Lent In Our Life: What Then is Fasting for us Christians?

Martyr Victor

Martyr Victor

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

By Father Alexander Schmemann

"...But by Prayer and Fasting"

What then is fasting for us Christians? It is our entrance and participation in the experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, matter, and the world. By no means is our liberation a full one. Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food. But just as our death--through which we still must pass--has become by virtue of Christ's Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be life in God and for God. Part of our food has already become "food of immortality"--the Body and Blood of Christ Himself. But even the daily bread we receive from God can be in this life and in this world that which strengthens us, our communion with God, rather than that which separates us from God. Yet it is only fasting that can perform that transformation, giving us the existential proof that our dependence on food and matter is not total, not absolute, that united to prayer, grace, and adoration (worship), it can itself be spiritual.

All this means that deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature. It is not theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar (Satan) who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science, and existence on that lie. Fasting is a denunciation of that lie and also the proof that it is a lie. It is highly significant that it was while fasting that Christ met Satan and that He said later that Satan cannot be overcome "but by fasting and prayer." Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the "Prince of this world." Yet if one is hungry and then discovers that he can truly be independent of that hunger, not be destroyed by it but just on the contrary, can transform it into a source of spiritual power and victory, then nothing remains of that great lie in which we have been living since Adam.

How far we are by now from the usual understanding of fasting as a mere change of diet, as what is permitted and what is forbidden, from all that superficial hypocrisy! Ultimately, to fast means only one thing: "to be hungry"--to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself is first of all, a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality hunger for God. In the early Church, fasting always meant total abstinence, a state of hunger, pushing the body to the extreme. It is here, however, that we discover also that fasting as a physical effort is totally meaningless without its spiritual counterpart: "...by fasting and prayer." This means that without the corresponding spiritual effort, without feeding ourselves with Divine Reality, without discovering our total dependence on God and God alone, physical fasting would indeed be suicide. If Christ Himself was tempted while fasting, we have not a single chance of avoiding that temptation. Physical fasting, essential as it is, is not only meaningless, it is truly dangerous if it is disconnected from the spiritual effort--from prayer and concentration on God. Fasting is an art fully mastered by Saints; it would be presumptuous and dangerous for us if we attempted that art without discernment and caution. The entire Lenten worship is a constant reminder of the difficulties, the obstacles, and the temptations that await those who think that they may depend on their will power and not on God.

It is for this reason that we need first of all a spiritual preparation for the effort of fasting. It consists in asking God for help and also in making our fast God-centered. We should fast for God's sake. We must rediscover our body as the Temple of His Presence. We must recover a religious respect for the body, for good, for the very rhythm of life. All this must be done before the actual fast begins so that when we begin to fast, we would be supplied with spiritual weapons, with a vision, with a spirit of fight and victory.

Then comes the fast itself. In accordance with what has been said above, it should be practiced on two levels: first, as ascetical fast; and second, as total fast. The ascetical fast consists of a drastic reduction of food so that the permanent state of a certain hunger might be lived as a reminder of God and a constant effort to keep out mind on Him. Everyone who has practiced it--be it only a little--knows that this ascetical fast rather than weakening us makes us light, concentrated, sober, joyful, pure. One receives food as a real gift of God. One is constantly directed at that inner world which inexplicably becomes a kind of food in its own right. The exact amount of food to be received in this ascetical fasting, its rhythm and its quality, need not be discussed here; they depend on our individual capacities, the external conditions of our lives. But the principle is clear; it is a state of half-hunger whose "negative" nature is at all times transformed by prayer, memory, attention, and concentration into a positive power. As to the total fast, it is of necessity to be limited in duration and coordinated with the Divine Eucharist. In our present condition of life, its best form is the day before the evening celebration of the Presanctified Liturgy. Whether we fast on that day from early morning or from noon, the main point here is to live through that day as a day of expectation, hope, hunger for God Himself. It is a spiritual concentration on that which comes, on the gift to be received, and for the sake of which one gives us all other gifts...

"...Between holiness and disenchanted cynicism lies the great and divine virtue of patience--patience, first of all with ourselves. There is no short-cut to holiness; for every step we have to pay the full price. Thus it is better and safer to begin at a minimum--just slightly above our natural possibilities--and to increase our effort little by little, than to try jumping too high at the beginning and to break a few bones when falling back to earth.

In summary: from a symbolic and nominal fast--the fast as obligation and custom--we must return to the real fast. Let it be limited and humble but consistent and serious. Let us honestly face our spiritual and physical capacity and act accordingly--remembering however that there is no fast without challenging that capacity, without introducing into our life a divine proof that things impossible with men are possible with God. (Source: Great Lent)



[Priest: During the Completion Litany)

"O God of ineffable and unseen mysteries, in You are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, yet You have revealed to us this Liturgy and, in Your great love for mankind, appointed us sinners to offer gifts and sacrifices to You, for our sins and for the failings of the people. Invisible King, You perform works great and inscrutable, glorious and extraordinary, beyond number. Look upon us Your undeserving servants as we stand, as at Your Throne of the Cherubim at this Your Holy Altar, where Your Only-begotten Son, Our God, rests in the awesome mysteries here offered.

Freeing us all, and Your faithful people, of all uncleanness, sanctify all of us, soul and body, with a sanctification that cannot be taken away. Thus, partaking of these Divine Blessings with pure conscience, faces unblushing, hearts enlightened, and being quickened by them, we may be united to Your Christ Himself, Our True God. For He said: "He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, abides in Me and I in him." Having Your Word indwelling and moving within us, we may thus become the Temple of Your All-Holy and Worshipful Spirit, free of every wile of the Evil One affecting our acts, our words, our thoughts, and so obtain the blessings promised to us as to Your Saints who have pleased you through the ages. Amen.


"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