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The Spirituality of Fasting, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III
17- The Element of Hunger
Many abstain from food, then eat without feeling or enduring hunger. They are without patience to profit from fasting spiritually. The Bible presents to us many examples of hunger during fasting.
Jesus Christ, as well as the Apostles, fasted until they became hungry.
The bible mentions that after Jesus Christ fasted for forty days that: “afterward He was hungry.” (Matt 4:2).
According to the account of Saint Luke: “And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.” (Luke 4:2). Jesus Christ also became hungry on Easter Monday. (Mark 11: 12).
However, some may argue that Christ's fasting is difficult and beyond us. Therefore, let us talk about the fasting of ordinary people who experienced the element of hunger.
It was said about the Apostle St Peter that: "He became very hungry, and would have eaten " (Acts 10:10). In the discourse of St Paul and his companions' service, he said: “In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often…” (2 Cor 11:27). He also said: “learned both to be full and to be hungry.” (Phil 4:12).
God blessed the condition of hunger, saying:
“Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled.” (Luke 6:11).
If Lazarus’s hunger qualified him to embrace our Father Abraham for his share of trouble on earth though it had not been of his own free will, how much more grace will God give to those in eternity who willingly hunger ascetically seeking Him.
God prepared His people in the wilderness through hunger.
He said to those people: “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness…So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (Dent 8:2,3).
He who escapes from the statement: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger” will have the statement: “fed you with manna” in the wilderness evade him.
However, the children of Israel perished in the wilderness when they murmured and became hungry.
Fasting acquires its perfection in toleration to hunger.
If you do not become hungry, you will not understand the depth and meaning of fasting, and if you do not prolong or endure your fast and eat directly after your abstinence, you will not be awarded the benefits conveyed by hunger.
What then are the spiritual benefits conveyed by hunger?
He who hungers becomes aware of his weakness.
Thus he defeats his sense of self-delusion, from self reliance and excessive self-confidence, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. Bodily humility and weakness leads him to spiritual submission.
When the body is humbled, the soul is humbled, feeling the need for support and pleads to God for strength, saying: O Lord, support my weakness with Your Godly power for I by myself can do nothing.
Man's prayer is intense when hungry.
Fervent spiritual prayers do not come from a full stomach.
That is why prayer and fasting are inseparable. People fast when they seek depth in their prayer. Prayers and bible readings during Passion Week become profound when united by hunger...
Easter melody recording during Passion Week exhibits spiritual depth by he who records it while fasting. A recording of the same melody on other than fasting days, loses its spiritual depth to become in all probability a mere tune.
God desires that through hunger that man may identify his weakness. Prostration is therefore more effective when hungry than with a stomach filled with food.
My advice to you is this: If you feel hungry, resist for a while the temptation to eat so that you may receive the blessing of hunger.
The Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and finally became hungry. When the Devil tempted Christ to eat He refused despite His hunger. In doing so, He taught us a lesson. Therefore, endure your hunger, and do not avoid it.
Do not escape from the feeling of hunger through idle talk, wasting of time or sleep which you may resort to in order to overcome the period of hunger without feeling it. By escaping from hunger, you forfeit its blessings, spiritual benefits and the virtue of endurance and control over the body.
Our aim is to benefit from hunger and not escape from it.
If hunger presses on you, say to yourself that you do not deserve to eat.
Say to yourself: I do not deserve to eat because of my sins. You become inwardly humble when you are physically fatigued which allows you to pray in humility and help you to relinquish pride, vanity and self-complacency.
As for he who stands to pray in might, health and the strength of iron, where will submissiveness come from?
Two minutes prayer whiles hungry are better than hours when full.
In fact, a hungry person longs for prayer, while he who is full often forgets. That is why most faithful people pray before eating.
Peruse hunger in wisdom when you fast.
Those who have experienced the spiritual benefit arising from hunger tend to prolong its period. However, one must be careful not to exaggerate in utter exhaustion that you end up too frail to stand on your feet to pray. Such a person may opt to pray while prostrating not out of submissiveness but to seek comfort and relaxation for his tired body.
Be wise to train yourself within your body’s limit of endurance. However, I have a frank word to say to you:
Do not be afraid of hunger, for it is a passing sensation. The reason is that the more you give your stomach, the more it expands to accommodate more. Moreover, in cases of those who are overweight, the stomach is flabby, its walls are weak, and if you do not fill it, you feel hungry.
If you endure your hunger, your stomach will re-condition itself and contract. If you persist, it will no longer be in need for much. Hunger will then not persist since a small quantity will give the stomach a feeling of fullness.
A wise person is one who controls his stomach. He does not eat so much that his stomach becomes flabby, and does not over deprive it of food to make it shrink to a size unfit for the needs of his body.
Moderation in this matter is useful and wise.
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