THE BENEFITS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING
HH Pope Shenouda III
Fasting is one of the most important spiritual means. But why?
First of all, because it helps us keep self-control.
As the one fasting abstains from eating and drinking generally for a period of time, he stops himself from eating whatever relates to animal fat. And so he restraint. In the process of restraining from food and drink, he will also restrain himself from committing sins.
God put this element of restrain from the beginning when He asked Adam and Eve to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here, He put the principle of self-control. from the beginning of the history of humanity, to make us fully realise that freedom does not mean lack of restrain. Although God was very generous with Adam and Eve and gave them permission to eat from "every tree of the garden", but He put a rule, which was to refrain from eating from a particular tree (Gen 2:16,17) and (Gen 3:3).
Maybe we fully realise here the seriousness of the phrase that King Solomon said, expressing his unrestrained pleasure: "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them" (Eccles 2:10). So eventually he lost his wisdom and sinned. "His heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David" (1Kings 11:4). And many desires caused him to stumble…..
Fasting is also an evidence of being elevated above the level of the body.
In it, we do not give the body all that it asks or desires of food. By so doing, we are elevated above bodily desires. We are even being elevated above materialism in general. And so we give the spirit a chance to take it's opportunity, remembering the Lord's saying: "Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life" (Jn 6:27). And the Apostle's saying: "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom 8:6).
The spirit becomes stinger during fasting.
During fasting, our prayers are also deeper and our contemplations are deeper. Our relationship with God becomes stinger, even our hymns also. There is a big difference between recording one of the Pascha hymns during the Passion Week and recording the same hymn at a non- fasting period. The effect of fasting on the spirit is not restricted to Christians only but the Hindus, the Yogies and the Buddhists find spiritual strength in exercises of fasting and asceticism. Their spirits become more pure…
Fasting then is not of benefit only to fight against the negatives but it also benefits positively in strengthening the spirit.
Therefore we find that most of the spiritual occasions are preceded by fasting.
The church sacraments for example, such as Baptism, Myron (Chrism), Holy Communion and Priesthood have to be preceded by fasting. Receiving the blessing of tests is preceded by fasting. We fast for many long weeks before Christmas and Easter, before the Feast of the Apostles, the Fest of the Virgin Mary and for the Epiphany we fast the day before (the Baramoun). How beautiful is the saying in the Acts of the Apostles, (before the laying on of hands on barnabas and saul): "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said; Now separate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:2,3).
From the book - The Spiritual Means
By HH Pope Shenouda III