Thursday, November 15, 2012

So, What's the Big Deal about Fasting Anyway?

Today is the first day of the Nativity Fast so I thought I would share some thoughts about fasting in general and why the Orthodox Church considers the discipline beneficial. We are being asked by the Church to fast from AT LEAST MEAT until we celebrate the Nativity of Christ on December 25th. It HAS to be more than just about the food right?

Right! First, we must acknowledge that it is in fact a spiritual discipline and not a diet. The fast is not merely abstaining from meat as much as it is being conscious of our spiritual season. I think more than ever our society has lost sight of the 40 days leading up to Christmas. It has become barely more than an extended shopping season when stores “make it or break it” in their profit margins for the year. When we, as Orthodox Christians, FAST by altering our daily diet, we are making a conscious effort to remain focused upon the spiritual season in which we find ourselves. The same holds true for the weekly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. The very fact that we have to be AWARE what day of the week it is JUST SO THAT we can fast helps us maintain our focus upon the Lord.

Second, we must come to the understanding that our ancient human fallen condition is selfish by default. Ever since Adam and Eve struggle with their will vs. the Will of God in the Garden, human beings have been engaged in a war between our flesh and our soul. St Paul characterizes this well when he says, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; and the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7.19) When we fast in general, but especially when we ALLOW the Church to guide our fasting, we are forcibly placing our will as below the Will of the Church, the Body of Christ. For example, when I tell my body, “There will be no meat for you for the next forty days because I’m offering our time to God EVEN though big juicy beef hamburgers are your favorite food,” we are taking control over our flesh in favor of our relationship with the Lord. It sometimes helps to consider fasting as “self-control training” and “giving up my will for God’s Will” rather than self-denial.  This is also why I don’t advise the “what shall I give up for Lent,” custom popular these days because when WE choose how WE shall fast, then it remains all about OUR will rather than God’s. It might seem trivial, but trust me on this one…..our will is VERY strong which probably explains the whole, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” thing. Fasting helps us focus on God’s Will rather than our own.

Finally, when we fast, we are making an offering of our selves directly to God as Saint Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is you reasonable service.” (Romans 12.1) If we are seeking to unite our bodies with the Lord’s in Holy Communion, which we SHOULD seek, then the least we could do as a beginning is to make an offering to Him of our own flesh, not on the Cross as He did, but in fasting. It is important to remember that “sacrifice” in this context doesn’t mean “slaughter” but “sanctify.” Too often we envision sacrifice as killing rather than the actual “to make holy” which is true meaning in Latin of the word.

So this year for the Nativity Fast (also known as Advent) I invite you to embrace the Fast of the Orthodox Church and make an offering of yourself to God while training your will to be less focused upon your own desires by remaining conscious of the season ahead. Then Christmas will be a glorious celebration.

1 comment:

Mike Loria said...

God Bless. That is so important in regards to not making up our own fast like saying I will fast from candy or something else. You are so right about stating the fast is about doing the will of the Church instead if our own will. I do believe we are prone to be selfish and want to do what we want to do which is not always God's will. This gets us in trouble spiritually and also sometimes even in this world.