The Value of Fasting According to St. John Chrysostom

Martyr Myrope of Chios

Martyr Myrope of Chios

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"So when they (scribes and Pharisees) continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.'

"...Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?'

She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." (St. John 8:7-11)

[Note: The Lord forgives and does not condemn the repentant sinner. But true repentance includes striving to sin no more.]



Orthodox Christians throughout the world prepare spiritually to celebrate the divine Birth of our Savior and the Savior of the world on Christmas day. The Holy Nativity fast provides the opportunity for all Orthodox Christians to adhere and to be obedient to the sacred teachings of Our Holy Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ fasted. We know that he fasted during His earthly life. immediately after His Baptism He went into the wilderness and fasted. It is recorded, "And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward hungry." He instructs the Holy Apostles on fasting when they complained to Him about the epileptic boy whose demon they could not cast out. He said to them, "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (St. Matthew 17:21). On another occasion when challenged about fasting practices of His disciples, He said, "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast" (St. Matthew 9:15). He instructed, "when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father" (St. Matthew 6:17-18).

The Holy Apostles Fasted. The Holy Apostles followed our Lord's example by fasting and teaching to fast. The Holy Apostle Paul describes his own spiritual life as one of sacrifice, vigils, thirst, and fasting lived "in weariness and painfulness, in watching often , in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Cor. 11:27). He also refers to fasting in the context of marriage saying that by mutual consent husband and wife abstain from marital relations periodically while fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5).

Holy Fathers of the Church Fasted. The Holy Church Fathers taught extensively about fasting. One of the Ecclesiastical writers of the Church, Tertullian notes that development of our spiritual life lies in confession and in prayer fed by fasting…not for the stomach's sake…but for the soul's (Tertullian, "On Repentance" vol. 3, p. 664). Saint Gregory talks of the practice of fasting before partaking of the Holy Eucharist. Saint Basil wrote extensively on fasting.

There is an old Roman proverb that says, "A full stomach does not like to think." This is well known to our Church Fathers. A full meal leaves one dull, unable to think clearly an often makes them stupid and sleepy and prone to sinful acts. It is a distraction from concentration on God and an effective prayer life. Serious followers of Christ learn to discipline their desire for food by eating lightly, often only one or two meals each day.

One of the most famous of the Church Fathers, Saint John Chrysostom wrote much on fasting. Here is a famous letter of Saint John Chrysostom on fasting instructing us to engage in more than just a restriction of food during a fast.

"The value of fasting consists not in avoiding certain foods, but in giving up of sinful practices. The person who limits his fast only to abstaining from meat is the one who especially lowers the value of it. Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don't get jealous of him or her. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eyes, your ears, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. You fast with your hands by keeping them pure from doing greedy things. You fast with your feet by not going to see forbidden shows or plays. You fast with your eyes by not letting them look upon impure pictures (pornography). Because if this is forbidden or unlawful, it mars your fast and threatens the safety of your soul. But if you look at things which are lawful and safe you increase your fast, for what you see with your eyes influences your conduct. It would be very stupid to eliminate or give up meat and other foods because of the fast but feed with your eyes upon other things which are forbidden. You don't eat meat, you say? But you allow yourself to listen to lewd things. You must fast with your ears, too. Another way of fasting with your ears is not to listen to those who speak evil or untrue things about others. "Thou shalt not receive an idle report." This is especially true of rumors, gossip, untruths which are spoken to harm another. Besides fasting with your mouth by not eating certain foods, your mouth should also fast from foul language or telling lies about others. For what good is it if you don't eat meat or poultry, and yet you bite and devour your fellow man?"

It is important to remember that it is not just the discipline of giving up food that we desire. We seek to transform our behavior so that we can carry out the commands of God and live according to His will instead of one that merely satisfies our body's desires. Fasting is an important and necessary part of the work we must do, but the transformation we seek requires the action of God the Holy Spirit. This will come only if we combine fasting with worship, prayer, and helping others out of a feeling of love.

In the contemporary Church we have among many others the teaching of Saint Nektarios of Aegina. He writes the following:

"Fasting is an ordinance of the Church, obliging the Christian to observe it on specific days...He who fasts for the uplifting of his mind and heart towards God shall be rewarded by God, Who is a most liberal bestower of divine gifts, for his devotion.
The purpose of fasting is chiefly spiritual: to provide an opportunity and preparation for spiritual works of prayer and meditation on the Divine through the complete abstinence from food, or the eating of uncooked food or frugal fare.
However, fasting is no less valuable for physical health, since self-control and simplicity of life are necessary conditions of health and longevity, as dietetics tells us.
Unless one lifts his mind and heart towards God through Christian--not Pharisaic--fasting and through prayer, he cannot attain a consciousness of his sinful state and earnestly seek the forgiveness of sins...Prayer and fasting--Christian fasting--serve as means of self-study, of discernment of our true moral state, of an accurate estimation of our sins and of a knowledge of their true character."

Saint Nektarios is pointing out that following fasting guidelines of the Church are not optional, but an obligation of every church member. It is a fundamental self-discipline that helps us break the dysfunctional links that exist in our brain and hold us to a sinful life. He points out that fasting increases self-reflection to examine our inner condition and see our sinfulness more clearly. When our blindness to our sinfulness is uncovered, we can change, our prayer life abounds, and we come closer to God.



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


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

+Father George