Q&A with an Orthodox Priest: "Why Do We Need To Fast?"

Q: Father Andrew, how can we explain the meaning of fast to a person who doesnt go to church?

Father Andrew: Such people perceive the world from a material standpoint. You can say that we fast to make us feel better spiritually. It is difficult for a soul to bear the flesh of a body. The soul starves for freedom. At the same time we constantly suppress its thrive for freedom. Our souls need fast to “have a rest”.

People should learn how to collect themself, how to control their wishes and how to restrain from their desires. Food restriction is a fight against our passions. You know, people should humble themselves somehow. We need this. Fast is not just a senseless diet. It helps us to reach our salvation, for the Lord says: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew, 17:21).

However, fast is closely connected with the history of the humanity. In heaven there was constant fast, and our ancestors lost their beauty when they violated it. On Wednesdays and Fridays we fast in memory of the events described in the Holy Gospel, which are the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. The Nativity fast, which is currently ongoing, prepares us for the feast of the Nativity of the Savior.

While speaking to such people, you can provide them with some examples from the sphere of medicine. Our body needs such rest in order not to strain itself and not to be overwhelmed. By the way, if you pray, you will find the right words to explain.

We can speak much about the fast and its role. Fasting is a demonstration of our love to God. What can we do for Him? We should understand that it is senseless to speak about the universal love, if we cannot reject even a bowl of soup. We cannot curb our nature and our stomach, but we think we are ready to pray for the whole world!.. Such dreams are wrong. We should start small if we want to achieve something significant. Quite often it happens that we start with high words, but then we cannot even make a single step for God. You see, fast is our little gift for the Lord, our “widow’s mite” which we can give Him. You restrain from something, but you gain hundred times more from God.

Perhaps, we are not ready to pray attentively and wholeheartedly yet. To restrict ourselves, to come to the church, to confess, to partake of the Holy Communion – these are what we really need today and what we really can do. I think, you should try to somehow approach the heart of a person. Do not try to persuade him with some eternal words, but try to understand his inner condition, his desires and worries. Here we need to find suitable words to explain why it is important to find God. The words which can give him hope in God and His help.

Of course you cannot tell a person to die, to let himself be crucified, be nailed to the cross. He will say, “I do not want to die, I want to live”. This is why we should speak about the help the Lord provides us with, for He really consoles us. At the same time, a person should not stop. We should always look for new view of life and new ways for “transfiguration”. These can be found through humility, sorrows and diseases.

The church educates people wisely. We should always take into account the life conditions and physical abilities of people. Otherwise they can take on spiritual feats, which they cannot bear. This can lead to despair, which makes people give everything up. We should learn how to find the golden middle, as well as the narrow way, leading to the Kingdom of Heaven.

By Father Andrew Lemeshonok, December 9, 2016