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The Spirituality of Fasting, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III
25- Is the Lord the Aim of your Fast?
Why do we fast? What is our goal when fasting? Our aims in fasting determine our means and according to our goal, results follow.
Do we fast merely because it is a rite, mentioned in the Kutamarus and the church calendar, or because the Church has announced it? If so, then internally we are not complete. Of course, obedience to the Church and the commandment is important, but obedience to the Commandment should be done in spiritual commitment and not in a superficial fashion. When the Church planned this fast, it did so for the sake of the spiritual depth that is in that fast.
So what is this spiritual depth? And what is the goal of our fasting? Is it merely to deprive and humiliate the body?
Deprivation of the body is in fact, not a virtue in itself but only a means by which the soul can take its hold. Do we therefore, confine ourselves to the means, or move to the target which is allows the soul to take its restrain?
How many are the false goals that rise before man in his fasts! Some may fast merely for self-approval, to feel pious, to gain approval in spiritual gatherings, to avoid being negligent to a biblical commandment or to gain praise from others for his fast or his level. In this way, one falls in to the sin of false self glory.
What then should be the sound aim in fasting?
Our aim should always be to fast out of love for God.
Out of love, we desire that our souls adhere to Him. We do not allow our bodies to hinder the way of the soul. Therefore, we subdue through fasting to make the body conform with the soul in its work. It is in fasting that we are likely to soar above the materialistic and bodily needs, and live by the soul. To allow the human soul to unite in God's Spirit in His work to enjoy His love and company.
Enjoying God's love and fellowship should be our manner throughout our lives. However, it should not be forgotten, that it is during our times of fasting that we deepen and strengthen our training and preparation for this enjoyment of God for other times of our life.
Thus, we fast because fasting brings us close to God.
Fasting in part, is a withdrawal which gives us an opportunity for prayer, spiritual reading, and contemplation. Fasting helps one keep vigilant, practice prostration and set the mood for prayer. Fasting is control over the will and a triumph over desires. This is the way to God to lead us to penitence and reconciliation with Him, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. When we fast we are nourished by “Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4).
Therefore, we fast for the sake of God's love and fellowship. We fast because it helps us shun worldly and materialistic things and to make us ready for eternity and oneness with God.
If fasting is consecrated to God alone, and for the sake of His love, a question then arises:
Can a person fast but at the same time not consecrate his fast to God?
Yes, they are many who fast, but God has no share in. For instance, someone may fast while far from God. He fasts, yet he does not change, still in weaknesses. A person of high profile or authority may even fast as a customary act, lest he should be embarrassed or for the sake of his reputation. Another may fast purely for bodily reasons, while the soul has no part in his fast.
One may fast to parade his ascetic ability or skill to abstain from food. A person may abstain from food for a while and at the same time indulging in wordily lusts which he cannot abstain from!
Some think that fasting only is associated with food without God being a party to it. All their cares while fasting is; How long is the period of abstinence? When shall they eat? How can they lengthen the period of their abstinence? What will they eat? How can they keep themselves away from certain kinds of food? How can they fast for days? It appears as if fasting concerns two parties only: them and their food, or them and the body, without God being party to the fast in any way!! Is this a correct fast?!
Fasting is not a mere a bodily deed. Rather it is communion with God. A fast that does not have God in it is no fast at all.
We eat and we fast for God.
We eat for God so that our body may gain strength to serve God and perform our duties and responsibilities towards others. It is also for God that we hunger, to subdue the body lest it sin against God, to control and not be controlled bodily desires and lusts so that they may not control our actions. We behave in accordance with the spirit, not the body, for the sake of our love of God, and the fellowship with His Divine Spirit.
Fasting for any other reason, is rejected by God.
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