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A FEW WORDS ON FASTING

The world has discovered fasting. Its idea of fasting is not self-denial. The worldly person either confuses fasting with dieting or, leaning on oriental concepts, as the means to psycho-physical re­newal, a return to harmony with nature. This fasting is selfish. The purpose is not perfection in Christ. It may give us a nice complexion, a comely figure or temporary well-being, but it cannot destroy the passions--surely, not the passion of pride--nor bring grace nor put us in the presence of God. St. Theophan the Recluse says, “The beginning of all saving work (podvig) is faith and baptism.”

 

Fasting is saving when it is self-denying. Worldly people fast without faith. They are not baptized, and fasting, as a saving work, has no meaning. Fasting is an expression of faith of our election. It is not an end in itself; it is the way to God’s pre­sence. Indeed, nor is fasting a saving work without praying in faith. Nothing spiritual can be accomplished, declared the Saviour, by prayer and fasting.’’ Prayer is private and public – “in the closet” and “in the congregation.” We are not only private persons, but organic members of Christ’s Body, the Church. We are saved in the Church, in the life of perfection, in the “humanity of Christ”--never alone.

 

Fasting, therefore, can never be separated from the Mysteries of the Church. In fact, one of the immediate uses of fasting--and prayer--is preparation for the Eucharist, “the Sacrament of Sacra­ments.” It unites us with Christ (and each other) which is the very purpose of the Christian life.

 

That life is taking up the cross and following Christ. Fasting is part of the load, a sharing in the Lord’s “way of dolor” and, in­deed, the crucifixion of the flesh. This way is the way of self-abasement which means that it is the total being which fasts, not merely the palate. We must fast with the eyes, the ears, the lips, the touch, the nose. Perfect fasting involves the whole person, for which reason St. John Chrysostom exhorts, “Fast not only from food, but from sin.” This is the Christian ideal of fasting: the degree to which I have denied myself is the degree to which my sins will decrease. Faith, love and hope increase simultaneously. Self-denial is the path of holiness---holiness brings truth, truth brings salvation. The world knows nothing of these things.

 

 

 


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