Understanding the Spiritual Value of Fasting

Venerable Auxentius of Bithynia

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

PSALM 100 (99)

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all your lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He Who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His Name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.


How to Fast According to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

The Lord said, "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (St. Matthew 6:16-18)



On February 14th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Cyril, Equal-to-the Apostles and Teacher of the Slavs; Saint Nicholas the New Holy Martyr of Corinth; our Righteous Father Afxentius on the Mountain; Saint Abraames of Syria; Holy Hieromartyr Philemon, Bishop of Gaza; Holy New Martyr Nicholas, from Ichthys of Corinth, was beheaded in Constantinople in the year 1554; Holy Righteous Martyr Damian the New, was perfected in martyrdom by hanging in Larissa in the year 1568; Holy New Martyr George of Mytilene, the Tailor, was beheaded in Constantinople for piety's sake in the year 1693; Holy Hieromartyr Valentinus (Valentine), Priest of Rome, who was beheaded on the Flaminian Way under the pagan Roman Emperor Claudius the Goth; our Righteous Father Isaacius the Recluse of the Kiev Caves.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Ascetics, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Bishops, Holy Hieromartyrs, O Christ Our God have mercy on and save us.  Amen.

OUR HOLY FATHER AUXENTIUS. A very distinguished administrator in Constantinople among the officials and courtiers of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, he was set aflame by the love of Christ. Saint Auxentius became a monk and remained only a short time in Constantinople. When men began to praise him, he fled and settled on a mountain near Chalcedon that later became known as Auxentius's Mountain. He could not realize his desire to remain there permanently, hidden from men, as some shepherds found him and made his whereabouts known. They began to bring the sick to him to be healed, and he healed many of them. He restored sight to the blind and cleansed lepers, anointing them with oil. He also raised up the palsied and freed many who had been possessed by demons. All this was cause for wonder, but his humility was more wonderful. When he was asked to pray for the healing of someone, he excused himself with the words: 'I also am a sinful man.' But, constrained by many requests, he approached the healing in the following way: either he called all present to pray with him for the sick person, or he first stirred up the faith of the people and told them that God would give according to their faith, or he said over the head of the sick person: "The Lord Jesus Christ heals you." He did this that the wonder worked should not be attributed to him but to almighty God. He took part in the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon and powerfully defended Orthodoxy against the Eutychian and Nestorian heresies. He lived to a great age; then, in 470 A.D. God took his youthful soul to Himself and left his aged body on the earth from which it was made. (The Prologue from Ochrid)



Holy Epistle Lesson: I John 2:7-17

Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 14:3-9


"The Holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, 'What have we ourselves done?' One of them, the great Abba (Father) Ischyrion replied, 'We ourselves have fulfilled the Commandments of God.' The others replied, 'and those who come after us, what will they do?' He said, 'They will struggle to achieve half our works.' They said, 'And to those who come after them, what will happen?' He said, 'The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers".



"If it is important not to overlook the physical requirements of fasting, it is even more important not to overlook its inward significance. Fasting is not a mere matter of diet. It is moral as well as physical. True fasting is to be converted in heart and will; it is to return to God, to come home like the Prodigal Son to our Father's house." In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, it means "abstinence not only from food but from sins." "The fast", he insists, "should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands all the members of the body": the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice. It is useless to fast from food, protests Saint Basil the Great, and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: "You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother." The same point is made in the Triodion, especially during the first week of Holy Lent:

"As we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion...Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable to God." (From the Lenten Triodion)

According to the great Holy Father of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom, "Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by...

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (Philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because He neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distance ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the Philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring Father, devised the therapy of the fast for us so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic (bodily) ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving (charity), let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that He asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of His Commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible." (Source: Orthodoxy Today).


Please note: Our Holy Mother Church teaches us to be faithful to our Holy Traditions and to find inner peace, comfort, assurance, hope and a personal blessing through holy asceticism. Ascesis is the best way for us to overcome our weaknesses, passions and disobedience to God. It is the best way to discover the essence of our Orthodox Christian faith.

Fasting is not just a custom that we have inherited through our parents and grandparents. It is a way of life for the Orthodox Christian. Fasting is an essential aspect of practicing the Orthodox Christian life. One cannot be an Orthodox Christian and not fast. Tragically, many in the Church today do not participate in this grace-bestowing and life-giving ascetic practice. They do this to the loss of their own spiritual and bodily health.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George