THE BENEFITS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING
HH Pope Shenouda III
MIXING FASTING WITH VIRTUES:
For one to benefit from fasting and to enter into the spirituality of fasting for his body as well as his soul, one has to mix his fasting with specific virtues that suit fasting and agree with him.
+ Fasting has to be accompanied by prayer. Why? Because when we fast, it is not only to discipline the body and bring it into subjection (1 Cor 9:27), but it is also to give the spirit a chance to be nourished by all the spiritual nutrition that is good for it: prayer, spiritual readings, contemplation and love for God. In the Fraction of the Holy Lent, during Mass, we repeat the phrase: “With fasting and prayer...” And for sure, the spirit that has received its nutrition, would be able to sustain the body during its fasting so it would not get tired. We notice that during the Passion Week, we never feel the burden of fasting because during this period, the spirit is being fed by readings, hymns and holy memories. And so we can say about the spiritual fasting:
The fasting of the body is a chance to nourish the spirit.
And the fasting that is accompanied by God’s fellowship turns into a spiritual enjoyment so that the one who is fasting would tire if he stops his fasting. This is what used to happen to the fathers who lived in solitude and to the monks, to whom fasting became a spiritual nourishment that made their hearts rejoice and brought them closer to God.
+ Fasting also has to be linked to repentance.
Because what is important in spirituality is the pure heart and not just the hungry body. It also makes our fasting acceptable to God and we feel that we benefit from it.
And so says the divine inspiration in the Book of Joel: “Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly” (Joel 2:15). Fasting then is a holy period. And how could it be holy without repentance?! And what we acquire from feelings of repentance during fasting should remain with us.
+ Fasting is also accompanied by humility before God.
And so the Prophet David said: “I humbled myself with fasting” (Ps 35:13). And in the fasting of the people of Ninevah, they put on sack cloth and sat in ashes (Jon 3). And as the body is crushed by fasting, so the spirit should be crushed. Therefore, fasting is accompanied by prostrations. It is not enough for your body to bend, but also for your spirit to bend. As the Prophet David said: “My soul clings to the dust” (Ps 119:25). He did not only say: “My head clings to the dust” ...
In this humility, the soul asks for God’s mercy, for itself and for others. The soul also confesses its sins and asks for forgiveness. And as the Prophet Joel said: “... Rend your heart, and not your garment; Return to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13).
+ Fasting is also accompanied by almsgiving.
The one who asks for God’s mercy during fasting must have mercy on others and give alms. How beautiful is the Lord’s saying about this in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness.... Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is 58:6,7).
The topic of fasting and its spirituality is long.
If you want more details, you can read a book I published for you under the title “Spirituality of Fasting.” May God grant us all a holy fast that brings our spirits closer to Him, that we may feel the enjoyment of fasting.
From the book - The Spiritual Means
By HH Pope Shenouda III