It's a question that's asked silently more often than aloud, but if truth be told, most of us who "hold fast to the Orthodox faith" have at some point in time considered the question.
We know the drill. We fast every Friday. And yes, we're supposed to fast on Wednesdays as well. That's our "weekly" schedule. But we also know that there are four fasting seasons. There's the Great Fast, and second to it in duration is the Nativity or Advent Fast. Next in duration - well, that's difficult. The Dormition Fast always lasts for 14 days (Aug 1 thru Aug 14). But the Apostles' Fast is "variable." It begins on the day AFTER the Sunday of All Saints (one week after Pentecost), and extends until the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on 29June. So in those years when Pascha falls early, the Apostles' Fast is longer than those years when Pascha falls late. I recall a year not so long ago when the Apostles' Fast was only one or two days long. Of course, if you're lucky enough to worship on the Old Calendar, 29June comes 13 days later, so there's an additional 2 weeks to the Apostles' Fast!!
I just took a look at calendar 2019 ("New" Calendar, that is). When one observes every prescribed Wednesday and Friday, and all of the days of each of the four fasting seasons, one fasts for a total of 182 days - almost EXACTLY half of the year.
But back to the title's question - What good is all this fasting? What do I accomplish from it?
In too many instances we've heard people openly state, "I'll lose weight during the fast...." Perhaps you will, but that's NOT the purpose of the fast.
The purpose of any fast is to put the body to war with the spirit, and to allow the spirit to emerge victorious over the body. If we for a moment think that our lives are fully conformed to the fullness of the instruction and example our Lord gave us for living, we're deluding ourselves. And in that separation from His perfection we should be striving for it as our goal, for He commanded us, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect..." (Mat 5:48) Can we achieve that perfection? No, but we won't even get closer to the goal unless we struggle, strive, FIGHT - spirit against body.
The body loves to eat, and to overeat. The body loves to recline and rest. The body calls to us to satisfy any number of "wants" including those of the more base fleshly desires. Is there anything sinful in taking food? No. But when we overeat, our bodies become lazy, and we don't strive to labor to help those in need. Is there anything sinful in the condition of human love? No, when approached in the light of God's gift between husband and wife, it's a beautiful gift. But when we focus on that any gift to extremes, we deny ourselves the vision of those around us who need to feel love from another person. That love can be accomplished with a smile, or a kind word, or a visit to one ill and shut in.
Fasting allows us to gain control over those things in the world that we usually allow to effect control over us - the stimulus of an advertising sign showing delicious food, making us desire it; the stimulus of a person speaking with us and talking about another in an unflattering way, urging us to participate in that unrighteous talk. When we fast, we consume time in other ways - giving alms, reading scripture, and yes - hearing our stomach's complain (growl) as we deny them what they crave. That feeling and that sound remind our spirits that they are winning - and strengthen them for the battle!
So fast as many of those 182 days as you can. In fact, fast more if you can! Define your fast as not "just" from food, but from the passions that tear us down. Then add to your fast cultivating the virtues that bring us closer to God's perfection.
If we can do this, we'll not need to ask what the fast is accomplishing in us!
Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!
The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.
We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!
Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM
We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!