Rev. Fr. Jacob Thomas (Associate Vicar)
Once again we are approaching the Great Lent of 50 days with an attitude of changing our self in all the way thatís pleasing to God Almighty. What is the emphasis of the Fasting? We need to analyze our thoughts and minds substituted with actions which will make our fasting and abstinence meaningful.
In the Old Testament fasting is sometimes preparation for the Feast days, but more generally it is a sign of humility before God. Fasting accompanied mourning and repentance. In time of necessity of danger, it was appropriate for an individual or the whole community to fast. Fasting, so to speak, reinforced urgent prayer.
Fasting in the New Testament was introduced by our Lord Jesus Christ Who gave us a great example of fasting. After His Baptism in the river of Jordan He withdrew into the wilderness where He spend forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting in preparation for His sacred ministry. Jesus taught his disciples and followers to fast. He told them not to fast like the Pharisees, but when they fast bodily they should be completely natural in their behavior ó humble and penitent.
It is widely known that the Orthodox Churches give much importance to fasting. The noun fasting means non-eating and non-feeding. But every non-eater is by no means a faster and everyone who is an eater and restrains himself by an interior dedication from nourishment because of heavenly things is a faster.
In our materialistic society we learn to identify ourselves through self-indulgence and we tend to see the fasting only as a time of deprivation and penance. But this is not at all the view of the Orthodox Church on fasting and abstinence and it is clearly explained by the Fathers in their spiritual discourses. For them, fasting is the feast of the soul and good fasts are like medicine which cures our soul and mind, and, along with other virtuous works, it leads us to the eternal life. In our spiritual battle, fasting protects us from the evil one. It not only resists the attack but also trains our body and mind for the battle.
According to Mar Aprem (4th Century Church Father) fasting is a great weapon against the evil one. Through fasting Christ defeated the Satan and has given us this weapon to overcome the evil. For Philixenus of Maboug (6th century Church Father), fasting and abstinence are the two virtuous weapons for cultivating the field of Christian life. ĎFasting must be undertaken voluntarily and it must be of divine dispensationí. This is the primary teaching of our Church on Fasting. Fast is of free will and it is the voluntary fast which is accessible and permanent.
Fasting becomes highly acceptable when it is joined with humility of hearts, charity towards all men and continuous prayers. The Lenten prayers and liturgy of our Church extols this kind of fasting by giving the Old Testament figures as good examples (Moses, Daniel, Elijah etc.). Fasting is the root by which all the fruits of sanctity are sustained and on this same root grows purity, delights virginity and rejoices patience.
Fasting dispels immodesty, controls the lust and offers the body as a holy temple of God. Therefore, the Church exhorts the faithful to love and practice this highly acceptable form of Christian life so that it may lead them to the great eternal fast which is going to happen in the eternal bride chamber of life.
Fasting is an art fully mastered by the Saints. These holy men and women, who have taken their religion and fasting seriously, can be of great help to us. They offer a number of recommendations for fasting.
Letís approach this Lenten season with prayers for a meaningful change.
Yours in Christ
Fr Jacob Thomas