By Subdeacon Wasim Shehata
Numerous people, and especially the youth, wonder why do we need to fast. This introductory article will discuss a few reasons why we should fast, and bring some perspective to it. Fasting has been an important topic in the church, and numerous Church Fathers wrote about it.
The first reason why we should fast is that Christ Himself has taught us an important lesson about fasting when he said ‘’this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’’ (Matthew 17:21). What does ‘’this kind does not go out’’ mean? By this Christ talks about evil spirits and the diabolical influences. So, in other words, Christ teaches us that without prayer and fasting we cannot prevent or combat the diabolical influences.
Without praying and fasting we are more susceptible to diabolical influences, with all the consequences that entails. Peter the Apostle teaches us to ‘’be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’’ (1 Peter 5:8). So Peter teaches us that our enemy, the devil, is constantly lurking and looking for ways to fight us. If we link this to the words of Christ, we see that we have an active role in this.
By continuing to persist in praying and fasting, we can make ourselves less vulnerable to the diabolical influences. Everyone, regardless of what one’s spiritual level is, has to deal with diabolical influences, including saints. It is not that ‘’bad people’’ only suffer from it, but every person. It is a wrong thought that someone who is dealing with diabolical influences and temptations deserved this by having done bad thing. The idea is that someone, to a certain extent, can expose themselves less or make themselves less vulnerable to diabolical influences.
So, every person has to deal with diabolical influences and temptations, but not everyone makes themselves equally vulnerable to them. This can be seen as a strong wind. Everyone’s garden, bike, fence and so on will suffer from the wind. Nobody will not suffer from the strong wind. What is true is that not everyone will have the same damage. Someone who fixed his bike to a pole is less likely to lose his bike than someone who simply puts it on the stand or even against a wall.
Someone who locks his gate properly will have less damage to it than someone who leaves his door open and therefore makes his gate a ‘’prey’’ for the wind. So, just like the wind in a storm, every person will suffer from diabolical influences, but we can choose to make ourselves more or less vulnerable to it.
The second argument why we should fast is also a lesson from Christ. Christ taught us that ‘’if you love Me, keep My commandments’’ (John 14:15) and that ‘’blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’’ (Luke 11:28). Christ taught us earlier in the Gospel of Matthew that we must fast, and also set a good example by having fasted Himself as well. So, Christ says, if you love Me you do your best to do what I have taught you.
John the Apostle adds to this that ‘’this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it’’ (2 John 1:6). So whoever loves God keeps His commandments. Whoever tries to live up to God’s commandments proves thus that he truly loves God. Paul the Apostle teaches us that ‘’for as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous’’ (Romans 5:19).
Paul is explaining that the original problem of all humanity, and not just the Christian community, was disobedience. Jude the Apostle taught us that it was first the devil who ‘’did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness’’ (Jude 1:6). Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God that led to man’s fall (Genesis 3). So Paul, and Jude, teach us that obedience is essential to a successful spiritual life.
Christ teaches us that when we truly love Him we keep His commandments and John confirms this. For some, it may sound like Christ is oppressing us, that we ‘’must do what He says’’ whether we like it or not. Fortunately, this is not the case, and the truth is completely the opposite. The laws and doctrine of Christ are for our own good and ultimately for our salvation! The difference between an oppressor and Christ is that an oppressor does this for his own good, while Christ does this for us!
Paul teaches us that ‘’stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage’’ (Galatians 5:1) and ‘’this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage’’ (Galatians 2:4). In other words, Christ Himself is the source of freedom, and can therefore never ‘’oppress’’ us.
The third argument why we should fast is that Christ himself taught us that ‘’remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master’’ (John 15:20). This means that we, as children of God, are no more than God, which of course makes sense. When viewed in the context of fasting, we learn that if Christ has fasted personally, who are we not to fast? Are we more than Christ, and thus above God, who has fasted even though He did not need it? He who did not need to fast fasted, so how much more should we, who actually need it, fast?
The fourth argument why we should fast is more a physical argument. When we follow a vegetarian diet, we eat things that are light on the stomach. What is the benevolence of this? When something is light on the stomach, it generates less or no physical lusts. Physical desires is a general term for everything that leads to bodily comfort, such as; lots of food and drink, lots of sleep, lots of ‘’chilling out’’ and so on. The animal-based ‘’heavy’’ food induces more physical desires.
How so? This is because when we eat heavy food, even though in small quantities, we will be completely saturated. When we are completely saturated, we have more mental capacity to think about other things, because we have already fed one of our main bodily desires. When we have saturated one of the bodily desires, namely having a full stomach, then other lusts will automatically and inevitably start to act up.
This can also be seen outside of a religious context, namely with vegetarians and especially vegans. Vegans, and to a lesser extent vegetarians, generally feel ‘’light’’ through their diet.
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