There are some Feasts of the Church however, when fasting in fact is increased rather than decreased. These days, such as the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Precious Cross on September 14th, are days of STRICT FASTING and require those who are able to abstain from as much food as possible limiting the diet to fruits and vegetables if possible. This practice of strict fasting on a Feast Day is often, I may even say always, accompanied by confusion. So why does the Church fast on a Feast?
The answer rests first in the understanding of what fasting “is” in the first place. Fasting is NOT self-denial or punishment from the foods we enjoy. Rather it is an offering to God as Saint Paul encourages us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12.1) Nothing is associated with living more than food. We cannot live without food; we cannot live without God. Fasting is a spiritual tool that joins these two realities in our personal actions.
The second part of understanding a strict fast during a Feast is to understand the Feast itself. On September 14th we commemorate the Cross by commemorating the Crucifixion of Our Lord. In fact the Scripture readings for September 14th are taken from Holy Friday when our Lord was hung on a cross. There is no better way to align ourselves with Christ on the day of His crucifixion than with strict fasting. In this way we can obey Christ’s words to us, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16.24)
On September 14th we literally pick up the cross and carry it throughout the Church as we proclaim the source of Life, the Lord Himself. We sing, “Save, O Lord Your people and bless your inheritance. Grant victory to the faithful against the adversaries of the faith, and protect Your people by Your Holy Cross.” And when we strict fast we deny our own desires for our favorite foods in exchange for simple, basic foods. We begin to see food for what it is – nourishment – rather than what it has become in our society – gluttony.
The Lord teaches that prayer and fasting are required to combat the evils of life. When the Church fasts for a feast we move one step closer to eliminating evil from our life and joining ourselves to God.