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The Spirituality of Fasting, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

23- Care not for the Body


Likewise was Saint Shenouda, the father of hermits, who at the age of nine, used to give his food away to shepherds and pray standing up while fasting, till sunset.

To the young and old, fasting bestows health and strength. It freed their bodies from their extra fat and water.

Many saintly bodies have kept from decay, all because of God's blessing that preserved them as a reward for their faithfulness. On the other hand, because their bodies had little in the way of fat and dampness, the causes of decay.

Meat can be preserved without decay for a long time if it is exposed to heat which rids it of its water content and dissolves its fat which dries it up and preserve it. To the some extent were the bodies of saints who, through fasting were without fat and excess water. Thus, decay could not touch them.

However, why should we concentrate on the body? Is fasting a virtue for the body alone?

Fasting is not a mere bodily virtue:

Fasting is not merely a virtue for the body apart from the soul, because any virtue requires the participation of the soul.

What then is the role of the body in fasting? And what is the role of the soul?

True fasting is a spiritual act primarily taking place inside the heart. Image: St. Paul at his writing-desk, painting by Rembrandt, between 1629-1630, oil on oak wood, Height: 47.2 cm (18.5 in); Width: 38.6 cm (15.1 in), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Germany. صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: القديس بولس على مكتبه، لوحة للفنان رامبرانت، ما بين 1629-1630، زيت على خشب بلوط بمقاس 47,238,6 سم.، متحف جيرمانيشس القومي، نورنبرج، ألمانيا. Image: St. Paul at his writing-desk, painting by Rembrandt, between 1629-1630, oil on oak wood, Height: 47.2 cm (18.5 in); Width: 38.6 cm (15.1 in), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Germany.

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: القديس بولس على مكتبه، لوحة للفنان رامبرانت، ما بين 1629-1630، زيت على خشب بلوط بمقاس 47,238,6 سم.، متحف جيرمانيشس القومي، نورنبرج، ألمانيا.

The function of the body in fasting is to prepare the soul or rather to disclose the soul's affection.

The soul rises above the level of materialism and food, and above the level of the body. It leads the body along in victorious procession and spiritual desires. The body expresses this through fasting.

If we confine our definition of fasting to the humiliation of the body through hunger and deprivation of what it covets, we will be adhering to the negative aspect of fasting, ignoring the positive and spiritual ones.

Fasting is not hunger for the body but nourishment for the soul.

Fasting, as some people speculate, is not a bodily torture, martyrdom, or a cross, but it is a way to elevate the body to reach the level of cooperation with the soul, and we have discussed this issue before here on in other pages. When we fast, our intention is not to torture the body but to shun its behaviour. Thus, one who fasts becomes a spiritual and not a physical person.

Fasting is an ascetic soul which takes the body with it as its partner in asceticism.

Fasting is not a hungry body but an ascetic one.

Fasting is not bodily hunger but bodily elevation and purity. It is not a body that hungers and longs for food, but a body that rids itself of the desire to eat.

Fasting is a time when the soul flourishes and lifts the body up with it.

It rids the body of its loads and burdens and lifts it up so that God may work with it without impediment to the happiness of the spiritual entity.

Fasting is a spiritual time spent together by the body and soul performing a spiritual act. The body and the soul join in doing the work of the soul, ie. praying, meditating, praising and coming in communion with God.

We do not pray only with a fasting body but also with a fasting soul, mind and heart abstaining from lusts and desires. The soul also abstains from love of the passing world. All for the sake of living with God, nourished and loved by Him.

A fast in this way is the proper vehicle for spiritual deeds, a spiritual atmosphere to live in his heart, spirit, soul, thought, senses, and emotions with God.

Fasting is the bodily expression of abstinence from materialism and the longing for a life with God. Through abstinence, the body joins the soul in its aspects of spiritual work. Through this, the body becomes spiritual in attitude and takes on the appearance of the soul.

In spiritual fast, neither the soul nor the spiritual body, is anxious about bodily wants.

Care not for the body:

In the Lord's discourse on spiritual nourishment, we hear Him says: Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life. (John 6:27). He then continued by talking about the true bread from Heaven the bread of God, and the bread of life. (John 6:32-35). Here He appeals to the soul for its nourishment and our thoughts to the spiritual way so as not to occupy our minds with the body and its needs.

When Christ said that Man shall not live by bread alone. (Matt 4:4), He meant by this, that man should not live solely to nourish his body with bread and forget the nourishment of the soul. This is also clear when He said to His disciples: I have food to eat of which you do not know." (John 4:32).

A question arises at this point:

Was Jesus, on the mount, fasting or being nourished?

The answer is that He was fasting and getting nourished at the same time. His body was fasting but His soul was being nourished.

His food was different too, of which the people knew nothing about. With nourishment for the soul, the body was supported for forty days and forty nights.

He teaches us that we should care for our spiritual and not bodily needs. In this we discover before our eyes the words of the Godly revelation as spoken by our teacher the Apostle Saint Paul when he explained our attendance to the bodily and spiritual things.

He says: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1). This is the way God wants us to follow when fasting and throughout our life.

The Apostle goes on to say: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5).

Are you one who cares for spiritual or for the bodily things?

Are you concerned with your spiritual progress or the welfare of your body, your spiritual health or that of your body? There is no doubt that if you attend to the health of your spirit the Lord will also grant you health to your body during the fasting period as previously explained.

The danger of caring for the body lies in the following hard statements:

For to be carnally minded is death and Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. (Rom 8:6,7).

Who can comprehend these words and persist in accordance with the flesh?

The Apostle also says: So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:8).

Therefore, brethren, we are not indebted to the body that we may live according to it, For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:13).

It is admirable the Apostles saying, for in fasting we do not do away with the body but its evil deeds. We destroy the deeds of the body by the spirit that we may live. We do not torture the body but we rather do not submit to its deeds. We do not give the body its lusts and desires, but exaltation, loftiness above materialistic things, and the surrender to the Spirit, as the Apostle says: But to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:6).

This is the meaning of fasting. Faced by the above statement of the Apostle, we ask:

Do you, in your fast, care for that what belongs to the Spirit?

This is what we would like to discuss in the following chapters so that our fast may be spiritual and acceptable before God. Not to concentrate on the bodily aspect of fasting and overlook the spiritual benefits. To comprehend the spiritual views of fasting and follow a spiritual route for our benefit.

If fasting is not bodily hunger but spiritual nourishment, then let us research what spiritual nourishment is and whether or not we achieve it while fasting.

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