How Do I Fast?

 Monkmartyr and Confessor Stephen the New of Mt. St. Auxentus

Monkmartyr and Confessor Stephen the New of Mt. St. Auxentus

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


Fasting is the second ascetic practice you should begin as part of the Orthodox Christian way of life. Of course if you do not have sufficient faith to participate in the regular worship services or to participate in the sacraments or time for daily prayer, fasting will not be of much help to you. Fasting is a practice that was also shown to us by Jesus as well as the holy Prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus fasted for 40 days and we are told "He ate nothing." The Prophet David fasted "I ate no delicacies, nor meat or wine, nor did I anoint myself" (Daniel 10:3). Ester instructed Mordicai, "Go, gather all the Jews... and hold a fast on my behalf and neither eat nor drink for three days, night and day. I and my maids will also fast as you do" (Ester 4:16). Saint Paul engaged in a three day absolute fast following the encounter with the Living Christ (Acts 9:9). Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days. (Deuteronomy 9:9, 1 Kings 19:8).

Jesus also asked us to fast. He said that we can overcome the devil only through "prayer and fasting" (St. Matthew 17:21). In St. Matthew 6:16 Jesus says "When you fast..." He assumes that you will fast and gives instruction on how to do it properly. The days will come, when the Bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast (St. Matthew 9:15).

Fasting is an important discipline. To be effective it must center on God. As we fast we discover the things that control us. David writes, "I humbled my soul with fasting" (Psalm 69:10). Fasting reminds us that it is not food that sustains us, but God. It also helps us develop the discipline that is necessary for our spiritual growth.

The Holy Church in her wisdom has provided for us fasting periods. These are times throughout the year where we can focus on our spiritual life and double our efforts in prayer and worship.

On the outward level fasting involves physical abstinence form food and drink, and without such exterior abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept, yet the rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as end in themselves, for ascetic fasting always has an inward and unseen purpose. Man is unity of body and soul, "a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible", in the words of the Triodion; and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, should be deplored as a betrayal of true orthodoxy. In both cases the proper balance between the outward and inward has been impaired.

The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. If practiced seriously, the abstinence from food--particularly in the opening days--involves a considerable measure of real hunger, and also a feeling of tiredness and physical exhaustion. The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ's statement, "without Me you can do nothing".

Saint John Chrysostom on true fasting writes:

"Let us not then despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears! We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession." Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveler boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest. So too, when the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickle, and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travelers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveler."

Hence Saint Paul said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:12). Has thou observed the wrestler? Has thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed! How? I will tell you. Divest yourself of worldly business, and you have become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual armor, and you have become a soldier. Strip yourself of worldly cares, for the reason is one of wrestling. Clothe yourself with the spiritual armor, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow.

Cultivate your soul.

Cut away the thorns.

Sow the word of godliness.

Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of Divine wisdom, and you have become a husbandman.


"I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works!

If you see a poor man, take pity on him!

If you see an enemy, be reconciled to him!

If you see a friend gaining honor, do not envy him!

If you see a handsome woman, pass her by!

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.

Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.

Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.

{Source: Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Greenville, SC and Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Mckinney (Dallas area) Texas).


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George