Why Bother with all this Fasting?

During Great Lent, we Orthodox spend most of our time focusing on prayer and fasting. There are extra services offered daily accompanied by the sharing of various fasting foods and recipes. Some even accuse us of placing too much emphasis on fasting during Great Lent. In fact, many spend so much time reading food labels in search of “legal” foods, it can be easy to forget why we place so much emphasis on fasting in the first place.

Then there is today’s Gospel lesson of the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. After a father’s love and devotion for his son left no sure cure for his ailment, the father turns to Christ for healing of his son. “I asked you disciples to cast it out, but they were no able,” he said about his son’s demon possession. The Apostles asked Christ, “Why could we not cast it out?” Christ responded, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”

During Great Lent, the Church reminds us of this challenging truth by God. There are certain challenges in life that can only be conquered through prayer and fasting. What are these challenges? We are each in a war against the devil and his demons. Just as in today’s Gospel lesson, they will try to beat us, cast us into the fire of hell, and destroy us, and we cannot only defeat them through prayer and fasting. “All things are possible to him who believes.”

We are often accused of being hypocrites during Great Lent. We spend so much time talking about fasting, that we sometimes ignore other important morals challenges. We may fast, but we also devour our friends through gossip. We fast, but we gorge ourselves on anger and jealousy. It is no surprise that people see our hypocrisy. Some might even think, “Wouldn’t it better if we just ignored fasting in favor of stopping other behaviors?”

The truth is, despite our prayer and fasting, we are still at war against the devil. We don’t always get it right, but that should not stop us from trying. When the father asked Jesus for help, Christ said, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes. Immediately the father of the child said, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief.” Through prayer and fasting we learn to believe. We learn to have faith. We learn to be like God, and God is able to defeat all our enemies.