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Fasting and Great Lent

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FASTING AND GREAT LENT

The institution of fasting:

Fasting is as old as the human race is. From the Old Testament we learn that God instituted fasting in Paradise. It is written:

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen. 2:15-17)

The above mentioned verse makes it clear that fasting existed before the Adam and Eve committed sin by breaking the commandment of God, and fasting was not established as a treatment for their sin. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining of the fruit of the tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

God by commanding Adam and Eve not to eat of the particular fruit wanted to teach them the discipline of self-control and spiritual growth.

Fasting was practiced both in the Old and New Testament and throughout the history of the Church.

What is the similarity between the fasting of the first Adam and that of the second Adam Jesus Christ?

a- The fasting of Adam was at the beginning of the Old Testament and the fasting of Jesus was at the beginning of the New Testament.

b- Adam broke the fasting in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. Jesus Christ, the second Adam initiated His public ministry by keeping fasting.

c- Adam was tempted and surrendered to temptation. The result of Adam’s failure is expulsion from Paradise and death. The second Adam was tempted and resisted temptation. The fruit of Christ’s victory is the destruction of death and return to Paradise.

Jesus was tempted with same method Adam was. Food. Jesus Christ did not submit to the temptations of Satan even though He was hungry after forty days of strict Fasting. Satan told Christ to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3) It was not a sin to turn stones into bread. It was not a sin for Jesus to use His divine power, but it was sin to do that based on the suggestion of the wicked one.  Thus Satan realized that it is impossible for him to lead astray the new Adam by Physical desire even after he had been fasting for forty days and forty nights.

Our Lord Jesus Christ in His humanity not in His divinity overcame all the snares and tricks of Satan.

“It is written not by bread alone that a man can live, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

We learn from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness that if Jesus the son of God had to fast in order to overcome all the temptations of Satan , how much more we human being should fast to overcome Satan and his hosts.

The importance of fasting:

God revealed fasting to mankind as something significant and important. Fasting is not merely an obligation, a tradition, a habit; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and condemnation.

St. Basil the Great says: “Because we did not fast, we were chased out of Paradise; let us fast now, so that some day we return there.”

Examples of fasting in both Old and New Testament:

There are numerous examples of fasting in both Old and New Testament.

a- Fasting in the Old Testament:

Moses the prophet fasted forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments from God. The prophet Isaiah has written about fasting centuries before Christ’s birth in the flesh. It is written:

“Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him… then shall your light break forth like the dawn …” (Isaiah 58)

b- Fasting in the New Testament:

1- We read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ introduced fasting to mankind and gave us a great example of fasting. After His Baptism in the river of Jordan, He was led by the Holy Spirit into wilderness. There He fasted for forty days and forty nights and in prayer and fasting He prepared Himself for His sacred ministry.

2- Jesus commanded His disciples to fast. He told them not to fast like the Pharisees, but when they fast they should completely look natural in their behavior, humble and penitent. It is written:

“And when ye fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men, but by your Father Who is in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:16-18)

3-The Holy Apostles adopt fasting:

The Holy Apostles of Christ continued in prayer and fasting, and commanded others to do the same. It is written:

“Now in the church at Antioch… while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts. 13:-13)

The practice of fasting at the present time:

The holy Church observes the traditional fasting of Advent and lent. There are many other kinds of fasting such as Wednesday and Fridays through the whole year. The 50 days of the fasting of the Holy Apostles. The three days of the Rogation of Ninevites.  The 15 days of the Rogation of blessed Mary.  There are many other rogation dedicated to certain Saints and Martyrs.

The Season of the Great Fast:

The season of the Great Lent is the 50 day season of spiritual preparation that comes before the most important Feast of the Christian year, the feast of the Holy Resurrection. The season of the Great fast is the annual season of repentance and a spiritual journey with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our goal is to meet the risen Lord Jesus, Who reunites us with God the Father. The Father is always waiting to welcome us into His household with open arms. We must ask ourselves the question, “Are we willing to turn to Him?” (Luke 15:11-32)

The meaning of fasting:

The word “fast” means not eating all or certain kinds of foods. As faithful members of the Church of the East, we can fast at certain seasons of great importance, and especially each time before receiv­ing the mystery of the body and blood of the Lord. Usually, fasting means limiting the number of meals and/or the type of food eaten.

God revealed fasting to mankind as something significant and important. Fasting is not merely an obligation, a tradition, a habit; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and condemnation.

When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the [b]ashes.He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let [c]men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in [d]his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would [e]bring upon them. And He did not do it.

The purpose of fasting:

The main purpose of fasting is to remind us of the Biblical teaching, “Man does not live by bread alone.” The needs of the body are nothing compared to the needs of the soul. Above all else, we need God, Who provides everything for both the body and the soul. Therefore fasting teaches us to depend on God more fully.

Since fasting is not an end in itself, our goal is an inner change of heart. Self-denial and spiritual training are the central goal of fasting.

Fasting is a spiritual exercise:

Fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is not imposed or forced upon us. In the same way that true repentance cannot be forced upon anyone, each of us makes the choice to turn away from our sinful ways and go toward our loving, Father in Heaven.

It is important to keep in mind that fasting is not a law for us rather, a voluntary way of remembering to not sin and do evil, and to help keep our focus on prayer, repentance and doing acts of kindness, for we “are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Fasting as a reminder that we are to fast from sinning:

The first sin of our parents, Adam and Eve, was eating from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-19). We fast from food, or a food item, as a reminder that we are to fast from sin­ning and doing evil.

Benefits of fasting:

There are several benefits of fasting:

  • Fasting helps us pray more easily. Our spirit is lighter when we are not weighed down by too much food or food that is too rich.
  • Through fasting, we also learn to feel compassion for the poor and hungry and to save our own resources so that we can help those in need.

The main purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the heavenly things. It is to give power to the soul so that it would not yield to temptation and sin.

Jesus Himself taught that some forms of evil cannot be conquered without it. When the Apostles failed to heal a sick and suffering child, Christ explained that, “This kind (meaning devil) can come out only by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 12:21) Commenting on this St. John Chrysostom said: “That these are like two wings that carry a person to the heights of God.”

We learn from the Old Testament that by observing fasting people prepared themselves for the celebration of the Feast days. Fasting more generally is a sign of humility before God. Fasting is always accompanied by mourning and repentance.

Fasting from both food and sin:

Fasting is more than not eating a certain kind of food. Saint John Chrysostom says: “It is more important to fast from sin.” For example, in addition to controlling what goes into our mouths, we must control what comes out of our mouths as well. Are our words pleasing to God, or do we curse God or our brother?

The rest members of the body are also obligated to fast: our eyes from seeing evil, our ears from hearing evil, and our limbs from participating in ungodly things. Most important of all, we must control our thoughts, for thoughts are the main source of our deeds, whether good or evil.

Fasting has two aspects: physical and spiritual. The first one implies abstinence from rich food, such as dairy products, eggs and all kinds of meat. The second one implies abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds.

St. Basil the Great says: “Because we did not fast, we were chased out of Paradise; let us fast now, so that someday we return there.” Fasting from both food and sin:

The Church of the East believes and teaches that Physical fast must be united and joined with the spiritual fast.  It is written in the prayer book of the Holy Church (Khudrah):

“Body and soul must fast equally. When the body abstains from bread: The soul must fast from the wicked thoughts. Void (empty) is the fast which is only abstaining from food and drink if the soul does not stop (abstain) from the wicked desires.”

Again it is written in the prayer book of the Assyrian Church:

“By fasting all the Saints won (achieved victory). Fasting from wickedness not that of the bread alone.  By this kind of fasting Moses on the top of mountain Sinai has achieved victory.  And also Elijah by it was elevated into heaven.  Our Savior Jesus by Fasting overcame death and made our nature victorious.  And also gave unto us power to be victorious.”

“Nevertheless, this kind does not come out except by fasting and prayer.” (Matthew 17:21)

“By fasting Nineties reconciled with you o our Savior: and you forgave their sins. The little children fasted from milk and mothers with their tears. And you saw that their fasting was from heart and their prayers from conscience. You have revealed your mercy upon them.”

Again it is written in the prayer book of the Assyrian Church:

“By fasting all the Saints won (achieved victory). Fasting from wickedness not that of the bread alone.  By this kind of fasting Moses on the top of mountain Sinai has achieved victory.  And also Elijah by it was elevated into heaven.  Our Savior Jesus by Fasting overcame death and made our nature victorious.  And also gave unto us power to be victorious.”

The Season of the great fast:

The Church of the East observes fasting on:

Wednesdays and Friday fast is a commemoration of the deliverance and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Advent season, the 25 day fast before Christmas.

Lent season, 50 days before the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Rogation of the Nineties, 3 days before Thursday of thanksgiving.

The Rogation of the blessed Mary the Virgin mother which begins August 1st and ends August 15 this fasting precedes the sleeping of the blessed Mary. The fast is very popular among female members of the Church.

The purpose of fasting:

The main purpose of fasting is to remind us of the Biblical teaching, “Man does not live by bread alone.  But every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”

 

Very Rev. Fr. Cor-Bishop Dr. George Toma

Saint Andrews Church

Parish Priest

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