul with good food and fast from harmful or poisonous food.
We feed our souls by using the body’s eyes and ears, to read or listen to the divine words of Holy Scripture. Through our eyes we can also bring into our souls worthless or unpleasant writings or pictures which will be harmful to the soul, such as, bad news or unclean material. From these things our souls must fast and be well trained to rid itself of both the harmful ideas and their memoies.While1 physical food for our bodies is limited, what enters our soul is almost limitless, as eyes and ears handles millions of images into the soul and records many of them in the memory.
It is important to restrain harmful things from entering our souls, and also to feed our souls with wholesome ideas.
If we fast by merely abstaining from foods such as meat and dairy products, and we our souls are not fasting from ideas, images and memories, our spiritual gains will be minimized. Reading of Holy Scripture strengthen’s our souls relationship with the Lord. Reading the Holy Fathers, increases the strength of our relationship with the Church. Reading the lives of Saints and Martyrs, arouses love and zeal in our hearts and warmth toward them with the desire to emulate their love and warmth toward God. For the love of God, is so important that it is called the greatest commandment, while the love of this world is called deadly by Scripture. Increasing our love for God will decrease our love for this word. The spirit of the world is that there is nothing more important, and it ignores the fearful judgment of Christ, where He will separate true believers from others who will be sentenced to eternal punishment.
Fasting in general is of great help to any man who seeks nearness to God, good health and self control and general well-being and happiness, which eating cannot possibly accomplish. Fasting has a profound effect on our spirits in subduing the desires of the flesh, fasting increases the yearnings of the spirit to pray and praise God and so become closer to God and His kingdom. Fasting has a profound effect when the fast and start eating regularly, the food always tastes better!