Why Do We Fast and Abstain

It is the custom of Orthodox Catholic Christians to fast (abstain) during Lent as a self-discipline and an offering to God. By fasting and abstaining, we offer God our entire being as an expression of gratitude and submission.

Jesus instructed us to fast and taught that our fasting should be done discreetly:

“When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put scent on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

St Seraphim PortraitSaint Seraphim of Sarov, one of our beloved our patron saints, taught:

“Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, before setting out on the feat of redeeming the human race, fortified Himself with a lengthy fast. And all ascetics, proceeding to work for the Lord, armed themselves by fasting and did not set out on the path of the Cross without the feat of fasting.”

Despite their fasting and to the surprise of others, the holy fathers and mothers did not know weakness but remained hearty, strong, and ready for the task at hand. Illnesses were rare among them and their lives were extraordinarily prolonged. Not everyone, however, can take upon oneself strict rules of abstinence from everything, nor deprive oneself completely of all that serves to relieve infirmities:

“The person that is able to receive it, let receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

Our spiritual ancestors in the Faith instructed us that one should take enough food everyday to strengthen the body, so that it can be a friend and helper to the soul in accomplishing virtues; otherwise it can happen that through the exhaustion of the body the spirit can weaken. On Wednesdays and Fridays, particularly during Great Lent, let us strive to the best of our ability to follow the disciplined example of the ascetics.

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