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The Spiritual Means, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

31- The benefits and the importance of fasting

  

Fasting is one of the most important spiritual means. But why?

First of all, because it helps us keep self-control.

As the one fasting abstains from eating and drinking generally for a period of time, he stops himself from eating whatever relates to animal fat. And so he learns restraint. In the process of restraining from food and drink, he will also restrain himself from committing sins.

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God put this element of restrain from the beginning when He asked Adam and Eve to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here, He put the principle of self-control from the beginning of the history of humanity, to make us fully realize that freedom does not mean lack of restrain. Although God was very generous with Adam and Eve and gave them permission to eat from every tree of the garden, but He put a rule, which was to refrain from eating from a particular tree (Gen 2:16,17) and (Gen 3:3).

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Maybe we fully realize here the seriousness of the phrase that King Solomon said, expressing his unrestrained pleasure: Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them (Eccles 2:10). So eventually he lost his wisdom and sinned. His heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David (1 Kings 11:4). And many desires caused him to stumble...

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Fasting is also an evidence of being elevated above the level of the body.

St-Takla.org Image: A Coptic Orthodox monk sitting in his cell, reading and praying صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: راهب قبطي أرثوذكسي يقرأ في قلايته ويصلي

St-Takla.org Image: A Coptic Orthodox monk sitting in his cell, reading and praying

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: راهب قبطي أرثوذكسي يقرأ في قلايته ويصلي

In it, we do not give the body all that it asks or desires of food. By so doing, we are elevated above bodily desires. We are even being elevated above materialism in general. And so we give the spirit a chance to take its

opportunity, remembering the Lords saying: Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life (Jn 6:27). And the Apostles saying: For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:6).

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The spirit becomes stronger during fasting.

During fasting, our prayers are also deeper and our contemplations are deeper. Our relationship with God becomes stronger, even our hymns also. There is a big difference between recording one of the Pascha hymns during the Passion Week and recording the same hymn at a non-fasting period. The effect of fasting on the spirit is not restricted to Christians only but the Hindus, the Yogies and the Buddhists find spiritual strength in exercises of fasting and asceticism. Their spirits become more pure...

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Fasting then is not of benefit only to fight against the negatives but it also benefits positively in strengthening the spirit.

Therefore we find that most of the spiritual occasions are preceded by fasting.

The church sacraments for example, such as Baptism, Myron (Chrism), Holy Communion and Priesthood have to be preceded by fasting. Receiving the blessing of feasts is preceded by fasting. We fast for many long weeks before Christmas and Easter, before the Feast of the Apostles, the Feast of the Virgin Mary and for the Epiphany we fast the day before (the Baramoun).

How beautiful is the saying in the Acts of the Apostles, (before the laying on of hands on Barnabas and Saul): As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said; Now separate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:2,3).

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Among the most beautiful words also said about the spiritual effect of fasting is:

The relationship between fasting and casting out evil spirits:

The Lord talked about this in the miracle of casting out a stubborn demon, the thing that His Disciples failed to do... The Lord then said: However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting (Mt 17:21)... Because the prayer of the one who is fasting has its spirituality and its effect, the one who is fasting is closer to God and stronger than the demons.

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Fasting was used by the saints during times of tribulations.

We have a very clear example of that in the fasting of Esther and all the Jews when they were confronted by Hamans conspiracy (Esther 4:16), and the Lords response was quick and amazing, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. We also hear about the fasting of Nehemiah when he heard the news that: The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire (Neh 1 :3,4). The book of Nehemiah also tells about the Lords response and how it was quick and amazing... The Bible also tells us about how Ezra and Hobak fasted and the effect it had on cleansing and purifying the people. The Bible also tells us about the fasting of the Prophet Daniel and its effect (Dan 9:3,21) and (Dan 10:3,12).

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Fasting also had its effect in the field of repentance...

The people of Ninevah repented. Their repentance was not only by turning from the life of evil, but it was mixed with great fasting and asceticism of both the king and all the people. God accepted their fasting and their repentance and forgave them their sins (Jon 3).

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The most impressive saying about the mixture of repentance with fasting is what the divine inspiration said in the book of the Prophet Joel: Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning (Joel 2:12) and the Prophet David explains the depth of his fasting and says: I humbled myself with fasting (Ps 35:13), and I wept and chastened my soul with fasting (Ps 69:10).

And many of the prayers of the fathers and the prophets, asking for forgiveness, were accompanied by fasting such as the prayers of Daniel and Ezra, asking forgiveness for the sins of the people.

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Fasting also has its relation to the service.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the most outstanding model of that, as He started His service by fasting for forty days. And following His steps, so do all the fathers the bishops and the newly ordained priests, they start their ministerial service by fasting... The saintly Apostles themselves started their service also by fasting. In them it was confirmed what the Lord said: When the bridegroom will be taken away from them, then they will fast (Mk 2:20).

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Fasting not only took place at the beginning of the service of our fathers the apostles, but it also took place during their service: ...In fastings often (2 Cor 11:27). St Paul also says: But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God... In labours, in sleeplessness, in fastings... (2 Cor 6:4,5).

Have you tried, my brother, in your life to fast for the service and for solving problems in general?

 

32

The acceptable spiritual fasting

33

Mixing fasting with virtues


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