Definition of fasting:
The spiritual definition of fasting will be mentioned later in detail. However, what are the physical aspect of the definition of fasting? Fasting is abstinence from food, for a period, followed by eating food free from animal fat.
Period of abstinence:
A period of abstinence is essential, since we would simply be vegetarians if we ate without observing it from the beginning of the day. The word fasting means abstinence or cessation. It is therefore necessary to refrain from eating for a certain period of time.
The length of abstinence varies from one person to another. The following outlines some of the reasons for this:
1 People differ in their spirituality. A beginner for example, cannot abstain for a long time when compared with the well trained or the spiritually mature who can abstain for a long time. An anchorite is able to fast for days in the same manner of our fathers the monks, the hermits, and the anchorites.
2 Those who fast differ in age. The ability of a child or a boy to fast differs from that of a young or grown-up man, and is also differs for the elderly.
3 Those who fast also differ in their state of health. A strong person may endure more than the physically weak. Moreover, the sick may require special treatment, and may be exempt from abstinence in accordance with their ailment and the treatment required.
4 Those who fast also differ in the type of work they do. Some work requires great physical effort, while others work in an office environment sitting down at their desks for a number of hours. The first differs from the latter in their endurance to abstain from food.
5 Fasting requires a gradual progression. One should fast by gradually increasing the length of abstinence over the period of the fast. The spiritual fathers usually recommend this useful method.
There is however a minimum time of abstinence, which varies depending on the fast. The minimal fast period for Lent should be higher than for the rest of the fasts and the minimum during the Passion Week is higher than that of Lent. Some are able to fast from Maundy Thursday up to the Easter Mass and others on the day preceding Christmas or Epiphany. As for the weak, their endurance is limited.
Despite all this, we need to set the following important rule:
The period of abstinence should be under the guidance of your Father confessor. Excessive periods of fasting may become detrimental to the body and possibly to the soul as it falsely instils the notion of false glory. On the other hand, some may become lax and lose the benefits of fasting. It is best to seek the guidance of your Father confessor on this matter.
However from the Church’s point of view, on the period of abstinence, we would like to pose the following question:
Is there any association between abstinence from eating and the ninth hour?
There is in fact some connection, for in the Church rite of the ninth hour prayers, we observe the selection of the Bible chapter, which deals with blessing of food after a period of hunger. (Luke 9:10-17).
In the ninth hour prayer, we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Why then is this passage? It appears that abstinence was communally practiced until the ninth hour and thus this passage was suitably placed to allow people to pray then eat their food.Since days of fasting cover the major portion of the year. This bible chapter has remained for all year long to remind us of fasting, even during the days when there is no abstinence to allow us to maintain our daily prayers and remember God’s blessing of food before we eat.
The ninth hour of the day actually coincides with three o’clock in the afternoon since the first hour of the day corresponds to six o’clock in the morning.
In any case, there is no need to elaborate further on this point since the period of abstinence differs from one person to another. The period of abstinence is left up to the Father confessor and to the spiritual condition of the person fasting.
What is important is the spiritual aspect of the period of abstinence. It is far more important to discuss the method by which man may benefit spiritually from his abstinence than on the formalities and laws that govern the period of abstinence. A person may not benefit spiritually if they follow a non-spiritual method, even if he abstains from food until the ninth hour or even sunset.
What is, therefore, the spiritual way?
1 The period of abstinence must be one of renunciation and asceticism caring not for the body. You should therefore not think about when and what you will eat while abstaining from food, nor find pleasure in preparing what you will eat. On the contrary, the period of abstinence should be a time when you elevate yourself totally above the levels of eating, materialism, and food.
2 After the period of abstinence, do not eat greedily, for he who abstains from food, then eats what he covets, or chooses certain foods that he enjoys, has not subdued his body, humiliated it, nor rid it of its lusts. This indicates that he has not benefited spiritually from the period of abstinence, a time of renunciation and asceticism if he greedily eats what he lusts for. Look at what the Prophet Daniel said about his fast: “I ate no pleasant food.” (Dan 10:3).
It is like he who demolishes what he has built… all in vain! Fasting is not to build then demolish, and build again only to demolish, without the desire for growth!
3 Do not wait in anticipation for the end of the abstinence period as to what you will eat.
Do not hasten to eat when the time comes. Try if you can to resist even for a few minutes and wait. When it is time to eat, say to yourself: Let us pray for a while, then eat, or let us read a book and contemplate for some time, then eat.
Do not pounce on food. Let renunciation that you harboured during abstinence continue to be with you after you have eaten, for this is spiritually beneficial and you will be rewarded.
Let the spirit not the hour guide you.
Elevate yourself above food, material things and the body in-order to move forward to the depth of abstinence.
As for the period and time of abstinence, it would be beneficial if it led you to the feeling of hunger.
Let us here talk to you about the element of hunger in fasting:
The element of hunger:
Many abstain from food, then eat without feeling or enduring hunger. They are without patience to profit from fasting spiritually. The Bible presents to us many examples of hunger during fasting.
Jesus Christ, as well as the Apostles, fasted until they became hungry.
The bible mentions that after Jesus Christ fasted for forty days that: “afterward He was hungry.” (Matt 4:2). According to the account of Saint Luke: “And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.” (Luke 4:2). Jesus Christ also became hungry on Easter Monday. (Mark 11: 12).
However, some may argue that Christ’s fasting is difficult and beyond us. Therefore, let us talk about the fasting of ordinary people who experienced the element of hunger.
It was said about the Apostle St Peter that: "He became very hungry, and would have eaten " (Acts 10:10). In the discourse of St Paul and his companions’ service, he said: “In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often…” (2 Cor 11:27). He also said: “learned both to be full and to be hungry.” (Phil 4:12).
God blessed the condition of hunger, saying:
“Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled.”(Luke 6:11).
If Lazarus’s hunger qualified him to embrace our Father Abraham for his share of trouble on earth though it had not been of his own free will, how much more grace will God give to those in eternity who willingly hunger ascetically seeking Him.
God prepared His people in the wilderness through hunger.
He said to those people: “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness…So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (Dent 8:2,3).
He who escapes from the statement: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger” will have the statement: “fed you with manna” in the wilderness evade him.
However, the children of Israel perished in the wilderness when they murmured and became hungry.
Fasting acquires its perfection in toleration to hunger.
If you do not become hungry, you will not understand the depth and meaning of fasting, and if you do not prolong or endure your fast and eat directly after your abstinence, you will not be awarded the benefits conveyed by hunger.
What then are the spiritual benefits conveyed by hunger?
He who hungers becomes aware of his weakness.
Thus he defeats his sense of self-delusion, from self reliance and excessive self-confidence. Bodily humility and weakness leads him to spiritual submission.
When the body is humbled, the soul is humbled, feeling the need for support and pleads to God for strength, saying: O Lord, support my weakness with Your Godly power for I by myself can do nothing.
Man’s prayer is intense when hungry.
Fervent spiritual prayers do not come from a full stomach.
That is why prayer and fasting are inseparable. People fast when they seek depth in their prayer. Prayers and bible readings during Passion Week become profound when united by hunger…
Easter melody recording during Passion Week exhibits spiritual depth by he who records it while fasting. A recording of the same melody on other than fasting days, loses its spiritual depth to become in all probability a mere tune.
God desires that through hunger that man may identify his weakness. Prostration is therefore more effective when hungry than with a stomach filled with food.
My advice to you is this: If you feel hungry, resist for a while the temptation to eat so that you may receive the blessing of hunger.
The Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and finally became hungry. When the Devil tempted Christ to eat He refused despite His hunger. In doing so, He taught us a lesson. Therefore, endure your hunger, and do not avoid it.
Do not escape from the feeling of hunger through idle talk, wasting of time or sleep which you may resort to in order to overcome the period of hunger without feeling it. By escaping from hunger, you forfeit its blessings, spiritual benefits and the virtue of endurance and control over the body.
Our aim is to benefit from hunger and not escape from it.
If hunger presses on you, say to yourself that you do not deserve to eat.
Say to yourself: I do not deserve to eat because of my sins. You become inwardly humble when you are physically fatigued which allows you to pray in humility and help you to relinquish pride, vanity and self-complacency.
As for he who stands to pray in might, health and the strength of iron, where will submissiveness come from?
Two minutes prayer whiles hungry are better than hours when full.
In fact, a hungry person longs for prayer, while he who is full often forgets. That is why most faithful people pray before eating.
Peruse hunger in wisdom when you fast.
Those who have experienced the spiritual benefit arising from hunger tend to prolong its period. However, one must be careful not to exaggerate in utter exhaustion that you end up too frail to stand on your feet to pray. Such a person may opt to pray while prostrating not out of submissiveness but to seek comfort and relaxation for his tired body.
Be wise to train yourself within your body’s limit of endurance. However, I have a frank word to say to you:
Do not be afraid of hunger, for it is a passing sensation. The reason is that the more you give your stomach, the more it expands to accommodate more. Moreover, in cases of those who are overweight, the stomach is flabby, its walls are weak, and if you do not fill it, you feel hungry.
If you endure your hunger, your stomach will re-condition itself and contract. If you persist, it will no longer be in need for much. Hunger will then not persist since a small quantity will give the stomach a feeling of fullness.
A wise person is one who controls his stomach. He does not eat so much that his stomach becomes flabby, and does not over deprive it of food to make it shrink to a size unfit for the needs of his body.
Moderation in this matter is useful and wise.
Fasting and Wakefulness:
Being filled with food leads to heaviness of the body and consequently to sleep. As for he who fasts, his body is light, his
system is not burdened with the processes of digestion, and is able to stay awake until late.
Fasting coupled with watchfulness leads to brightness of thought.
All the saints who perfected fasting were famous for their vigil. We also see that the disciples’ eyes grew heavy in the orchard after the two dinners that they could not sit up with the Lord even for one hour. (Matt 26:40).
It is not in your favour my brother that the bridegroom should come at midnight to find you sleeping. The Bible says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching”(Luke 12:37).
Therefore, train yourself to fast in alertness and watchfulness so that you can spend the night in prayer with God.
Kind of Food:
I have talked about hunger and the period of abstinence, what remains is the topic of what are the different types of food appropriate for fasting. It is useful to remember of what the Prophet Daniel said about his fast: “I ate no pleasant food” (Dan 10:3).
Therefore, if you fast but still give your body what it craves for, then in truth you had not fasted. Thus, distance yourself from things that you crave so that you may overcome your body and subject it to your will. Do not seek special food or ask for it to be prepared in the manner that you like. If an item is placed before you which you have not ordered but which you like, do not eat much of it I would like to remind you of our saintly fathers who said, "If food you crave is placed before you, spoil it a little then eat it".
By spoiling it, he may have meant, for instance, that you add something to it to alter its taste.
At least, do not eat all that is offered to you of the kind of food you crave. As one of the fathers said: "Conclude your meal while you still crave it", meaning that your body wishes to go on eating that kind of food while you try to control yourself and stay away from it.
Here we face many questions posed by some people:
Can vegetables and margarine be consumed when fasting? Is soya cheese acceptable? Should we or should we not eat fish during a particular fast? What do you think of non-dairy chocolate? Etc.
These questions can be resolved in one way by examining the ingredients or contents of these foods. On the other hand, these questions should also be viewed from a spiritual point of view: For example, vegetable fat, is merely polyunsaturated, but if you eat it because of your craving for fatty food, then the matter becomes different. Literally speaking, you would be fasting, but you would not be benefiting spiritually.
We do not want to keep to the formalities of fasting alone. The same applies to Soya cheese. One may argue whether or not it contains if it contains ingredients of animal source. However, from a spiritual point of view, do you love cheese so much that you insist on gratifying your bodily desires during the fast by finding a substitute or an alternative? The same applies to non-dairy chocolate; do you crave that brand in particular? Why not substitute it with a cup of cocoa?
As for fish, it is primarily animal food. Although it has been permitted for the weak who cannot endure the large number of fasts, it is not permitted in first class fasts.
However, if your body craves fish while fasting, do not eat any.
This does not only apply to fish, but to anything that you may crave in order to control your desires when fasting, even if it may be permitted.
Is not marriage lawful? Yet, those who fast stay away from sexual intercourse while fasting in order to have self control. (1Cor 7:5). The Gentile King, Darius did the same. (Dan 6:18).
We have discussed the period of abstinence and the element of hunger in fasting. Now we would like to talk about vegetarian food as a God’s divine way since the beginning since Adam and Eve and up to the descendants of Noah were vegetarian.
God created a vegetarian man.
Adam and Eve, while in Paradise, ate nothing but plants, beans and fruit. As God said to them, “I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Gen 1:29).
Man also remained vegetarian after his exile from Paradise.
However, man was permitted, along with the beans and fruit, to eat from the herbs of the land, i.e. vegetables. Thus, when he sinned, God said to him: “And you shall eat the herb of the field. “ (Gen 3:18).
We have not heard that our Father, Adam, and our Mother, Eve, fell ill because of malnutrition. On the contrary, we hear that Adam, a vegetarian, lived 930 years. (Gen 5:5). So were also the lives of his sons and grandsons who were vegetarian. (Gen 5)
Man did not eat meat except after Noah’s Ark. This took place at a dismal time when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and so, “the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen 6:5-6) and He submerged the whole world with the flood.
After the flood water subsided, God said to our Father Noah and his sons: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”(Gen 9:34).
When God led His people into the wilderness, He fed them with manna. “And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”(Ex 16:31). “The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil.” (Num 11:8).
But when He allowed them to eat meat, He did it in anger.
God consented to their request because of their craving for meat. God granted their wish but punished them for it. “But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving.” (Num 11:33-34).
Daniel and his companions also ate vegetables.
They ate vegetables (Dan 1:12) and were determined in their hearts not to defile themselves with the King’s meat and wine. (Dan 1:8).
We see the Prophet Daniel say while fasting: “I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” (Dan 10:3).
Ezekiel also ate vegetarian food while fasting.
He did this in obedience to a Godly order from God who said to him: “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet” and spelt.” (Ezek 4:9).
Vegetarian food is light, lean and soothing.
It has nothing of the heaviness, grease or fat of meat or whatever effect it may have on one’s body. We observe for example that savage animals are carnivorous while the tame ones are herbivorous. Vegetarian people tend to be calmer in nature than meat-eaters. Does it not make you wonder that most of the animals we eat, such as cattle, sheep and fowls, are herbivorous.
These herbivorous animals are not weak due to eating such food.
Moreover, we describe a strong man saying that he has the health of a camel or a horse both of which are vegetarian. Matadors, who practiced bullfighting, displayed their strength by confronting a powerful bull, a herbivorous animal. We can then conclude that eating plant food does not weaken the body.
Vegetarians, including hermits and anchorites, lived a long life.
Bernard Shaw, the famous writer, was vegetarian, lived for 94 years, and suffered no ailment throughout his life. How many others can we attribute their long life to being vegetarians?
Saint Paul, the first of the anchorites, lived as a hermit for eighty years without seeing a man’s face, and so he lived to be around hundred. The majority of anchorites also lived long lives. Not only were they vegetarians, but also lived a life of asceticism and ate little. Nevertheless, they enjoyed good health. Saint Antonius, the father of all monks, lived to be 105 years old. His life was one of continuous fasting and yet he enjoyed good health and used to walk tens of miles without becoming tired
I do not want to concentrate too much on the scientific aspects of vegetarian food, but the spiritual ones as has been in the life of man since Adam.
It is true that principal amino acids abound more in animal than in vegetable protein. However vegetable protein has sustained and kept healthy monks, vegetarians and those mentioned above.
We should also not forget that the Church allows fish in some fasts, which of course, contains animal protein. Moreover, there are long non-fast periods.
Therefore, do not be afraid of fasting, for it is of benefit to the body.
The benefits of fasting to the Body:
Fasting benefits the body in several ways, some of which are outlined below:
1. Fasting is a period of rest for some of the organs of our body. It is a period of rest for all the digesting and associated systems, such as the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and the gall bladder, overworked by high consumption and composite food. The digestion system become upset when more food is introduced as it attempts to digest the existing contents.
Conversely, when one fasts, the digestion system rests during the period of abstinence, and the light food, which is later eaten, does not trouble it. Moreover, we find relief from the food we eat between meals. How wonderful it would be to carry this discipline over to non-fasting days.
Another benefit of vegetarian foods is that it reduces cholesterol, since it is well documented that fats and grease found in meat leads to an increase in the blood cholesterol level. The danger is of course in the formation of blood clots. As a result, doctors ask their patients to keep away from food such as meat, eggs, fatty oils and the like in order to keep the body healthy, especially for those advanced in years. They recommend vegetable foods in an attempt to revert man to his original vegetarian nature, to the food of the Garden of Eden.
Another benefit of fasting for the body is that:
3. One who fasts gets rid of his obesity and flabbiness: When a person is overweight, the heart is overworked as it attempts to send blood to the extra quantity of tissue in the form of excess fat. This extra quantity of tissue is beyond that which God has required him to support. In addition, obesity causes many ailments to the body.
Doctors insist that body weight be reduced to keep it healthy. They impose certain regimes upon an obese person (which is considered a sickness), to control what he eats instead of eating uncontrollably.
One who fasts and controls himself is not in need of a special diets.
Fasting, in the spiritual sense, is far superior to physical treatment, for it treats the spirit, the body, and the soul all together.
If a person fasts out of his love for God for a spiritual gain, his body automatically benefits, which is better than fasting on doctor’s order to reduce body weight. It is indeed a tragedy to see people spend a large part of his life putting on weight, then spend another part of their life trying to get rid of excess body fats.
If he or she had been moderate, and had known from the start the value and benefit of fasting, he would not have had the need to exert all that effort in gaining weight and later trying to loose it.
This reminds me of a woman who goes on eating until her body loses its beautiful symmetry. Then, when doctors advise her to fast, to reduce her consumption, and follow a strict diet, she does so, not for God but for the beauty of her body. Thus, she does not eat, but she does not receive the blessing of fasting, for what she does is not done out of love for God!
Would it not have been more beneficial for these people to have fasted both for their bodily health and at the same time for their spirit to soar high and approach God?
Fast then for God, before you are compelled to fast for medical reasons without any spiritual benefit to you. One of the benefits of fasting and, in particular the period of abstinence and hunger, is that:
4. Fasting helps treat many illnesses:
One of the most important books I have read in this field is the one entitled "Treatment by Fasting" written by the Russian scientist Alexi Soforin and translated into Arabic in 1930.
This scientist remarks that fasting helps rid the body of its toxins. Although the body gets rid of many of them through its various methods of excretion, some remain and may be excreted through fasting…
The scientist also states that in fasting the body does not get enough food and begins to dissipate its fats, grease, diseased and festered tissues, which are excreted by the body.
This scientist also found out that a long term temperate fast that followed a certain regime could treat many diseases.
I hereby present his research for study as a scientist who
tested the contents of his book.
Are there any other bodily benefits through fasting? Yes.
5. Fasting makes the body light and active:
Our fathers, who perfected fasting, had light bodies and elevated spirits. They were energetic, having strong hearts and were able to walk tens of kilometres a day without becoming tired. They moved in the wilderness like deer, and their minds were not sluggish but very bright. Thus through fasting they gained strength for their bodies, spirits, and minds. They found comfort and pleasure in fasting, so much so that their life became a life of fasting.
6. Let nobody therefore deceive you and say that fasting or vegetable food weakens one’s health, for in fact it gives it strength.
Fasting is not a remedy for the spirit alone, but it is also for the body. There have never been any cases were vegetarian food has harmed or weakened anyone.
Daniel and the three young men did not eat meat at the King’s table. It was sufficient to eat beans and their health was better than the others. (Dan 1: 15).
Our fathers, the ascetics and the great monks, were very strict in their fasts. Yet we have never heard that fasting weakened their health. On the contrary, they remained strong even in their old age.
No-where is it mentioned that our father Adam became sick or weak from eating vegetarian food. The same applies to Eve and to all the fathers preceding Noah’s and the great flood. Therefore, rest assured about your bodily health.
What tires the body is not fasting but eating.
Overeating, indigestion, eating between meals, etc… all leads to bodily exhaustion. Moreover, the body is also fatigued from the extra heat energy generated by foods consumed beyond man’s need. How great are the sicknesses brought about by overeating.
Therefore, you have to liberate yourselves from the idea that fasting hurts your health.
Nursing mothers incorrectly assume out of their love and concern for the health of their children, that they must be chubby and full. They assume that this is a sign of good health although an overweight person is weaker in health than a slim one.
Wrong motherly affection is used to prevent children from fasting or discouraged. We say that this affection is erroneous because it did not concern itself with the son’s soul as it did with his body, as if they are only responsible for their sons’ bodies only. In their concern for their children’s bodily health, they neglect the nourishment of their souls.
Despite this, saintly children used to fast.
An example of these is given by Saint Mark, the hermit on Mount Antonius, who started fasting in his early childhood and kept on fasting through out his life.
Likewise was Saint Shenouda, the father of hermits, who at the age of nine, used to give his food away to shepherds and pray standing up while fasting, till sunset.
To the young and old, fasting bestows health and strength. It freed their bodies from their extra fat and water.
Many saintly bodies have kept from decay, all because of God’s blessing that preserved them as a reward for their faithfulness. On the other hand, because their bodies had little in the way of fat and dampness, the causes of decay.
Meat can be preserved without decay for a long time if it is exposed to heat which rids it of its water content and dissolves its fat which dries it up and preserve it. To the some extent were the bodies of saints who, through fasting were without fat and excess water. Thus, decay could not touch them.
However, why should we concentrate on the body? Is fasting a virtue for the body alone?
Fasting is not a mere bodily virtue:
Fasting is not merely a virtue for the body apart from the soul, because any virtue requires the participation of the soul.
What then is the role of the body in fasting? And what is the role of the soul?
True fasting is a spiritual act primarily taking place inside the heart.
The function of the body in fasting is to prepare the soul or rather to disclose the soul’s affection.
The soul rises above the level of materialism and food, and above the level of the body. It leads the body along in victorious procession and spiritual desires. The body expresses this through fasting.
If we confine our definition of fasting to the humiliation of the body through hunger and deprivation of what it covets, we will be adhering to the negative aspect of fasting, ignoring the positive and spiritual ones.
Fasting is not hunger for the body but nourishment for the soul.
Fasting, as some people speculate, is not a bodily torture, martyrdom, or a cross, but it is a way to elevate the body to reach the level of cooperation with the soul. When we fast, our intention is not to torture the body but to shun its behaviour. Thus, one who fasts becomes a spiritual and not a physical person.
Fasting is an ascetic soul which takes the body with it as its partner in asceticism.
Fasting is not a hungry body but an ascetic one.
Fasting is not bodily hunger but bodily elevation and purity. It is not a body that hungers and longs for food, but a body that rids itself of the desire to eat.
Fasting is a time when the soul flourishes and lifts the body up with it.
It rids the body of its loads and burdens and lifts it up so that God may work with it without impediment to the happiness of the spiritual entity.
Fasting is a spiritual time spent together by the body and soul performing a spiritual act. The body and the soul join in
doing the work of the soul, ie. praying, meditating, praising and coming in communion with God.
We do not pray only with a fasting body but also with a fasting soul, mind and heart abstaining from lusts and desires. The soul also abstains from love of the passing world. All for the sake of living with God, nourished and loved by Him.
A fast in this way is the proper vehicle for spiritual deeds, a spiritual atmosphere to live in his heart, spirit, soul, thought, senses, and emotions with God.
Fasting is the bodily expression of abstinence from materialism and the longing for a life with God. Through abstinence, the body joins the soul in its aspects of spiritual work. Through this, the body becomes spiritual in attitude and takes on the appearance of the soul.
In spiritual fast, neither the soul nor the spiritual body, is anxious about bodily wants.
Care not for the body:
In the Lord’s discourse on spiritual nourishment, we hear Him says: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” (John 6:27). He then continued by talking about the true bread from Heaven the bread of God, and the bread of life. (John 6:32-35). Here He appeals to the soul for its nourishment and our thoughts to the spiritual way so as not to occupy our minds with the body and its needs.
When Christ said that “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Matt 4:4), He meant by this, that man should not live solely to nourish his body with bread and forget the nourishment of the soul. This is also clear when He said to His disciples: “I have food to eat of which you do not know." (John 4:32).
A question arises at this point:
Was Jesus, on the mount, fasting or being nourished?
The answer is that He was fasting and getting nourished at the same time. His body was fasting but His soul was being nourished.
His food was different too, of which the people knew nothing about. With nourishment for the soul, the body was supported for forty days and forty nights.
He teaches us that we should care for our spiritual and not bodily needs. In this we discover before our eyes the words of the Godly revelation as spoken by our teacher the Apostle Saint Paul when he explained our attendance to the bodily and spiritual things.
He says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1). This is the way God wants us to follow when fasting and throughout our life.
The Apostle goes on to say: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:5).
Are you one who cares for spiritual or for the bodily things? Are you concerned with your spiritual progress or the welfare of your body, your spiritual health or that of your body? There is no doubt that if you attend to the health of your spirit the Lord will also grant you health to your body during the fasting period as previously explained.
The danger of caring for the body lies in the following hard statements:
“For to be carnally minded is death” and “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God.” (Rom 8:6,7).
Who can comprehend these words and persist in accordance with the flesh?
The Apostle also says: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.“ (Rom 8:8).
Therefore, brethren, we are not indebted to the body that we may live according to it, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13).
It is admirable the Apostle’s saying, for in fasting we do not do away with the body but its evil deeds. We destroy the deeds of the body by the spirit that we may live. We do not torture the body but we rather do not submit to its deeds. We do not give the body its lusts and desires, but exaltation, loftiness above materialistic things, and the surrender to the Spirit, as the Apostle says: “But to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Rom 8:6).
This is the meaning of fasting. Faced by the above statement of the Apostle, we ask:
Do you, in your fast, care for that what belongs to the Spirit?
This is what we would like to discuss, so that our fast may be spiritual and acceptable before God. Not to concentrate on the bodily aspect of fasting and overlook the spiritual benefits. To comprehend the spiritual views of fasting and follow a spiritual route for our benefit.
If fasting is not bodily hunger but spiritual nourishment, then let us research what spiritual nourishment is and whether or not we achieve it while fasting.
Taken from ‘ The Spirituality of Fasting’ by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.