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On Fasting

by a Monk of the Orthodox Church

The Holy Apostle commands us saying "Let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." From the time of the Apostles, Prophets and Fathers till our own day, it is evident from the life of the Church that fasting is part of our "armor of light"; it is a mighty weapon against the enemy given into our hands by the Saviour Himself, Who is a type and example for us in all things and Who fasted in the flesh in order to teach us to fast. To those weak and ill, it is a medicine and antidote a bath in which to be washed and cleansed. Armored with holy fasting, St. Elias the Tishbite withstood Ahab and his army singlehandedly and called down fire from the heavens. By fasting St. Moses, the seer of God and the elder of Israel, prepared to ascend the mountain in the desert and behold the Glory of God. By fasting the Three Children were shown forth to be fairer than the other children in Babylon in the house of the king, and Daniel was shown forth to be a shepherd of lions. Fasting, therefore, should always be understood as a thing most necessary in our battle with the evil one. Only a man who has lost his mind would put down his weapons, strip himself naked of his armor and then jump into the line of fire to do battle with the enemy. Such a one would be committing suicide. A man who calls himself a Christian and does not fast, is such a man. In the final analysis he who does not fast does not believe in God, for he does not really believe in the existence of the enemy and the great victory gifted to us over him by our Saviour. He who does not fast does not believe in Him Who said to the enemy, "Man shall not live by bread alone." This is why Apostolic and Patristic canons proclaim that all who do not keep the fasts have fallen away from the Faith (i.e., have become excommunicated), and our Holy Father St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs us not even to speak with such persons. 

Those who fell away from our Holy Faith through schism and heresy, by distorting the dogmas and truth of Holy Orthodoxy, in consequence distorted the life of the Church also, and especially the teaching concerning fasting. Thus, to the Latins, fasting became primarily a means of atonement, satisfaction, retribution, payment for sins committed or for earning merits, wages, favor, etc., when all sins had been paid for. The Protestants correctly abhorred the use of fasting as "works" which won merits which, in turn, were banked as surplus in the treasury of the the Popes to be dispensed to "poor souls" in purgatory; the few that continued to fast, however, were not able to free themselves from the error of Anselm concerning atonement and punishment. Thus, after some centuries of keeping fasts as "a pious and ancient custom,' yet having lost the correct understanding and position of fasting in the life of the Church, both Latins and Protestants have totally abandoned fasting! Now we see that even those that were nearer to Holy Orthodoxy in Liturgy and practice—the Copts, Armenians, Jacobites, etc.in their last gathering in Addis Ababa have "reformed" their rules concerning fasting. This was to be expected, since they have fallen into heresies and are separated from the Holy Church. But now we hear even from those who bear the name Orthodox similar trends and aspirations. For us sinful folk, who nevertheless are still Orthodox in our Faith, this is one more indication that these people are despisers of and apostates from Orthodoxy. They are only proclaiming to all that have ears to hear that they no longer wish to walk in the way and tradition of our Saviour, the Apostles, Prophets, and Fathers, but rather wish to make "provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." Of them the Psalms say, "They mingled with the nations (heathen) and learned their works"; and the Holy Apostle says, "They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof."  

St. Abba Isaac the Syrian says, "The Saviour began the work of our salvation with fasting. In the same way, all those who follow in the footsteps of the Saviour build on this foundation the beginning of their endeavor, since fasting is a weapon established by God. Who will escape blame if he neglects this? If the Lawgiver Himself fasts, how can any of those who have to obey the law be exempt from fasting? This is why the human race knew no victory before fasting, and the devil was never defeated by our nature as it is: but this weapon has indeed deprived the devil of strength from the outset. Our Lord was the Leader and the first example of this victory, in order to place the first crown of victory on the head of our nature. As soon as the devil sees someone possessed of this weapon, fear straightway falls on this adversary and tormentor of ours, who remembers and thinks of his defeat by the Saviour in the wilderness; his strength is at once destroyed and the sight of the weapon given us by our Supreme Leader burns him up. A man armed with the weapon of fasting is always afire with zeal. He who remains therein, keeps his mind steadfast and ready to meet and repel all violent passions."  

Those who do not fast, especially those of the clergy—teach that fasting consists in not thinking and doing evil and quote from our Saviour, the Apostles and Fathers to support their views. They usually forget that our Saviour, the Apostles and Fathers all fasted the physical fast as well as the spiritual fast. When man partakes of the glory of God, he does not partake of it in the spirit only, but physically also in a complete sense. When one praises God, he does not praise Him only in the Spirit, but with physical voice also in chant and prayer. When one worships God, he does not worship him noetically only but physically also the body participating by standing in prayer, by making prostrations and using the fingers and hand to seal itself with the sign of the Cross. When one communicates God, he does not communicate in spirit only but eats the very Body and drinks the very Blood of the Lord unto healing of soul and body. Thus one praises God and is united with God not in part, but completely as one whole soul and body. When one labors in virtue, one labors not only noetically but physically also, even unto blood, in order not to deny our Saviour. Our Holy Martyrs did not witness just by words and thought, resisting evil in their hearts and minds, but gave their bodies up to torments and their heals to be cut off, that they might remain with our Saviour. Thus, since we are not just spirits, but "wear flesh and live in the world," we cannot possibly fast spiritually only and not fast physically also. There is a unity and interaction between the body and the soul. They cannot be separated while we are still in the body. In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John writes "Satiety of food is the father of fornication; an empty stomach is the mother of purity." He who always keeps his stomach full and he who fasts know the strength of this saying. 

A Monk of the Orthodox Church 

"The Faith which I was taught by the Holy Fathers, which I taught at all times without adjusting it according to the times this Faith I will never stop teaching; I was born with it and I live by it."

—St. Gregory the Theologian)

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