Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Fasting

   Father, some say that the great Apostle Paul conveyed different teaching concerning fasting from that of our Savior Christ. Can you explain this to me?.

   ELDER CLEOPA: Fasting, according to the testimony of Saint Basil the Great, is the oldest commandment given by God to man. This great father of the Church of Christ says:

   "O Man, be pious and meditate with fear on the antiquity of the fast, for as old as is the world so old is as the commandment of fasting. Indeed this commandment was given in paradise when God said to Adam: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it. For in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.'"

   With the word "fasting" we mean abstinence from food but also from all evil desires, so that the Christian may communicate his prayers to God with peace and fervor, kill his evil desires and acquire the Grace of God. The fast is a work of virtue for it bridles the desires of the flesh, strengthens the will, assists in repentance and thus is a means of salvation.

   At the same time it is also a liturgical action, an effort that glorifies God, when it is done for Him, for it is a sacrifice which originates from our love and reverence for God. It is a means of perfection, of cutting off the inclinations of the body, a visible sign of our zeal and struggle to acquire the likeness of God and His angels who have no need of nourishment. The fast, according to Saint Symeon of the Thessaloniki, "is a work of God for Whom the necessity ­of nourishment is non-existent."

   The aim of the fast is the benefit of the body and the soul. The fast strengthens and toughens the body and cleans the soul, maintains the health of the body and gives wings of ascent to the soul. This is why the Old Testament rec­ommends and imposes it many times, such as in Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:18,1 Samuel 7:6, and Joel 2:15. And Jesus the son of Sirach has this to say: "Be not insatiable in any dainty thing, nor too greedy for meats; for excess of meats bringeth sickness, and gluttony will turn into ill temper. By intemperance have many perished, but he that taketh heed prolongeth his life"…

   The Savior Himself fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before He began to preach the Gospel and He Himself teaches us how to fast. He tells us that the devil cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting. His holy Apostles and disciples also fasted, and they themselves institute­d formal fasts for Christians.

   Furthermore, we see how Holy Scripture honours the fast in certain cases and events. “Moses” fasted forty days and forty nights, with “Daniel” doing likewise. The fast is beneficial when the judges and magistrates sit before God in judgment of the people, during difficulties and dangers, and it is good with regards to impending peril. The fast is prescribed during both advantageous times and times of persecution for the Church. The fast must be accompanied by prayer, by the confession of sins, and by humility. The fast assists in the return of the alienated to God, and in times of grief and sorrow.

   The Holy Fathers of the Church of Christ strenuously extol and commend the fast. Here is what “Holy John Chrysostom” says about the fast: "The fast tempers the volatility of the body, bridling the insatiable appetites, purifying and enlightening the soul, and raising it up high."

   The fast in practice is of many types. In particular:

   - The complete fast, when we don't eat and don't drink at all for almost an entire day.
   - Fasting with uncooked foods, when we eat, privately, dry foods in the evening only, i.e, bread and water, fruit, vegetables, etc.
   - The conventional fast, when we eat all the accustomed fasting food, abstaining from such food as meat, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, wine, and oil.
   - The light fast, when we eat food, such as fish, wine, oil etc., allowed by the Church on great feasts which fall on days normally reserved for fasting.

   Days reserved for fasting throughout the year are as follows: Wednesday and Friday, the day of The Elevation of the Holy Cross, The Beheading of the Honorable Forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist, and the eve of the Theophany of the Lord, all of which was established from the earliest days of the Church when the catechumen were being prepared for their baptism on the feast by fasting and prayer.

    The periods of fasting established by the Church of Christ are:

   - The Great Fast or Great Lent, being the forty days be­fore Holy Week and Pascha;
   - The Nativity Fast, being the forty days before Christmas;
   - The Dormition Fast, being the 15 days before the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God; celebrated on August 15th, and
   - The Apostles' Fast, being the period between the feast of All Saints and the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. The order by which we are to observe these four periods of fasting are outlined in the typikon of the Church of Christ.