Prayer and fasting are spiritual disciplines to increase our sensitivity to God’s Presence and to reduce the cravings that can sometimes control our bodies. Let’s learn some more about fasting, the biblical basis for fasting, and the circumstances under which people should not fast.
During Lent, many people may choose to fast. Abstaining from animal products (meat) and dairy foods is considered to be fasting in the Orthodox Church.
A total fast — which is different from fasting — may be observed on Good Friday, which means abstaining from all food. (Learn more about fasting.)
There is no legalism whatsoever about fasting, it is for those who wish to partake for their own spiritual discipline. There are some who must not fast: those with certain medical conditions, pregnant and nursing mothers and children under seven.
Generally, concerning food, the Church Fathers taught that we should eat all kinds of foods so that:
On the one hand, we avoid boastful pride and on the other, not show distain for God’s creation which is most excellent.
(St. Gregory of Sinai)
However, periods of fasting are encouraged to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh (not to please God, or to afflict ourselves, or to repair for sin). Self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit and fasting is believed to be a part of gaining the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...
Jesus Himself fasted and taught His disciples to fast. He also taught that some forms of evil could not be overcome without it. He taught that fasting should be in secret, like giving. In other words — we are not to draw attention to ourselves. There are times when it is better to eat what has been prepared for us rather than to draw attention to our abstinence. We are to avoid pride in fasting, and judging others who are not fasting would be quite wrong.
The Lenten Fast
The church’s song in the Lenten fast is “Fasting in the body, brethren, let us also fast from sin.” The tongue also needs to fast, refraining from slander, lies, evil talking, denigrating one’s brother and anger. The eyes need to fast from looking at vain things. The hands and feet should be kept from every evil action.
The Spiritual Fathers are very clear in their teaching about fasting. They insist with the Lord and the Scriptures that men must fast in order to be free from passions and lust. But they insist as well that the most critical thing is to be free from all sin, including the pride, vanity and hypocrisy — which can come through foolish and sinful fasting!
Fasting is not for everyone
Those who must not fast include:
- those with certain medical conditions,
- pregnant and nursing mothers,
- children under seven, and
- the elderly.
If you are at all uncertain, please consult with a spiritual Father.