Fast was the initial decree enjoined by the Lord,
1. On Adam.
Ref: Gen. 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it, for, in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (K.J.V.)
Fasting is apparently the abstinence from food completely or partially or from certain types of food. Of all the divine or dominical decrees to mankind, the instruction to Adam for fasting was the first one. In the Garden of Eden, the first place of habitation, God’s forbidding decree to keep away from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge was pronounced. In this context it may be construed that the Lord as the greatest dietician, knew that certain prohibitions in the food habit are necessary for the good health of His creation. Realising the implication of the divine decree, the Church as a true mother prescribes periodical fasts to make her children not only physically strong but also spiritually fit.
2. It was observed by the Jewish community, as per the commandment of the Lord.
Ref: (a) Joel 2:12. Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping and with mourning. (K.J.V.)
(b) Zech. 7:5. Tell the people of the land and the priest that when they fasted and mourned in the fifth and the seventh month during these seventy years… (G.N.B.)
As per Mosaic Law, the Jews were forbidden from eating certain fishes and flesh. During the Passover the Israelites were to keep away from eating leavened bread. Elijah, the great Jewish prophet observed fast for forty days. Joshua, the son of Nun, was able to keep the celestial bodies still, by the power he gained through prayer and fasting.
3. Was ordered, practised and taught by our Lord.
Ref: (a) Mt. 4:2. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. (K.J.V.)
(b) Mt. 9:15. And Jesus said unto them, 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. (K.J.V.)
Even Jesus our Lord observed fast for forty days. It was the spiritual strength that He gained from this fast, which fortified Him to have decisive victory over the seductive strategy of Satan. In His teachings, Jesus further emphasised that one could cast off the evil spirits with the power of prayer and fasting.
4. And was observed by the Apostles and accordingly confirmed, ordered and practised by the Church as part of Her discipline.
Ref: Acts. 13:2. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them”. (G.N.B.)
From the book of Praxis or The Acts of the Apostles, it can be gathered that the Holy Apostles also observed fast like their Master. One of the sources of their spiritual strength was fasting. In line with the Apostolic tradition and with the lessons that She learned from the Semitic cradle of training, the S.O.C. vouches on the efficacy of fasting and the inexorable value of it, in spiritual life.
5. But physical or bodily fasting without spiritual abstinence from evil is not enough at all.
Ref: (a) Mt. 6:16. “And when you fast do not put on a sad face, as the hypocrites do, they neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are
fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. (G.N.B.)
(b) vide. Is. 58:77
(c) vide. Num. 7:7
Abstinence from food alone, without spiritual nourishments, like prayer and meditation will emaciate both the body and the soul equally. On the contrary physical abstinence from food coupled with spiritual exercises would fortify the person observing fast.
6. The intentions of fasting are the following: To instruct to value more of matters spiritual than worldly, to subdue bodily temptations and foster the soul, to defend the soul from bodily desires and to awaken and orient it to things divine. And to be a weapon to have victory over Satan. As love of the stomach is the mother of many a sin, abstaining oneself from food is a way to prevent the evil arising from consuming food.
Ref: (a) Phil. 3:19…They worship their stomach and brag about the disgusting things they do. (L.B.)
(b) Mt. 17:21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (K.J.V.)
The purposes or intentions and the merits of fasting are brought out here. Fasting, on the whole, brings in spiritual orientation and equilibrium besides victory over carnal desires. In the prayers of the S.O.C. it is extolled that observance of fasting is a sure device to gain victory over Satan and his primrose ways, which lead to eternal damnation. Fasting uplifts a person from the terrestrial realm to the celestial plane
7. The Church has therefore decreed the observance of fasting on all Wednesdays and Fridays besides during the following five periods. Lent, period of Annunciation and Nativity, the feast of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, feast of the Apostles, Nineveh fast or fast of Rogation.
Ref: Lk. 18:12. “I fast two days a week…” (G.N.B.)
The Church has specified five periods of fast noted already, in the course of an Ecclesial year. Besides them, all the Wednesdays and Fridays except during the weeks between the Easter and the Pentecost are to be observed as days of fast. Wednesdays in honour of the Blessed Virgin and Fridays in rememberance of the Crucifixion of our Saviour.
8. During fast days abstinence from marital relationship, consuming of meat, fish etc. is obligatory. Also, in accordance with one’s physical capacity and the ordinances of the Church, keeping away from meals till noon or having only one time food a day is also to be observed.
Ref: (a) 1Cor. 7:5… You agree not to have sex… (L.B.)
(b) 2Sam. 1:12. They cried all day long and would not eat anything… (L.B.)
(c) Dan. 1:8. Daniel made up his mind to eat and drink only what God had approved his people to eat. And he asked the king’s chief official for permission not to eat the food and wine served in the royal palace. (L.B.)
The disciplines to be observed during the fast days are here detailed. They are all conducive for the spiritual growth and strength.
(A chapter from – Mathopadesa Sarangal)
By Saint Dionysius Geevarghese Vattasseril
English Translation & Commentary
Prof. O. M. Mathew Oruvattithara