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“It is not if you fast ... it is when you fast...”

As to the scriptures, “There is a time for everything” Ecc 3:1. In our Orthodox Church there are seasons set for fasting. One of these seasons is the Great fast; also known as ዓቢይ ጾም in our Church language. 

Here and now we welcome this great fast, which starts today Feb 20, 2012.

Great fast is a fasting time set for self examination through a devout time of prayer. It is a time of contemplation and repentance. It is such important time we set to invite our God to our hearts for conversation and hear his voice.

Literary speaking fasting is abstaining from food (eating and drinking) as a religious duty that is required of all believers. In the Orthodox Church, however, Fasting is an act of sacrifice, which means an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hands of God. It is denying comfort to our flesh, but feeding strength to our spiritual personality. As St. John Chrysostom put it, “fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins also. The fast, he insists, should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.” Like all our faith fathers we do also fast to ask God for the safe journey of our Christian faith. For instance, if we go back to the book of Ezra we read “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possession (8: 21).

On top of this, when our Lord Jesus Christ teaches about fasting He said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” In this verse we notice how Jesus put his teaching “when you fast”! He did not say “if you fast”! Beloved readers, fasting is not something conditional! It is neither optional nor elective but it is an instruction given to those who follow Christ. It is explained on the same lesson when Christ taught his disciples in regards to the issues of Prayer and Giving to the needy. Thus there is no reason why we accept prayer but reject fasting; or choose giving to the needy but avoid fasting and praying.

How do we fast?

As fasting is a way to subdue our flesh for the sake of our spirit it must be done sincerely and has to be a pleasing sacrifice to God. To put it other way, we have to be far from having anything to be proud of and deny comfort to our flesh, but feed strength to our spiritual personality. This is by the way a sign of obedience and an offer of spiritual sacrifice to God and can be done through repentance, reading Holy Scripture, meditating and reflecting upon our life. Likewise, our fasting should be kept private. Meaning, there is no need to reveal our sacrifice to anyone else. The Word of God teaches that we should not show others that we are fasting otherwise revealing such an act of sacrifice to the world will obviously be spiritual arrogance (Mt 6:18).

What is its significance in our Christian life?

When fasting is done in a humble way, it breaks the power of flesh and demons. It kills unbelief and brings answers to prayer because it is a major key to hearing God's voice. As our church Fathers described it, Fasting is a mother of prayer.  It ultimately brings about purity of heart. As long as the flesh rules, purity of heart will not exist. Therefore, according to our fathers’ teaching to purify our hearts we must begin with the control of our bodily-desires through fasting. It is only then that we attain purity of heart and when there is purity of heart there is God’s blessing.

In brief we do fast:

  • to tune ourselves (minds) into God so as to obtain an alignment  with God.
  • to win our hearts and bring humility upon us.
  • to shape our spiritual focus put ourselves in harmony with our powerful and loving God.
  • to determine our spiritual vision and  win our souls to be close to Him.
  • to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and reject gratifying the desires of the sinful nature (Ro :13:14)

May God’s grace be with all of us to obey and offer Him a spiritual sacrifice during the time of Great Fast.

Fr. Semere Sibhatu

Kidist Silassie Orthodox Tewahdo, Edmonton, Canada

posted on February 23, 2012

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