The Purpose of Fasting
Eastern Orthodox Christians prepare for the birth of Christ by renewing our focus on fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. Known as “the Nativity fast,” this is a joyous time in anticipation of the blessed Nativity of Christ (Christmas). As with all fasts, it must not be done alone! It is also a time for prayer and alms-giving.
The Nativity fast is a Christian practice that is not obsolete or irrelevant, nor is it something for “someone else” to do. The purpose of fasting is to help us be more deliberate with our focus on the Kingdom of God.
At this time of year, with all of our increased commitments, we try to do our best to free ourselves from dependence on worldly things. We fast faithfully and in secret, not judging others, and not holding ourselves up as an example. To be sure, fasting is not a means of pleasing God. Fasting is not a punishment, nor is it an effort to inflict pain and suffering, some sort of atonement. We are already redeemed by love of Christ! The gift of Salvation is not bought by our hunger or thirst. We fast to be delivered from temporal passions and thoughts and to remind us not to get pulled in and caught up with what the world would have us do to prepare for Christ’s coming.
So, what’s involved? Why do Eastern Orthodox Christians fast before Easter (Pascha) and before Christmas? Because we try to learn and re-fresh ourselves on how to choose love and choose God in our lives and we reach out to our neighbor in our local community and the world. What’s that got to do with Fasting? Where is the Eastern Orthodox Church coming from with fasting as a tool for spiritual growth? Click below to find out.
During Advent, we ask God to help us work on ourselves as Christ works on and in us. So, our Church asks us to fast, to the best of our ability. Why? Many people of god fasted to draw closer to God. Daniel, a prophet of God, remarked, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: ‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments'” (Daniel, 9:3-5) Like Daniel, we love God and try to keep his commandments.
REAL FASTING: And, in the end, “…real fasting [is] not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskilled in its use. For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting” (St. John Chrysostom, 4th Century). So we follow Christ with real fasting recalling His simple guidance that, “…when you fast do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad face. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to [all] to be fasting. I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
Join us, even if its means simply eating a little less as we reflect on those who need food a lot more. For many, Orthodox Christians included, fasting appears simple but, this does not make it easy to do! Let’s all do our best this Advent Season as we fast and pray!
How do you get started? First, speak with an Orthodox Christian or Priest for help. After that, consider how you can fast this Advent with the Church’s Fasting guidelines below:
- The 1st period is from November 15th through December 19th.
(No meat, dairy, fish, wine and oil – however, fish, wine, and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, oil and wine are permitted.)
- The 2nd period is from December 20th through December 24th.
(No meat, dairy, wine, and oil.)
Entering into fasting is big step. So, DO NOT FAST if you are seriously ill, pregnant, or nursing a newborn; DO NOT FAST without prayer or without alms-giving! AND if this is your first time or if you need help, be sure to contact Fr. Bogdan (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions, concerns, or medical condition so that he can help you take part to best of your ability. We do not fast alone and it is important to be prudent in your circumstance so speak with an Orthodox Priest.
- Lenten Cook Book