H.H. POPE SHENOUDA III
Title : The Spirituality of Fasting
Author : H. H. Pope Shenouda III.
Translated by : Mr. Sobhi Mina Botros
Illustrated by : Sister Sawsan
Edition : 1st of October 1990
Typsetting : J. C. Center
Press : Dar El Tebaa El Kawmia
Legal Deposit No
Revised : COEPA - 1997
H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of
Alexandria and the See of St. Mark
THE SPIRITUALITY OF FASTING
H.H. POPE SHENOUDA III
Fasting is an important topic for all, as almost all nations and
religions practice some form of fasting. Fasting was even
established in man's doctrine before people became different
nations. Fasting even goes back to the time of Adam and Eve.
It is not the intention of this book to tackle the subject of
fasting from a theoretical point of view but for spiritual
We aim to discuss the spiritual concepts of fasting and the
appropriate conduct during such a period, for our concern is
your spiritual growth in God's love.
Many lectures were delivered during and on the subject of
fasting. From these, we have selected fifteen to form the topics
of this book.
These topics are:
U Two lectures about fasting given on 8/8/1969 and 8/15/1969,
one at Giza on Saturday 3/8/1970, and one in February
U Two lectures about fasting on 2/22/1974 and 11/29/1974.
U Two lectures entitled "Consecrate a fast " on 2/18/1977 and
U A lecture entitled "A Period of Adherence to God" on
U Two lectures about Lent in February 1978.
U A lecture about Lent on 2/8/1980.
U A lecture entitled "We rejoice when we fast" on 5/30/1989.
U A lecture on "The Spirituality of Fasting" on 7/3/1981.
U A lecture delivered at the Monastery on 2/20/1982.
We have put these lectures in one book, which we hereby
present to you.
POPE SHENOUDA III
THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING
U On the Mount of Transfiguration.
U Fasting, the earliest commandment.
U Prophets and Apostles fasted.
U The whole population fasted.
U Nations fasted.
U Fasting is a gift
U Fasting precedes every grace.
U Fasting precedes Church sacraments.
U Through fasting, God intervenes.
U Joy of fasting - a way of life.
U Fasting and martyrdom.
ON THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
The three people, who stood in radiance and glorious light on
the Mount of Transfiguration, were people who brought fasting
to perfection. For every one of them fasted for forty days and
Our Lord Jesus Christ, may glory be to Him.
Moses (Ex 34:28), and
Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).
This magnificent scene, conceal behind it an important message
that is, by conquering the body through fasting, the spirit
becomes manifest and the body is transfigured
Our Lord Jesus Christ selected two people who fasted to be
with Him on the mount of transfiguration showing their
transfigured nature in eternity. Was their body not the same as
those who conquered their body through fasting?
What else was said about fasting?
It has been said that:
Fasting is the earliest commandment:
Fasting is the earliest commandment known to mankind, for
God commanded our ancestor Adam to refrain from eating a
certain fruit from a certain tree (Gen 2:16,17) but allowed him
to eat from the rest.
In this way, God set for the body certain limits beyond
which it should not go.
Thus, man did not have absolute freedom to take whatever he
laid eyes on and whatever he desired. He had to abstain from
certain things and control his inclination towards them. Thus
since the very beginning, man has had to control his body.
A tree may be "good for food and ... pleasant to the eyes" (Gen
3:6) and yet one must turn away from it.
By abstaining from food, man rises above the level of the
body and above matter, and this is the wisdom behind
Had the first man succeeded in triumphing over his bodily desire
for food, and controlled his bodily senses that saw the tree as an
appetising sight, it would have proven that his soul had
overcome his bodily desires and he would have been worthy to
eat from the Tree of Life.
Nevertheless, his own body, which dominated over him,
Man went on committing several other bodily sins, one after the
other, until he was condemned to walk after the flesh and not
the spirit. (Rom 8:1).
Then the Lord Jesus Christ came to restore man to his
Since man had erred into the sin of eating the forbidden fruit by
obeying his body, Christ's first triumph over temptation
addressed this particular point, to overcome the desire for food
in general and over that which was legitimate.
Christ started His service with fasting, rejecting the devil's
temptation to make Him eat to nourish his body. The Lord
Jesus Christ showed the devil that man was not a mere body but
also a soul nourished by every word that proceeds from the
mouth of God. He said to him:
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that
proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matt 4:4).
This was not a new spiritual principal introduced in the New
Testament but an old commandment given to man in the first
written law. (Dent 8:3).
Thus did Prophets fast:
We hear the Prophet David say: "I humbled myself with
fasting;" (Ps 35:13), "I wept and chastened my soul with
fasting" (Ps 69:10), and "My knees are weak through fasting."
(Ps 109:24). King David also fasted when his son was sick and
"pleaded with God for the child" lying "all night on the
ground" (2 Sam 12:16).
The Prophet Daniel fasted (Dan 9:3) and so did the Prophet
Ezekiel (Ezek 4:9).
We hear that Nehemiah fasted when he heard that "The wall of
Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with
fire." (Neh. 1:3,4). Thus did Ezra, the scribe and priest, fasting
and calling upon the whole population to fast. (Ezra 8:2 1).
The prophetess Anna "did not depart from the temple, but
served God with fastings and prayers night and day." (Luke
The Apostles also fasted:
As Christ fasted in the New Testament, so did the Apostles
who fulfilled the Lord's commandment when He said:
"When the bridegroom will be taken away from them, ... then
they will fast." (Matt 9:15). Thus, the apostle's fast is the oldest
and first fast practiced by the Christian Church.
When the apostle Peter was fasting and became so hungry that
he longed to eat (Acts 10:10) the vision about the acceptance of
gentile nations appeared to him. It was declared to him during
his fast about the acceptance of these nations.
In his service to God, the apostle St. Paul said: "In labours, in
sleeplessness, in fastings;" (2 Cor 6:5), and elsewhere "In
fastings often" (2 Cor 11:27). It was also said that he and
Barnabas fasted together (Acts 14:23).
During the Apostles' fast, the Holy Spirit spoke to them.
Thus the Bible says: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted,
the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to 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."
How beautiful then is the Lord's saying to the Apostles about
fasting and its relation to casting of devils:
"However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and
fasting." (Matt 17:21). Such is the power of fasting, in
Fasting was not only confined to individuals, but also for whole
Fasting of the whole nations:
This is collective worship (and is other than special
For in doing this, the people's hearts meet together in self-
abasement before God.
As Christians pray together with one soul and spirit offering
their prayer to God "with one accord" (Acts 4:24), and also
offer well as their private prayers, so it is with fasting:
There are many examples in the Holy Bible of collective
fasts in which all the faithful participated, together and with one
spirit, presenting a unified fast to God, the same fast for the
The most outstanding of these fasts was the one undertaken by
the whole population in distress, during the reign of Queen
Esther, seeking God's mercy (Esther 4:3,16). They fasted in
lamentation and dressed in "sackcloth with ashes" until the Lord
hearkened and saved them.
Whole population also fasted at a call from Ezra, the priest, by
the river Ahava, in humility to God. (Ezra 8:21,23). Together
with Nehemiah, they "Assembled with fasting, in sackcloth,
and with dust on their heads." (Neh 9:1).
In the same way, people fasted in the days of Jehoshaphat (2
The Epistle of Jeremiah tells us of the fasting by the people in
the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah (Jer 36:9).
There was also another collective fast during the days of the
Prophet Joel (Joel 2:12).
Other collective fasts, were "The fast of the fourth month, The
fast of the fifth, The fast of the seventh, And the fast of the
tenth" (Zech 8:19).
Fasting is also common in every religion where nations fast.
Nations also fasted:
An outstanding example of this is the fast of the people of
Nineveh (Jon 3) and how God accepted it and forgave their
Another example is the fast of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts
10:30) which God accepted and sent to him the Apostle Peter
who preached and baptised him.
The Old Testament tells us about the fast of King Darius during
Daniel's ordeal and how he "spent the night fasting; and no
musicians were brought before him." (Dan 6:18).
Fasting is known in every religion. It was even known in
heathen and primitive religions, and indicates that fasting
was known before the dispersal of nations and religions.
Anyone reading about Buddhism, Brahmanism, Confucianism,
and about Yoga comes across solid examples of fasting and of
subduing the body for the soul to take its course. Fasting to
them is an exercise for the body and for the soul.
In the life of the famous spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, we
see that his fasting was the most manifest and distinctive feature
of his life which he often used when faced with problems.
Doctors once told him that his blood had started to disintegrate
after a long period of fasting.
Through fasting Yogis were able to discover some of the
strength of the soul.
Hampered by one's care for the body the strength and power of
the soul have only been discovered through fasting.
Hindus believe that the supreme state of Nirvana or the release
of the soul from the body to become one with God can only be
accomplished through intense asceticism, abstinence, and
Thus we see that even a soul that is far from the work of the
Holy Spirit, and free from bodily desires and its control,
becomes a strong, able to attain some of its original natural
potential. How much more so is the soul, which is in
communion with the Spirit of God?
Fasting is a gift:
When we realise the benefits of fasting, we find that it is a
blessing from God.
Yes, fasting is not merely a commandment from God but a
godly gift, a grace and a blessing. God the creator of our body
and soul knows of our need to fast for its benefit for our
spiritual life, development and our eternity. He granted us the
knowledge and manner of fasting. As a kind Father and a wise
Teacher, He has recommended fasting for us.
Fasting precedes every grace and service:
Through fasting, we prepare ourselves to receive every blessing
that God offers us.
Feasts bear for us certain blessings. This is why fasting precedes
Communion bears for us a special blessing. That is why we fast
to be ready for it.
Priestly ordainment bears a blessing. That is why we
receive it with fasting. Thus, the bishop who undertakes the
ordainment fasts, the candidate for it also fasts, and all others
who participate in these prayers.
At the time of our forefathers the disciples, the selection of
deacons was accompanied with fasting: "As they ministered to
the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me
Barnabas and Saul " And "having fasted and prayed, and laid
hands on them" (Acts 13:2,3).
Fasting also precedes service:
Before the Lord Jesus Christ started His overt service, He
fasted for forty days, spending the time in seclusion with the
Father on the mountain
We likewise, after ordaining a new priest, assign to him a period
of forty days of fasting and seclusion, usually at a monastery,
before he begins his service.
Our fathers, the Apostles, began their service by fasting when
they received the Holy Spirit, and it accompanied their
spiritually acceptable service.
A deacon fasts to grow spiritually, to receive God's help and
soften God's heart to join him in his service
We also see in the life of John the Baptist that he lived a life
fasting and seclusion before his call for people to repent.
Fasting is not for service alone but also precedes the Church
U A person is required to fast to receive the sacrament of
baptism. Their godfather and the priest also fast to greet this
new spiritual birth.
U Fasting proceeds the sacrament of Chrism, the acceptance
of the Holy Spirit.
U Congregations also fast to receive the sacrament of the
Eucharist or Communion.
U The sacrament of the Unction of the sick (the prayer on
the oil) is performed by a fasting priest. Those anointed with
the oil of this sacrament also have to be fasting. Patients
however, who are unable to fast and those absolved from
fasting for the sacrament of communion, are exempt.
U The sacrament of priesthood, is practiced while fasting as
U What remain are the sacrament of confession and the
sacrament of marriage.
How marvellous it would be for those who came to confess
their sins while fasting and repentant. However, since the
Church seeks the sinners regardless of their state, it has not set
fasting as a condition for this sacrament.
As for the sacrament of marriage, Jesus Christ exempted it,
saying: "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the
bridegroom is with them?" (Mark 2:19). However, the early
ascetic church practiced the sacrament of marriage after the
raising of the morning incense at which time the bride and
groom fasted to receive the Holy Communion, and went on
fasting for the remainder of the day. Nowadays, this practice is
The faithful, who fast, gain the blessings of the Holy Spirit
during the Church sacraments.
In the same way, the Church recognised the importance of
fasting in the life of worship and service. It has also known it in
times of hardship and has come up with a spiritual rule which is:
Through fasting, God intervenes:
We can cite some examples including: Nehemiah, Ezra, Daniel,
Queen Esther interceding for her people, the Church in the
fourth century in the depths of Arius's heresy and on many
other through the generations, people fasted and God
The Fraction prayer of Lent, concentrates on the importance of
fasting as an established creed in the conscience of the Church,
knowing that through faith and fasting problems are solved.
The unwise man has confidence in his power and
intelligence but he who is aware of his weakness appeals to
God through fasting when in trouble.
Through his fast, he humbles himself before God and seeks His
mercy, saying: "Arise O Lord God". The Lord answers him
through the words in the Psalm: "For the oppression of the
poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise," says the
Lord; "I will set him in the safety for which he yearns." (Ps
Fasting is a time to let God know of our every problem. It is
a period for the contrite heart to lament and for God to
It is a time when people come close to God. A time when God
comes close, listens to their yearning and lamentations and acts.
As long as people are preoccupied with their desires, lusts of
the body and materialistic things, they feel that God stands far
away from them. However, it is not He who detaches Himself
from us but we, who push Him away rejecting Him and refusing
to approach Him.
On the other hand, during a fast intermingled with prayer, man
draws near to God and says to Him: Lend a hand to Your
It is the heart crying to God that He may intervene in his life.
This may take place at any time, but it becomes more
profound, more sincere and more powerful during the
period of fasting.
Through true fasting man can soften God's heart.
He, who realises the benefits of fasting and its effectiveness in
his life as well as in his relationship with God, rejoices over it.
Joy of Fasting:
We are not of the type of people who fast and, while fasting,
long for the time to break our fast. On the contrary, when we
are not fasting we long for the time when fasting will return.
A spiritual person rejoices over the periods of fasting more than
he does over feast days during which he eats and drinks. Many
are those who long for fasting during the fifty-day period that
follows Easter and during which there is neither fasting or
continual prostration. Their longing for fasting increases so
strong that they rejoice at the arrival of the Apostles' fast having
been deprived of the joy of fasting during the preceding fifty
Those who are spiritual rejoice so much at fasting that
general fasts are not sufficient for them. Thus, they urge
their father confessors to allow them to add their own
additional fasts. They support their request with the argument
that their spiritual condition becomes stronger during the period
of fasting, their health improves and that their bodies become
Those who claim that fasts should be shortened and reduced in
number attest to the fact that they have neither experienced the
joy of fasting nor known its benefits.
God willing, we shall discuss in the coming chapters the benefits
of fasting as the source of joy for the spiritual and the lifestyle
for the monks.
A way of life:
So loved was fasting to our fathers the monks, that they
made of it their lifestyle.
They fast, with the exception of feast days their whole life. They
did not suffer from physical fatigue but discovered in it spiritual
delight, found satisfaction and became accustomed to it.
It was once said that on one occasion, at the advent of Lent in
the desert, a herald was sent calling upon monks and drawing
their attention to the sacred fast. When one of the elders heard
the herald's exhortation, he said to him: "Son, what is it this fast
you are talking about? I am not aware of it because all my days
are the same. (Ie. that all of them are days of fasting)."
Saint Paula the anchorite used to eat only half a loaf of bread at
Some monks used to fast every day until sunset like a holy
monk who once said; "Thirty years have passed by during which
the sun has not seen me eating".
Some monks used to fast for days. Saint Makarius the
Alexandrian, for example, fasted though out the year and ate
only once week during the Holy Lent, while visiting the
Monasteries of Saint Pachomius.
The fasting of our fathers, were not confined to specific periods,
or the length of time, but also as form of monasticism, applied it
to the kind of food they ate.
Abba Nofer, the anchorite, ate dates from a palm tree at his
place of seclusion. Saint Moses the anchorite, as well as Saint
Pigimy, another anchorite, ate desert grass and drank from the
Consistent fasting regulated the lives of the Fathers.
This lifestyle of a monk becomes comforting and harmonious
for both the body and the soul. A stable lifestyle, to which they
become accustomed which regulates their lives
As for the pitied laymen, they sway from one extreme to
another when fasting. They deprive themselves of food only to
break their fast to partake of anything they desire.
They abstain for a while, to allow themselves what they want
for another period, then go back to indulgence, thus they sway
between abstention and indulgence. They build, then destroy,
and then build again, only to demolish again without recovery.
True fasting is to train oneself in self-control, to follow for
the rest of your life.
Self-control becomes a blessing for his life, not only during the
time of fasting when we change the time and the food we eat,
but also during the normal days.
In this context, fasting is not a punishment but a blessing.
Confessor fathers used to impose as a sever form of punishment
for their spiritual sons, to break their fast early, to eat meat or
appetising foods. This was done in order to abase their spiritual
son's proud heart that thinks of itself to have become a hermit
or an ascetic. He would thus bring down his arrogance by
making him eat and feel abased to rid him of thoughts of vain
Fasting and Martyrdom:
It is natural that he, who cannot abstain from food, would
find it difficult to offer his life.
Through continuous training and negligence for the bodily
needs, a courageous soul is trained to endure hunger and thirst,
bring the body into subjection to conquer the desires and lusts
of the body. It is able to endure the hardships of imprisonment
and the pain of torture. These people were able through God's
grace, to offer their bodies up to death at the time of
Thus fasting became the training of the spiritual school of
martyrs, not only in the physical sense, but also from the
spirituality gained in fasting. Days of fasting are not only for our
spiritual deeds, repentance, and coming closer to God, but they
also help evoke our love for eternity with Him. Man therefore
harbours no fear when faced with death since he is prepared for
it. Rather, man is happy that he is to rid himself of his body to
meet with God. As St. Paul says: "...having a desire to depart
and be with Christ, which is far better." (Phil 1:23).
Through fasting, the Church trained its children for the
Through asceticism, they are trained to renounce the world
and become martyrs.
Martyrs were mostly those who lived a life of fasting, prayer,
and asceticism. As the Apostle Paul said: "And those who use
this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is
passing away." (1 Cor 7:31).
FASTING AND THE BODY
U Definition of fasting.
U Period of abstinence.
U The element of hunger.
U Fasting as connected to vigil.
U Kind of food.
U Vegetarian food.
U Bodily benefits of fasting.
U Fasting is not a mere bodily virtue.
Definition of fasting:
The spiritual definition of fasting will be mentioned later in
However, what are the physical aspect of the definition of
Fasting is abstinence from food, for a period, followed by eating
food free from animal fat.
Period of abstinence:
A period of abstinence is essential, since we would simply be
vegetarians if we ate without observing it from the beginning of
the day. The word fasting means abstinence or cessation. It is
therefore necessary to refrain from eating for a certain period of
The length of abstinence varies from one person to another.
The following outlines some of the reasons for this:
1 People differ in their spirituality. A beginner for example,
cannot abstain for a long time when compared with the well
trained or the spiritually mature who can abstain for a long
time. An anchorite is able to fast for days in the same
manner of our fathers the monks, the hermits, and the
2 Those who fast differ in age. The ability of a child or a boy
to fast differs from that of a young or grown-up man, and is
also differs for the elderly.
3 Those who fast also differ in their state of health. A strong
person may endure more than the physically weak.
Moreover, the sick may require special treatment, and may
be exempt from abstinence in accordance with their ailment
and the treatment required.
4 Those who fast also differ in the type of work they do.
Some work requires great physical effort, while others work
in an office environment sitting down at their desks for a
number of hours. The first differs from the latter in their
endurance to abstain from food.
5 Fasting requires a gradual progression. One should fast by
gradually increasing the length of abstinence over the period
of the fast. The spiritual fathers usually recommend this
There is however a minimum time of abstinence, which
varies depending on the fast. The minimal fast period for Lent
should be higher than for the rest of the fasts and the minimum
during the Passion Week is higher than that of Lent. Some are
able to fast from Maundy Thursday up to the Easter Mass and
others on the day preceding Christmas or Epiphany. As for the
weak, their endurance is limited.
Despite all this, we need to set the following important rule:
The period of abstinence should be under the guidance of
your Father confessor. Excessive periods of fasting may
become detrimental to the body and possibly to the soul as it
falsely instils the notion of false glory. On the other hand, some
may become lax and lose the benefits of fasting. It is best to
seek the guidance of your Father confessor on this matter.
However from the Church's point of view, on the period of
abstinence, we would like to pose the following question:
Is there any association between abstinence from eating and the
There is in fact some connection, for in the Church rite of the
ninth hour prayers, we observe the selection of the Bible
chapter, which deals with blessing of food after a period of
hunger. (Luke 9:10-17).
In the ninth hour prayer, we remember the death of our Lord
Jesus Christ on the cross. Why then is this passage? It appears
that abstinence was communally practiced until the ninth hour
and thus this passage was suitably placed to allow people to
pray then eat their food.Since days of fasting cover the major
portion of the year. This bible chapter has remained for all year
long to remind us of fasting, even during the days when there is
no abstinence to allow us to maintain our daily prayers and
remember God's blessing of food before we eat.
The ninth hour of the day actually coincides with three o'clock
in the afternoon since the first hour of the day corresponds to
six o'clock in the morning.
In any case, there is no need to elaborate further on this point
since the period of abstinence differs from one person to
another. The period of abstinence is left up to the Father
confessor and to the spiritual condition of the person fasting.
What is important is the spiritual aspect of the period of
abstinence. It is far more important to discuss the method by
which man may benefit spiritually from his abstinence than on
the formalities and laws that govern the period of abstinence. A
person may not benefit spiritually if they follow a non-spiritual
method, even if he abstains from food until the ninth hour or
What is, therefore, the spiritual way?
1 The period of abstinence must be one of renunciation
and asceticism caring not for the body. You should
therefore not think about when and what you will eat while
abstaining from food, nor find pleasure in preparing what
you will eat. On the contrary, the period of abstinence
should be a time when you elevate yourself totally above the
levels of eating, materialism, and food.
2 After the period of abstinence, do not eat greedily, for he
who abstains from food, then eats what he covets, or
chooses certain foods that he enjoys, has not subdued his
body, humiliated it, nor rid it of its lusts. This indicates that
he has not benefited spiritually from the period of
abstinence, a time of renunciation and asceticism if he
greedily eats what he lusts for. Look at what the Prophet
Daniel said about his fast: "I ate no pleasant food." (Dan
It is like he who demolishes what he has built... all in vain!
Fasting is not to build then demolish, and build again only
to demolish, without the desire for growth!
3 Do not wait in anticipation for the end of the abstinence
period as to what you will eat.
Do not hasten to eat when the time comes. Try if you can to
resist even for a few minutes and wait. When it is time to eat,
say to yourself: Let us pray for a while, then eat, or let us read a
book and contemplate for some time, then eat.
Do not pounce on food. Let renunciation that you harboured
during abstinence continue to be with you after you have eaten,
for this is spiritually beneficial and you will be rewarded.
Let the spirit not the hour guide you.
Elevate yourself above food, material things and the body in-
order to move forward to the depth of abstinence.
As for the period and time of abstinence, it would be beneficial
if it led you to the feeling of hunger.
Let us here talk to you about the element of hunger in fasting:
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
Jesus Christ, as well as the Apostles, fasted until they
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
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
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. 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
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
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
In fact, a hungry person longs for prayer, while he who is full
often forgets. That is why most faithful people pray before
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.
Fasting and Wakefulness:
Being filled with food leads to heaviness of the body and
consequently to sleep. As for he who fasts, his body is light, his
system is not burdened with the processes of digestion, and is
able to stay awake until late.
Fasting coupled with watchfulness leads to brightness of
All the saints who perfected fasting were famous for their vigil.
We also see that the disciples' eyes grew heavy in the orchard
after the two dinners that they could not sit up with the Lord
even for one hour. (Matt 26:40).
It is not in your favour my brother that the bridegroom should
come at midnight to find you sleeping. The Bible says, "Blessed
are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find
Therefore, train yourself to fast in alertness and watchfulness so
that you can spend the night in prayer with God.
Kind of Food:
I have talked about hunger and the period of abstinence, what
remains is the topic of what are the different types of food
appropriate for fasting. It is useful to remember of what the
Prophet Daniel said about his fast:
"I ate no pleasant food" (Dan 10:3).
Therefore, if you fast but still give your body what it craves for,
then in truth you had not fasted. Thus, distance yourself from
things that you crave so that you may overcome your body and
subject it to your will. Do not seek special food or ask for it to
be prepared in the manner that you like. If an item is placed
before you which you have not ordered but which you like, do
not eat much of it
I would like to remind you of our saintly fathers who said, "If
food you crave is placed before you, spoil it a little then eat it".
By spoiling it, he may have meant, for instance, that you add
something to it to alter its taste.
At least, do not eat all that is offered to you of the kind of food
you crave. As one of the fathers said: "Conclude your meal
while you still crave it", meaning that your body wishes to go
on eating that kind of food while you try to control yourself and
stay away from it.
Here we face many questions posed by some people:
Can vegetables and margarine be consumed when fasting? Is
soya cheese acceptable? Should we or should we not eat fish
during a particular fast? What do you think of non-dairy
These questions can be resolved in one way by examining the
ingredients or contents of these foods. On the other hand, these
questions should also be viewed from a spiritual point of view:
For example, vegetable fat, is merely polyunsaturated, but if you
eat it because of your craving for fatty food, then the matter
becomes different. Literally speaking, you would be fasting, but
you would not be benefiting spiritually.
We do not want to keep to the formalities of fasting alone.
The same applies to Soya cheese. One may argue whether or
not it contains if it contains ingredients of animal source.
However, from a spiritual point of view, do you love cheese so
much that you insist on gratifying your bodily desires during the
fast by finding a substitute or an alternative? The same applies
to non-dairy chocolate; do you crave that brand in particular?
Why not substitute it with a cup of cocoa?
As for fish, it is primarily animal food. Although it has been
permitted for the weak who cannot endure the large number of
fasts, it is not permitted in first class fasts.
However, if your body craves fish while fasting, do not eat
This does not only apply to fish, but to anything that you may
crave in order to control your desires when fasting, even if it
may be permitted.
Is not marriage lawful? Yet, those who fast stay away from
sexual intercourse while fasting in order to have self control.
(1Cor 7:5). The Gentile King, Darius did the same. (Dan 6:18).
We have discussed the period of abstinence and the element of
hunger in fasting. Now we would like to talk about vegetarian
food as a God's divine way since the beginning since Adam and
Eve and up to the descendants of Noah were vegetarian.
God created a vegetarian man.
Adam and Eve, while in Paradise, ate nothing but plants, beans
and fruit. As God said to them, "I have given you every herb
that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every
tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food" (Gen
Man also remained vegetarian after his exile from Paradise.
However, man was permitted, along with the beans and fruit, to
eat from the herbs of the land, i.e. vegetables. Thus, when he
sinned, God said to him: "And you shall eat the herb of the
field. " (Gen 3:18).
We have not heard that our Father, Adam, and our Mother,
Eve, fell ill because of malnutrition. On the contrary, we hear
that Adam, a vegetarian, lived 930 years. (Gen 5:5). So were
also the lives of his sons and grandsons who were vegetarian.
Man did not eat meat except after Noah's Ark. This took
place at a dismal time when "the wickedness of man was great
in the earth" and so, "the Lord was sorry that he had made man
on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart" (Gen 6:5-6) and
He submerged the whole world with the flood.
After the flood water subsided, God said to our Father Noah
and his sons: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for
you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But
you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."(Gen 9:3-
When God led His people into the wilderness, He fed them
with manna. "And it was like white coriander seed, and the
taste of it was like wafers made with honey."(Ex 16:31). "The
people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or
beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it;
and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil."
But when He allowed them to eat meat, He did it in anger.
God consented to their request because of their craving for
meat. God granted their wish but punished them for it. "But
while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was
chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people,
and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he
called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there
they buried the people who had yielded to craving." (Num
Daniel and his companions also ate vegetables.
They ate vegetables (Dan 1:12) and were determined in their
hearts not to defile themselves with the King's meat and wine.
We see the Prophet Daniel say while fasting: "I ate no pleasant
food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint
myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." (Dan 10:3).
Ezekiel also ate vegetarian food while fasting.
He did this in obedience to a Godly order from God who said to
him: "Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils,
millet" and spelt." (Ezek 4:9).
Vegetarian food is light, lean and soothing.
It has nothing of the heaviness, grease or fat of meat or
whatever effect it may have on one's body. We observe for
example that savage animals are carnivorous while the tame
ones are herbivorous. Vegetarian people tend to be calmer in
nature than meat-eaters. Does it not make you wonder that
most of the animals we eat, such as cattle, sheep and fowls, are
These herbivorous animals are not weak due to eating such
Moreover, we describe a strong man saying that he has the
health of a camel or a horse both of which are vegetarian.
Matadors, who practiced bullfighting, displayed their strength
by confronting a powerful bull, a herbivorous animal. We can
then conclude that eating plant food does not weaken the body.
Vegetarians, including hermits and anchorites, lived a long
Bernard Shaw, the famous writer, was vegetarian, lived for 94
years, and suffered no ailment throughout his life. How many
others can we attribute their long life to being vegetarians?
Saint Paul, the first of the anchorites, lived as a hermit for
eighty years without seeing a man's face, and so he lived to be
around hundred. The majority of anchorites also lived long
lives. Not only were they vegetarians, but also lived a life of
asceticism and ate little. Nevertheless, they enjoyed good health.
Saint Antonius, the father of all monks, lived to be 105 years
old. His life was one of continuous fasting and yet he enjoyed
good health and used to walk tens of miles without becoming
I do not want to concentrate too much on the scientific
aspects of vegetarian food, but the spiritual ones as has
been in the life of man since Adam.
It is true that principal amino acids abound more in animal than
in vegetable protein. However vegetable protein has sustained
and kept healthy monks, vegetarians and those mentioned
We should also not forget that the Church allows fish in some
fasts, which of course, contains animal protein. Moreover, there
are long non-fast periods.
Therefore, do not be afraid of fasting, for it is of benefit to
The benefits of fasting to the Body:
Fasting benefits the body in several ways, some of which are
1. Fasting is a period of rest for some of the organs of our
body. It is a period of rest for all the digesting and
associated systems, such as the stomach, the intestines, the
liver, and the gall bladder, overworked by high
consumption and composite food. The digestion system
become upset when more food is introduced as it attempts
to digest the existing contents.
Conversely, when one fasts, the digestion system rests
during the period of abstinence, and the light food, which is
later eaten, does not trouble it. Moreover, we find relief
from the food we eat between meals. How wonderful it
would be to carry this discipline over to non-fasting days.
Another benefit of vegetarian foods is that it reduces
cholesterol, since it is well documented that fats and grease
found in meat leads to an increase in the blood cholesterol
level. The danger is of course in the formation of blood
clots. As a result, doctors ask their patients to keep away
from food such as meat, eggs, fatty oils and the like in
order to keep the body healthy, especially for those
advanced in years. They recommend vegetable foods in an
attempt to revert man to his original vegetarian nature, to
the food of the Garden of Eden.
Another benefit of fasting for the body is that:
3. One who fasts gets rid of his obesity and flabbiness:
When a person is overweight, the heart is overworked as it
attempts to send blood to the extra quantity of tissue in the
form of excess fat. This extra quantity of tissue is beyond
that which God has required him to support. In addition,
obesity causes many ailments to the body.
Doctors insist that body weight be reduced to keep it
healthy. They impose certain regimes upon an obese person
(which is considered a sickness), to control what he eats
instead of eating uncontrollably.
One who fasts and controls himself is not in need of a
Fasting, in the spiritual sense, is far superior to physical
treatment, for it treats the spirit, the body, and the soul all
If a person fasts out of his love for God for a spiritual gain,
his body automatically benefits, which is better than fasting
on doctor's order to reduce body weight. It is indeed a
tragedy to see people spend a large part of his life putting on
weight, then spend another part of their life trying to get rid
of excess body fats.
If he or she had been moderate, and had known from the
start the value and benefit of fasting, he would not have had
the need to exert all that effort in gaining weight and later
trying to loose it.
This reminds me of a woman who goes on eating until her
body loses its beautiful symmetry. Then, when doctors
advise her to fast, to reduce her consumption, and follow a
strict diet, she does so, not for God but for the beauty of
her body. Thus, she does not eat, but she does not receive
the blessing of fasting, for what she does is not done out of
love for God!
Would it not have been more beneficial for these people to
have fasted both for their bodily health and at the same time
for their spirit to soar high and approach God?
Fast then for God, before you are compelled to fast for
medical reasons without any spiritual benefit to you.
One of the benefits of fasting and, in particular the period
of abstinence and hunger, is that:
4. Fasting helps treat many illnesses:
One of the most important books I have read in this field is
the one entitled "Treatment by Fasting" written by the
Russian scientist Alexi Soforin and translated into Arabic in
This scientist remarks that fasting helps rid the body of its
toxins. Although the body gets rid of many of them through
its various methods of excretion, some remain and may be
excreted through fasting...
The scientist also states that in fasting the body does not
get enough food and begins to dissipate its fats, grease,
diseased and festered tissues, which are excreted by the
This scientist also found out that a long term temperate fast
that followed a certain regime could treat many diseases.
I hereby present his research for study as a scientist who
tested the contents of his book.
Are there any other bodily benefits through fasting? Yes.
5. Fasting makes the body light and active:
Our fathers, who perfected fasting, had light bodies and
elevated spirits. They were energetic, having strong hearts
and were able to walk tens of kilometres a day without
becoming tired. They moved in the wilderness like deer,
and their minds were not sluggish but very bright. Thus
through fasting they gained strength for their bodies,
spirits, and minds. They found comfort and pleasure in
fasting, so much so that their life became a life of fasting.
6. Let nobody therefore deceive you and say that fasting
or vegetable food weakens one's health, for in fact it
gives it strength.
Fasting is not a remedy for the spirit alone, but it is also for
the body. There have never been any cases were vegetarian
food has harmed or weakened anyone.
Daniel and the three young men did not eat meat at the
King's table. It was sufficient to eat beans and their health
was better than the others. (Dan 1: 15).
Our fathers, the ascetics and the great monks, were very
strict in their fasts. Yet we have never heard that fasting
weakened their health. On the contrary, they remained
strong even in their old age.
No-where is it mentioned that our father Adam became sick
or weak from eating vegetarian food. The same applies to
Eve and to all the fathers preceding Noah's and the great
flood. Therefore, rest assured about your bodily health.
What tires the body is not fasting but eating.
Overeating, indigestion, eating between meals, etc... all leads to
bodily exhaustion. Moreover, the body is also fatigued from the
extra heat energy generated by foods consumed beyond man's
need. How great are the sicknesses brought about by
Therefore, you have to liberate yourselves from the idea
that fasting hurts your health.
Nursing mothers incorrectly assume out of their love and
concern for the health of their children, that they must be
chubby and full. They assume that this is a sign of good health
although an overweight person is weaker in health than a slim
Wrong motherly affection is used to prevent children from
fasting or discouraged. We say that this affection is erroneous
because it did not concern itself with the son's soul as it did with
his body, as if they are only responsible for their sons' bodies
only. In their concern for their children's bodily health, they
neglect the nourishment of their souls.
Despite this, saintly children used to fast.
An example of these is given by Saint Mark, the hermit on
Mount Antonius, who started fasting in his early childhood and
kept on fasting through out his life.
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
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
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
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. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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 Apostle's 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."
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
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.
CONSECRATE A FAST
U What is the meaning of the word ' Consecrate '?
U What is the aim of your fast?
U False and rejected fasts.
U What is the relationship between God and your fast?
The Lord said through the Prophet Joel: "Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly." (Joel 1:14, 2:15).
What does it means to sanctify a fast? And how is it done?
The meaning of "Consecrate a fast"
The word "Consecrate" in its Greek origin means to
sanctify. Thus when the Lord said to Moses: "Consecrate to
Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb ... it is Mine."
(Ex 13:2), He meant that those firstborn should be sanctified to
Him and not for any other purpose. The firstborn males used to
devote themselves to the service of the Lord before Aaron and
his offspring. The firstborn of cattle were also offered as a
Sacred garments for the service of priests were consecrated to
God. In this, the Lord said to Moses: "So they shall make holy
garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may
minister to Me as priest." (Ex 28:4).
Altar vessels are sacred for the Lord, devoted to His service,
and were not use for any other purpose. Sanctifying a house for
the Lord is to devote it to Him and cannot be used for any other
thing but the worship of the Lord: "My house shall be called a
house of prayer." (Matt 21:13).
Some may ask: What does the Lord mean by His words to His
disciples: "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself." (John 17:19).
He means that He devotes Himself to them and the church for
He came to redeem her.
Sacraments are the Lord's appropriations, they belong to
the Lord alone and to no one else. They are consecrated to the
Lord in the same way as the firstborn were. As the Lord says
through the Prophet Ezekiel: "There I will require your
offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all
your holy things." (Ezek 20:40). About the first fruits of every
fruitful tree, He says: "But in the fourth year all its fruit shall
be holy, a praise to the Lord." (Lev 19:24). Their fruit was for
the Lord and was given to the Lord's priests. (Ezek 44:30).
It was said that the money going into the Lord's money box in
the sanctuary "are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come
into the treasury of the Lord." (Josh 6:19) to be devoted to the
In the same way, days were consecrated or devoted to the
To "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Ex 20:8), to
devote the day to the Lord, namely not performing any work
for it is for the Lord. In the same way, we should consecrate to
the Lord all His feast days on which holy gatherings are held, to
cease from work and devote to the Lord. (Lev 23:3,7,8,
Thus sanctification of fasting is to consecrate it to the Lord.
Days of fasting are sacred, and are devoted to the Lord. They
do not belong to the world but to the Lord's as a sanctification
That is why God's inspiration clarified this meaning when He
said "Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly" (Joel
1:14,2:15), because a "sacred assembly" is fit for the
consecration of the fast to the Lord, devoting it to Him.
However, what can you do if it is not possible for you to devote
all your time to the Lord, and withdraw from your official
Withdraw as much as you can to devote yourself to God.
However, if, despite your efforts, time becomes limited,
devotion takes on another meaning:
At least, aim to devote the fast for the Lord.
In this way, it becomes a sacred fast, for it is consecrated to
God as far as its aim and approach are concerned. In this we
comprehend the dual meaning of the word sacred namely pure
for it is to the Lord.
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
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. When we fast we are nourished by
"Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matt
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
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
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.
Erroneous and rejected fasts:
Not every fast is acceptable, and some are rejected by God. The
Bible gives us examples of some of these rejected fasts.
1. Fasting for self-praise. It intentionally revealed and
exposed for others to see and praise it. About this type of
fast, the Lord said in His Sermon of the Mount, "Moreover,
when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad
countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may
appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they
have their reward. "But you, when you fast, anoint your
head and wash your face, "so that you do not appear to
men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret
place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you
openly." (Matt 6:16-18).
A fast to gain praise from others is not for God who has
nothing to do with it. This it is a rejected fast.
2. The proud Pharisee is another example of the
The Pharisee stood before God flaunting his virtues and
saying: "I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I
possess." At the same time, he condemns the publican
saying, "I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers,
adulterers--or even like this tax collector." (Luke 18:9-14).
That is why he did not leave the temple justified, as was the
case of the broken-hearted tax collector.
This example shows us that unless fasting is accompanied
with humility and a contrite heart , then it is rejected by
God. For without humility fasting is out of self righteous
and disdain for others. (Luke 18:9).
3. A fast with a wrong aim is unacceptable.
An example of this fast were the Jews who banded together
"and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they
would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now
there were more than forty who had formed this
conspiracy" (Acts 23:12,13). Naturally, their fast was a sin.
Moreover, we cannot call it a spiritual fast.
4. The sinful fasts during the days of the Prophet
The Lord did not accept this fast and said to Jeremiah, "Do
not pray for this people, for their good. "When they fast, I
will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering
and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will
consume them."(Jer 14:11,12).
The Lord did not accept their fasts, prayers, and oblation
because they lived an evil life and their hearts were not pure
Thus, fasting without repentance is unacceptable.
God wants a pure heart more than He does a hungry body.
A person's fast is invalid if his heart does not abstain from
sins and his tongue from evil words. Even if he gives his
body to be burned, it will not profit him. (1 Cor 13:3).
5. Fasting without mercy and charity is unacceptable:
The Lord explained this point to the Prophet Isaiah, saying:
"`Why have we fasted,' they say, `and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?'
... Indeed you fast for strife and debate ... Is it a fast that I
have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? ...Would
you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord?
"Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds
of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the
oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not
to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor
wanderer with shelter--" (Is 58:3-7).
A fast that does not go hand in hand with merciful deeds
and a pure heart is unacceptable even if performed with
humility and courtesy.
6. Fasting that is not for God is invalid:
Some may fast on doctor's orders. Another may fast to
have a graceful body and good looks. Both fasts are not
performed for God and or spiritual gain. A third person
may go on a hunger strike and not for spiritual aim or for
God's sake. A fourth may forsake food in distress or
despair. Non of these fasts can be considered genuine.
Again, we reiterate by saying that any fast which is not for
God and spiritual gain, cannot be considered a fast and is
not accepted by God.
What then, is an acceptable spiritual fast for God?
It is one where a profound relationship with God is established.
It is a fast where you feel God in your life. It is a sacred period,
which belongs to God and devoted entirety Him. It is a time
when God's presence is very visible in your behaviour. It is a
time with which your relationship with God increases and grows
in a spiritual exultation which makes you long to stretch your
fast and become endless.
This leads us to examine an important question:
What is the relationship between God and your fast?
What does God gain from your fast? What have you received
from God? What were you able to sacrifice to God in your fast,
and what blessings did He give you? Was your fast a sacred
time in your life during which you experienced a spiritual revival
allowing you to taste and observe how good God is? Did you
experience a change in your behave in accordance with the soul
and not with the flesh?
Fasting is not substituting one food for another, and is not
abstaining from food for a certain period. All these are just
means, but they do not constitute the essence of fasting of to
free and exalt the soul from its bodily needs and above the
influence of materialism. The soul and the body move in unity in
loving God to enjoy His company. This is what is meant by a
sacred fast, i.e. one devoted entirely to God.
You must devote three things: your heart, thoughts, and
will in order to consecrate you fast to God.
You should not be overly occupied with food and drink. Rather,
your abstention trains you to have a strong will over what you
eat and drink. When you succeed in controlling what you eat,
your will submits itself to God in all things and your desires will
be nothing but what God wants.
This is the wisdom behind fasting. Controlling our desire for
food extends itself to controlling our conduct, which displeases
God. It is not sufficient to abstain from or eat vegetarian food
while at the same time unable to control certain sins! You
should strive to submit your will to God in all that you do,
saying to Him, "Let it not be my will but yours."
Therefore, find out where your will departs from God's and
concentrate on those areas in particular in order to present to
God a virtuous willpower that will please Him.
Your training while fasting will stay with you after it, and it will
be unlikely that you commit those sins again which you were
able to control and shun while fasting. If you are unable, then
what have you gained from your fast?
Make sure that fasting changes something in you.
Do not let a change of food be the only thing different you do in
a fast. Let the fast be change towards a better life, a chance to
remove the defects and weaknesses you feel exist in your
relationship with God and people. What benefit otherwise
would you have, if you subdued yourself during the fifty five
days of Lent only to come out of it exactly as you had been
before, without increasing your fellowship and communication
Think about the number of fasts that have passed by while
you are still as you are, without change.
How many fasts have you kept up till now since you came to
know God? How many years since you have passed observed
the different fasts as well as the weekly Wednesdays and Fridays
If you had managed to overcome just one weak point for every
fast you observed which reconciles you to God, you will have
succeeded in tasting the sweetness of His will and the depth of
your relationship with Him!
Do not pause at the formalities of fasting but delve into its
Fasting is neither a mere set of formalities nor an ordinance or
rite. Rather, it is a blessing given to us by God and organised by
the Church for our spiritual benefit, to enlighten and train our
souls of the idealism that we should follow for: "Holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb 12:14).
Fasting, therefore, is a sacred, idealistic, and extraordinary
act. It requires a special spiritual planning to match its holiness.
When a fast begins, we feel that we have entered a time of
exultation and started extraordinary days of self training in
living a life of perfection. Therefore, these days should not pass
as other days do, for they constitute a new phase in our
relationship with God - a phase that we go through with new
feelings and spirit.
It is true that all the days of our life should be sacred. However,
fasting days are more so than others. If we conduct ourselves
well during these days, we shall attain the holiness for the rest
of our life. It is a time when we devote ourselves, as much as
we can, to God and deepen our relationship with Him.
Have you heard of the fast that exorcises evil spirits?
About these devils the Lord said: "This kind does not go out
except by prayer and fasting." (Matt 17:21). What power is in
these fasts that even the devils cannot stand but are exorcised?
Is it mere abstention from food? Of course not. Rather, it is the
strong relationship that binds the person who fasts with God
and which the Devil cannot stand. It is the harmony between
man and God, of love and spiritual relationship with God, which
the Devil is deprived of. As soon as the Devil sees it, he grows
weary and flees.
It is through fasting, that the man's heart clings to God which
the devil cannot withstand, and escapes.
Does your heart cling to God while fasting?
Do you give Him your heart as you do with your will? Do you
feel His love while you are fasting? Does this love clearly show
in your prayers and contemplation while fasting? Have you ever
forgotten about your food and drink, for the sake of His love?
Is it as if you say to your body while fasting: `"I have no time
for you now. If you have or have not eaten it does not concern
me. "Everything under the sky has its own time" and this is not
your time. I am preoccupied with the spiritual work with God.
Come join us if you want to have some substance in this fast. As
for food, there is no room for it now. My food now is every
word that proceeds out of the mouth of God."'
His feelings are the same as those of Saint John, saying: "I was
in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10).
There is no doubt that days of fasting belong to the Lord.
Therefore, are you "in the spirit" during your fast? Have you
utterly forgotten about your bodily needs, with all its desires
and opted to live in the spirit during the fasting period? You are
not indebted to your body except for the necessities without
which it cannot survive. It is as if you were saying with the
apostle Paul: "Whether in the body or out of the body I do not
know, God knows--" (2 Cor 12:3).
Does God occupy your thoughts while you fast?
During the divine Mass the priest cries out saying: "where are
your hearts?" and the congregation answers: "They are with the
Lord." Likewise, I want to ask you the same question when you
fast: "Where are your minds?" Can you answer, saying: "They
are with the Lord?" is not a fast a sacred period devoted to
God, and one during which thoughts must be occupied with
God alone? Examine yourself, and determine if your thoughts
wander during the fast.
Do worldly concerns fill your thoughts during a fast?
In the whirlwind of labour, news, and in conversation with
others, you do not find time to give God your thoughts!
You may fast till sunset but your thoughts are not with God and
your mind exhausted, roaming and conforming to the world!
You may spend a lot of time in idle chat and trivial things and
your thoughts are away from God. You may only remember
Him only when you sit down to break your fast. Then, you pray
before eating and mention to God the fact that you have been
fasting. Is this the kind of spiritual fast that sets your conscience
at ease?! Remember the words of the Prophet David: "I have
set the Lord always before me. " (Ps 16:8).
He is there before me in every thing I do and in every word I
say. He sees everything. I also set Him before me because He is
my aim away from which I do not want to venture. He is before
me and because of Him alone I fast. My fast is not to distract
me from Him, but to have Him always before me.
If on regular days you remember all the time God before you,
then how much more so should you be when fasting, a time
devoted and consecrated to God?
If God is not in your thoughts, then you are not fasting.
A day of fasting which passes by without remembering God,
should be crossed out of your fast, for it cannot be as included
under the title: "Declare a holy fast." (Joel 1:14,2:15)...
Some may ask, how can I do this while living in the world and
having many responsibilities that I must think about?
Keep a balance in accordance with three rules:
1. Do not let your responsibilities dominate in such a way as to
take all your thoughts and not leave a place for God. Set
limits to your responsibilities and allow the Lord His share.
2. Depart from any thought that does not please God, for such
a thought does not coincide with the sacred scope of your
life. As the Apostle Paul says: "Bringing every thought into
captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10:5)
Therefore, do not defile your fast with wrong thoughts, for
any thoughts which please Christ should be kept while those
which displease Him should be driven away.
3. Let God share in your thoughts and in your goals, and say:
It is for God's sake that I am pondering this topic.
It is good that you think about your responsibilities, but do not
let them be separate from God's. It is God who has given them
to you, and you think about them for His sake. Therefore, your
thoughts about them should not be separate from God. It is for
God that you think about the affairs of your business, about
your lessons and studies, about your service, and about your
family responsibilities, on the condition that your thoughts do
not take you away from God who is the origin and the
foundation of everything. Think about your responsibilities
while saying to God:
Join in the work of Your faithful.
A student, for instance, may study while fasting and have God
join him. He studies while God grants him the power to
understand and to remember the information learnt in memory.
This student says to God: "O Lord, I cannot understand all this
by myself. You stay with me and make me understand and I
shall thank you for it. I study, O Lord, neither for the sake of
knowledge nor for my future, but for You so that all may know
that Your children are successful, that they are faithful in all the
deeds they undertake, and that the Lord is with them and assists
them. Thus people give praise "
You say to God: It is for You that I eat, and for You that I
It is for You that I eat to gain strength to stand up and pray, to
sit up late and contemplate. To use for the service of Your
children, and for others to know that Your children are faithful
in their responsibilities.
I fast so that my soul comes to You, unhindered by my body.
In this way, God will be with you in everything you do.
You also partake with Jesus Christ who fasted.
Join Him in fasting to the extent that your weak nature can
stand. He fasted for you, therefore at least fast for yourself. He
who rejected the wordily food, and you too partake with him in
rejecting the perishing food. He, who is nourished by the love
and companionship of His Father, likewise do the same. He,
who gained victory over the devil whilst fasting, plead with Him
to guide you to victory.
Fasting in this way, becomes nourishment for your spirit.
The most hazardous thing that exhausts those who fast is that
neither the body nor the soul is nourished. Fasting becomes a
period of deprivation and torture. This is not the intention of a
spiritual fast. Moreover, deprivation of the body only, gives
fasting a negative image while leaving out the positive
nourishment of the soul.
Nourishment of the soul is: prayer, meditation, reading the
Holy Bible, spiritual readings such as the sayings of Fathers and
biographies of Saints, hymns and psalms, spiritual meetings and
Nourishment of the soul also includes spiritual feelings, God's
love and all matters relating to eternity.
The soul that is nourished is able to support the body.
This is clearly seen during Passion Week when asceticism
becomes intense, with long periods of abstinence. Nevertheless,
the body endures without becoming tired because the soul is
nourished by the memories of Christ's suffering by on Passion
Week. Bible readings, hymns, and rites all focus the mind on
Passion Week and the suffering of our Lord.
There are times when a person may be so absorbed by the
satisfaction and pleasure of what he reads that he may forget
about his craving for food so that he can proceed with his
readings. The soul becomes nourished to the extent that it
sustains the body, which does not feel any hunger.
Therefore, give the soul its nourishment during a fast and rest
assured that nourishment of the soul gives the body the strength
it needs to endure the fast. Moreover, fasting of the body
empower the soul, for the spiritual action is intermingled with
the bodily and mental asceticism. Prayers and masses during a
fast are more profound during fasts for they emanate from a
body, which has submitted to the soul. Your prayer becomes
powerful since they emanate from a heart abstained from
materialistic things and a soul abstained from the worldly lusts.
Such as the vespers and midnight prayers performed with a light
body abstaining from food.
During the fasts, our Fathers concerned themselves with the
work of the soul. But what about their food?
Even while eating, they were also interested in nourishing
They used to take it in turn while they ate, to read aloud a
Saint's biography or "Sayings of the Fathers". This helped
withdraw their minds away from food and materialistic issues,
and at the same time be nourished spiritually while they ate their
food. They avoided being fully occupied with the body and
became accustomed to the discipline of the soul over every
The commandments oblige us to fast, but our Fathers did not
fast because of them.
They fasted for the love and not for obedience to the
Obedience is for the novice, but love is for the mature and the
Our fathers fasted, not to fulfil a commandment, an imposition,
or a rite, but for the spiritual pleasure in which they found
spiritual satisfaction and comfort for their souls and bodies.
Our fathers did not stop fasting at the limits of obedience to
the commandment, but they delved into its spirituality.
The spirituality of the commandment requires us to fast for our
own good. Otherwise, God would not have ordered it.
In addition to what we have said, we shall, God willing, explain
this matter in detail in the following chapter titled "The virtues
that accompany fasting".
However, for now we shall talk about Lent, as the holiest fast
of the year.
Lent comprises three fasts: the sacred forty days which Christ
fasted, is preceded by a week considered either as an
introductory week for the sacred forty days or as compensation
for the Saturdays when abstention from food is not allowed.
These are followed by Passion Week which constituted a
separate fast independent of Lent at the to mark the beginning
of the Apostolic era.
Lent is the holiest of all the annual fasts and its days are the
holiest of all the days of the year. It correlates to Christ's fast
and therefore very significant. The Church also considers it as a
fast of the first degree.
It is a period of spiritual reserve up for the whole year.
He who does not benefit spiritually from it, will hardly benefit
from the other less spiritual days. He who spends the days of
Lent indifferently will find it hard to be particular about the rest
of the year.
Try to benefit from this fast, its hymns, readings, rites,
spirituality and the afternoon Masses
Our Fathers used Lent as an opportunity for preaching.
During this time people were more spiritual and were ready to
accept it. Indeed, preaching is set for the whole year but the
sermons of Lent have a more profound effect. That is why many
of Saint John Chrysostom's books were sermons that he
delivered during Lent. In the same way the books of Saint
Augustine. Even the Church made these days of Lent a period
for the preparation of those accepting the Faith.
It prepared them through preaching to accept the grace of
Classes for those new to the faith were held during the fast and
sermons were delivered to teach and confirm them in the
principles of Faith. They were then baptised on Christening
Sunday, to join the faithful for the following week's Palm
Sunday, in the Passion Week prayers, and in the Easter
Saint Kirollos of Jerusalem for example, held sermons to
prepare those attending to accept the Faith and explain to them
the creed and the principle of faith on the days of Lent.
The Church considers Lent of such importance that it has
laid for it special rites.
It has its own special tunes, longer period of abstention, special
readings and responses, a special rite of burning the morning
incense, and special prostration in the Mass before absolving the
During Lent, a special Katamarus of biblical readings is used
and contains readings from the Old Testament to create a
special spiritual atmosphere all of its own.
In order that faithful are prepared for the sacred forty days
of Lent, the Church set the preparatory week so that people
may not start the sacred period unprepared. It is also a way to
make up for the Saturday when an abstinence period is allowed.
Furthermore, the Church established the fast of Jonah also
in preparation for Lent.
The fast of Jonah or Nineveh occurs two weeks before Lent and
has the same rite and tunes. It heralds the coming of Lent and
prepares the congregation to repentance which is the essence of
the fast of Nineveh.
In the same way that the Church has taken pains to prepare the
its offspring for Lent. We should do our part by receiving it
with the same concern.
If Jesus Christ observed this fast for us, though He did not
need to, we should therefore fast it for ourselves since we are in
great need of fasting to fulfil all righteousness, in the same way
as Christ did.
The Church allocates so much importance to this fast that It
calls it Lent which means the "Great" fast.
It is "Great" because of its duration and sanctity.
It is the longest of all fasts as it extents for fifty-five days, and it
is the greatest in its sanctity as it is Christ's fast and
commemorates His sacred suffering.
That is why a sin committed during Lent is most offensive.
It is true that a sin is a sin, but it is more horrible during Lent
than during normal days because he who sins during any fast in
general, and during Lent in particular, is actually committing a
double sin. The offence of the sin itself and in addition the
contempt shown for the holiness of those days. Therefore, they
are two sins, not just one.
Carelessness for the sanctity of those days is indicative of
the heart's cruelty, for a heart that is not affected by the
spirituality of those sacred days is undoubtedly a cruel one from
a spiritual point of view. He who sins during this fast is subject
to the Lord Jesus Christ words who said: "If therefore the light
that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt
If these sacred and inspiring days are a period of darkness, then
how much more are the normal days ?
Saintly monks beheld the great Lent. Their whole lives were
days of fasting, but the days of Lent were of special sanctity for
the first generations of monks who used to leave the
monasteries during the sacred forty days and live in isolation on
the mountains. An example is found in the story of Saint Zosima
and his encounter with the repentant Saint Mary the Copt.
The same zeal was found in the monasticism of Saint
Shenoudah, chief of hermits, and in many of the Ethiopian
Let us also be fervent during these sacred days.
If we are unable to fast the days in abstinence as did the Lord
Jesus Christ, glory be to Him then at least let us try to be as
serious and as pious as we can and to the limit of our
If we cannot reproach and forcefully defeat the Devil as did the
Lord, at least let us be ready to resist him. Let us remember
what the Apostle Saint Paul said in criticism to the Hebrews:
"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin."
Man should strive "to bloodshed " in resisting sin.
If the three days that Esther and her people fasted had their
strong influence, how much more will the fifty five days in
supplication to God?
At this point, I address all in reproach:
How many Lents have passed by us with all the spirituality's of
the "Great Fast"? If we have gained some spiritual benefit from
every fast, what is our harvest from these "Great Fasts" and
from the other fasts that we kept?
The point is that, in fasting, we are in need of seriousness and
spirituality and should not pursue the matter in a routine and
VIRTUES AND FEELINGS THAT ACCOMPANY
U Virtues accompany fasting
U Prayer and worship.
U Self-abasement and penitence.
U Seclusion and silence.
U Fasting of the tongue, thought and heart.
U Self control.
U Conquering the body.
Virtues accompany fasting
Those who fast and gain no benefit have done so in the wrong
way. Fasting is not to blame but the method followed.
Such as those who fast bodily without paying attention to the
virtues that accompany a fast. Or, those who's aim is fasting in
itself as a the target although it should be a means towards an
end, the means of giving the soul the opportunity.
Fasting is a period of intense spirituality, a period for loving
God, and adhering to Him. This love for he who fasts helps
elevate a person above body and its concerns. It a means of
soaring above the worldly things to taste the heavenly matters.
It is a period of sacred feelings towards God. At least it
cultivates the feeling of closeness and communion with God. It
is a period of spiritual struggle: with self, with God, and against
The days of fasting are for spiritual strength and a period
From the depth of spiritual fast, one gains spiritual strength that
sustains him during his period of no fasting. He who is honest
for instance during Lent, stores up spiritual stock that
strengthens him throughout the fifty sacred days following Lent,
where neither fasting nor prostration are allowed
He who wants to fast in a spiritual manner, should keep the
following points in mind:
1. Fasting should be spiritual in aim and motive
It is not an obligation, for praise, or out of custom. We fast
for the love of God above materialistic and bodily things, to
give the soul a chance to grow.
2. Fasting should be a period of penitence and purity of
In it, a person leads a holy life, acceptable in the sight of
God, confessing his sins, reproaches himself and then
partakes of the Holy Sacraments.
3. Fasting should be a period of spiritual nourishment
accompanied by an effective spiritual agenda:
To use all the spiritual media available and to concentrate
on spiritual rather than bodily matters. Not to focus on the
type of vegetable food to be eating but on the sanctity of
these days of fasting and what is proper for them so that
one's spirit may be strengthened
Fasting leads to the strength of the spirit, and the strength of the
spirit leads to fasting.
Virtues which are intermingled, are gained through fasting
Fasting helps one stay up late because of the lightness of one's
body. Staying up late leads to reading and prayer. Spiritual
reading also helps one to pray. Spiritual work as a whole makes
a spiritual person sit up late. Reading is a source of
contemplation. Contemplation strengthens prayer which is also
a source of contemplation.
Fasting is associated with prostration, which leads to humility
and a contrite heart. A subdued body through fasting also leads
to a subduing of the soul.
Fasting leads to virtues, which relate to the purpose of
The Apostles for example, prepares one for service. Nineveh's
fast, aims at repentance. The purpose of a fast, such as Esther's,
was to save her people. There are those who fast for others and
their fast embodies love, sacrifice, and cooperation. These are
all fasts, which relates to with special virtues.
We should remember in our fast that the Lord Jesus Christ
fasted while He was filled with the Spirit. As for us let at least
fast so that we may become filled with the Spirit.
Fasting accompanies repentance:
Days of fasting days are sacred and man lives them in
During these days, the mind, heart and body must also be
sacred. Fasting is a period of training during which you attempt
to approach God and at the same time, sin pulls you away.
Therefore, you must eliminate sin through repentance to draw
close to God.
While fasting, your body abstains from food, and your soul
abstains from every earthly and worldly lust, and all passions
that pertain to the body. Through repentance therefore, you
approach God. Ask yourself, are you fasting this way?
Without repentance, God rejects and does not accept your
fast. You do not gain either heaven or earth and you torment
yourself in vain. If you want God to accept your fast, examine
your sins, and revoke them. God gave us as a symbol a lesson
when He accepted the baptism of repentance before he fasted.
Take the example of the fast of Nineveh:
The Bible says about the people of Nineveh that "every one
turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his
hands." (Jon 3:8). For this reason, God did not destroy them
when He "saw their works, that they turned from their evil
way." (Jon 3:10). The bible did not say: "when He saw their as
sackcloth or their fast," but when he saw their repentance which
was the principal element of their fast.
In the Book of Joel, we see an example of repentance that
The Lord addresses the people through His prophet saying:
"Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping,
and with mourning." So rend your heart, and not your
garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious
and merciful. " (Joel 2:12,13). It is clear that fasting was
accompanied by repentance and weeping. Therefore, it is not
mere abstention from food. Rather, it is inner emotions towards
In his fast, the Prophet Daniel offered the repentance of the
He fasted, confessing to God, saying: "We have sinned and
committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even
by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. ... O
Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face ...
O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes,
and our fathers, because we have sinned against You." (Dan
We therefore reconcile with God through fasting.
Do not say: "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
(Ps 13:1). You should rather say: 'How long will I forget You,
O Lord, forever? How long will I hide my face from You?
Therefore purify and sanctify your soul. Prepare for these
special days. Make ready to have God residing in your hearts
and not by merely abstain from food.
If you are in sin, be reconciled with God, and if you are
reconciled with Him, deepen your love for Him.
If you removed sinfulness in a fast, continue in the same
Repentance is not confined to fasting alone, but made fit
through fasting. Through fasting, man heart is purified, and this
purity continues with him.
In all this, be ready to strive against the Devil.
Joshua, son of Sirakh, told his son that if he set forward to
serve God, he should prepare himself for all trials.
When the Devil sees your fast and repentance, he becomes
envious of your spiritual acts. Thus, he fights you to deprive
you of the fruit of your labour and seeks every trick to bring
about your downfall, saying: I shall not leave you until you give
up. Remember the words of the Apostle Peter, who said,
"Resist him, steadfast in the faith. " (1 Pet 5:9).
Thus, fasting is a period of spiritual warfare as was the case
with Jesus Christ. (Matt 4). It is also a period of triumph for
him who shares it with Christ.
Fasting accompanies prayer and worship:
Fasting without prayer is a bodily act. As such, it loses its
spiritual nature and benefit.
Fasting does not mean depriving the body of food, which is a
negative aspect. The positive aspect manifests itself in giving
the soul its nourishment.
Those who fast without any spiritual act, such as prayer,
contemplation, spiritual reading, Psalms, Hymns, or prostration,
their fast becomes a useless burden. What is the difference
between their fast and that of the Buddhists and Hindus? What
role did the Holy Spirit play in your fast?
Fasting provides an opportunity for prayer. A prayer while
fasting is more profound than one hundred prayers conducted
with a full stomach full and a voice jolting mountains.
The Church teaches us that prayer and fasting are
interrelated. In the Lent Fraction during the divine Mass, the
statement "Through prayer and fasting" is repeated a number of
times. When the Lord Jesus Christ spoke about exorcising
devils, He said: "This kind does not go out except by prayer
and fasting." (Matt 17:21).
Well-known fasts in the Bible were also bound to prayer.
Thus, when Nehemiah fasted, he said: "When I heard these
words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned ... And I said: "I
pray, Lord God of heaven, ... let Your ear be attentive and
Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant
which I pray before You now, day and night... " (Neh. 1:4-6).
He then started confessing his sins and the sins of his people
calling for the Lord's intervention and mercy.
Ezra's fast was also accompanied by prayers. (Ezra 8:21,23).
The Prophet Daniel's fast was accompanied by prayer and
struggle with God. He said, "O my God, incline Your ear and
hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city
which is called by Your name; for we do not present our
supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but
because of Your great mercies. "O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive!
O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my
God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name."
In the fast of Nineveh, the people cried "mightily to God" (Jon
Therefore, cry to God during your fast, lifting up your
abased heart to Him.
Be confident that God will respond to your fast and clamour,
and that when He reproaches the winds and the waves, the sea
will become calm. How deep indeed are your prayers if
conducted on sacred days from a humbled hearts before God
through fasting and purified by repentance. How much more
profound they become if accompanied by attendance to the
Holy Mass and communion.
Train yourself while fasting in the love of prayer and the
struggle with God.
In Chapter five, we have written out a up a guide for your
It is important in prayer, to submit your heart and thought
Do not subdue your conscience with formalities and with
shallow readings not emanating from the heart, and then say: " I
have fasted and prayed!" God will blame you, saying: "This
people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from
Me." (Mark 7:6). Prayer is a fellowship, thus, during your
prayer and fasting feel that you are in communion with God.
If consecrating a fasting means devoting it to God, then
have you devoted your fasting period to prayer and
Is it a period of prayer, contemplation, spiritual storage, and
devotion to God and His company? Are your prayers double or
triple those of your regular days? If you have not devoted most
of your time to God, have you devoted your feelings and
emotions to Him?
Fasting, accompanied by an intimate relationship with
God, becomes spiritual enjoyment.
In this kind of enjoyment, one tries to increase his fasts and his
food becomes heavy for him because causes him to use his body
which took some rest during the hours of abstention.
Fasting is accompanied by self-abasement and weeping:
Fasting is a period for an abased soul before God through
repentance, tears and humility. Thus one becomes aware of its
weakness, knows that he is form dust and ashes and appeals to
the Higher Power.
When the body is humbled by hunger, the soul too is
humbled. Thus, it humbles itself while it bows down before
God in obedience and humility confessing its sins. Humility
softens the heart of God and all the dwellers of Heaven.
In his humility and weakness, man renounces all. His heart is no
longer attached to any wordily lusts and he addresses God in a
The Holy Bible presents us with several examples of self-
abasement in fasting since God cannot bear to see the humility
of His children before Him. Examples abound in the Book of
Judges where God saw the humility of His people, descended,
and saved them. (Judges 2). "In all their affliction He was
afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them." (Is
Through self-abasement and defeat, the people become humble
and the Lord comes need those who are humbled and to those
with a crushed heart and He saves them.
The fast that the Prophet Joel ordered is a clear example:
He said: "Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; ... Come,
lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; ...
Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly. " (Joel l:13,14)
"Now, therefore," says the Lord, "Turn to Me with all your
heart, ... Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly ... Let the
bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her
dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep
between the porch and the altar; Let them say, "Spare Your
people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say
among the peoples, `Where is their God?' " (Joel 2:12-17).
Here we see details of a integral fast.
Fasting, together with repentance (returning to God), prayer,
self abasement, weeping, lamentation, shunning bodily desires,
seclusion are all elements of fasting and no longer becomes
mere abstention from food.
Another example is the fast of the people of Nineveh.
All the people, even children and babies, fasted and neither ate
nor drank anything. They did not stop at that but humbled
themselves before God, covering themselves with sackcloth and
ashes. Even the King himself removed his crown and royal
attire, did not sit on his throne but sat with the people on
sackcloth and in ashes and they all cried mightily unto God.
Such also was the fast of Nehemiah and that of Ezra.
Ezra, the scribe and priest, said: "Then I proclaimed a fast
there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves
before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our
little ones ... So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and
He answered our prayer." (Ezra 8:21,23).
Nehemiah also said: "I sat down and wept, and mourned for
many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of
heaven." (Neh 1:4). He said this about himself, but as for the
people, he said that they "were assembled with fasting, in
sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite
lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood
and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And
they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law
of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another
fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God." (Neh
9:1-3). Is this not also an integrated fast: through prayer,
weeping, lamentation, Bible reading, repentance, confession,
and abasing oneself in sackcloth and ash! Therefore, fasting is
not merely abstention from food.
In the same way was the Prophet Daniel's fast.
He said: "Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make
request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and
ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession
... "we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done
wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts
..." (Dan 9:3-5).
In another fast, he says: "I, Daniel, was mourning three full
weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my
mouth, nor did I anoint myself ... " (Dan 10:2,3). This fast
constitutes the same elements as the previous fasts.
This is indeed the fast that the Prophet David referred to,
saying: "My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with
fasting " (Ps 35:13).
There is no doubt that lamentation constrains the bodily lusts
and removes all desire for food. Moreover, humility opens the
gates of Heaven.
Fasting accompanies seclusion and stillness:
The following statement was repeated twice in the book of the
Prophet Joel: "Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly." (Joel
Call a sacred assembly, namely "retire", so that you may
find time for spiritual nourishment.
In seclusion, you keep silent, and since you have no one to talk
to, you talk to God. However, do not remain secluded in sin or
in vain thoughts, but do so in order that your fast may not
become visible to anyone except to your Father in Heaven who
sees in secret. Moreover, one who fasts may be in such a state
of asceticism, hunger, and weakness that one is unable to make
any effort. Seclusion is therefore more suitable for him.
When a person fasts, his soul is occupied with internal work
with God. Speaking hinders one's prayer, preoccupation and
contemplation. Meetings and visitations hinder one's devotion
to God and may lead one into making mistakes.
In fasting, the Lord Jesus Christ retired to the mountain, in
seclusion with God, the Father, and devoted Himself to
Our Fathers' fasted in the same way in the wilderness. As for
you, retire as best as you can, and if you are forced to mingle,
do it within the limits of necessity. Rid yourself of lost time and
of every trivial word.
This brings to mind another fast which is:
Fasting of the tongue, thought, and heart:
Saint Isaac said: "the fasting of the tongue is better than the
mouth's, and the abstinence of the heart from lust is better than
both fasts" this shows the importance of fasting of both the
tongue and the mouth.
Many concern themselves with abstaining from food. God
rebuked them, saying: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a
man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."
(Matt 15:11). In this way He shows us that wrong words are
defiling. In the same way, our teacher, the Apostle James, refers
to the tongue which "defiles the whole body." (James 3:6). Is
your tongue, thus, fasting with the rest of your body? And is
your heart abstaining from lusts?
A fasting heart is able to make the tongue fast with it, for
"out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matt
The Lord also said, "But those things which proceed out of the
mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. " (Matt
15:18). Moreover, "A good man out of the good treasure of
his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the
evil treasure brings forth evil things." (Matt 12:35). Therefore,
if your heart abstains from sin, your tongue will abstain from
every evil word.
He who fasts the heart, can also make his body fast also.
Therefore, what is important is for the heart and thought to
abstain from every wrong desire assisted by the fasting of the
body, which is the least of all. Therefore in your fast, control
your tongue and in the same way that you make your mouth
refrain from food, make it refrain from bad words. Control your
thoughts and yourself.
Fasting accompanies self-control:
It is commendable that you control yourself against every
wrong desire whether it comes to you from your inside or from
warring devils, for "he who rules his spirit" is better than "he
who takes a city." (Prov 16:32).
Therefore, hold the reins of self-control in your hand.
In a bodily fast, your body longs for food. You say: No, and
you succeed in applying this "No". Make therefore, this
willpower include every thought, every wicked desire, every
wrong behaviour, and every bodily lust.
As for the person who only controls his food and is controlled
by his lusts, his fast is a bodily one. He who cannot control his
bodily fast is consequently unable to control himself from bad
thought, lusts, and conduct.
Control of your lusts is proof of your asceticism and love of
Vanquishing the body:
While fasting, say to the body: "Let go of the soul and release it
from your bonds that it may delight in God. You fast that your
soul may be released from the bonds of the body. Desire for
food is one of these bonds. These are also other ties such as
Defeating the body through fasting, is also accomplished by
staying away from marital relationships, provided it is done
"with consent." (1 Cor 7:5). As the Prophet Joel says about
fasting, "Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the
bride from her dressing room." (Joel 2:16), and as was said
about king Darius when he cast Daniel into the den, he "spent
the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him."
Even the mere adornment of the body was referred to by the
Prophet Daniel in his fast. He said: "nor did I anoint myself at
all" and "till three whole weeks were fulfilled." and "I ate no
pleasant food." (Dan 10:3).
Vanquishing the body is not an aim in itself but rather a
vehicle for the soul.
Vanquishing the body is necessary lest it should digress and lead
to the destruction of the soul. On this matter, the apostle says in
earnest, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection,
lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become
disqualified." (1 Cor 9:27). When the body is vanquished, the
soul takes control and the body not resisting, but collaborating
with it and submitting to its leadership.
Therefore, control your body and keep it wisely from all futile
enjoyment, luxury, and lust.
It is not enough that you fast, for you also need to overcome
the lust for food.
This leads us to asceticism in fasting as another virtue.
Man may abstain from food but craves it. Therefore there is no
gain in abstinence from food but in renouncing it.
Rising above the level of eating leads one to abstinence from
and letting go of food. In turn, this leads to the virtue of
detachment. Nevertheless, what should you do if you cannot
accomplish renunciation and detachment?
If you cannot achieve renunciation and detachment, then at
least give up something for the sake of God.
Adam and Eve were required to keep away from one fruit. It
was not an issue of abstinence from food or one item of it but a
sort of training to renounce everything for God's sake...
As for you when you fast, what can you renounce for God's
sake, for His love and for the preservation of His
God is not is need of your renunciation of anything. However,
by doing this, you show your love for God in profound and
practical way, and for the sake of His love, you sacrificed your
Fasting accompanies charity:
He who hungers while fasting sympathises with the hungry. For
this mercy, God accepts his fast as He said, "Blessed are the
merciful, For they shall obtain mercy." (Matt 5:7). Out of its
concern for charity, the Church chants the hymn of "Blessed are
those who show mercy to the needy" during Lent.
Out of His concern for charity, the Lord said in Isaiah's
prophecy: "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the
bonds of wickedness ... To let the oppressed go free ... Is it not
to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your
house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that
you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Is
During the age of martyrs and confessors, the Church used to
If you have nothing to give to those in need, then fast and
offer them your food.
Do not fast to save food for yourself, but rather that you fast
and give the food you saved to the needy. It has been the
custom for many churches during the days of fasting to hold
banquets for the poor so as not to embarrass the poor by having
them eat all by themselves, the whole congregation eat together.
Fasting is accompanied by prostration:
Prostration is in fact a series of successive prostration
accompanied by short prayers.
The Church combines prostration with abstinence from food for
a number of hours. Thus, on days when abstinence is not
allowed, - e.g. feast days, Saturdays, Sundays, and the fifty days
following Easter then prostration are also not permissible. A
belly full of food is not fit spiritually or bodily for prostration.
Prostration are therefore better observed in the early morning or
at any time during fasting before food is eaten.
Prostration may be a form of self-abasement before God.
Every prostration, man rebukes himself before God for on of his
sins and asks for forgiveness, saying: I have sinned, O Lord, in
doing this or that, so please forgive me. I have desecrated Your
temple, so please forgive me. Forgive me, for I am lazy,
Prostration may be accompanied by prayers of gratitude and
Spiritual preliminaries, such as self-examination or any
spiritual reading to soften the heart, may precede prostration.
DRILLS WHILE FASTING
What are these drills?
U Drills pertaining to fasting.
U Drills pertaining to repentance.
U Seclusion and silence drills.
U Resisting lost time drills.
U Penitence and self-abasement drills.
U Memorisation drills.
U Prayer drills.
U Other spiritual media drills.
U Drills in certain virtues
What are these drills?
Since the fasting period is a sacred spiritual, during which one
aims to develop spiritually, it is proper that one should place
before him, some spiritual drills to convert these spiritual
desires into a practical mode of living. So, what are these drills?
Spiritual drills vary from one person to another according to
their requirements. These drills may include things like resisting
some weak facets in the life of a fasting person, gaining certain
virtues that such a person lacks, or spiritual longings pervading
Thus, they differ in the same person in accordance with his
A person's needs will differ from time to time in accordance
with his struggles on the one hand and his degree of
development on the other hand.
What is important is set up spiritual drills so that the person
who fasts may feel that he has before him a certain target
against which he will examine himself and which he will pursues
to accomplish clear result in addition to the general virtues of
fasting that are of benefit to him.
What we are going to discuss now is by way of example.
Every person should set whatever exercises are appropriate to
him in his fast provided that this is done, as much as possible,
under the supervision of his Confession Father.
1. Drills pertaining to fasting:
The purpose of these drills is to pursue a sound and
Some of these drills pertain to self-control.
They may include stopping oneself from eating certain
kinds of food that one covets. This may mean a total stop
throughout the fasting period, a partial stop during a
limited period or on a certain day, a reduction of the
quantity of the food, or abstinence from a certain item of
Self-control drills may include the length of abstinence, its
conditions and self-development during such a period.
Some people resort to a system of gradual progression
even within one fast. Lent for example, covers eight weeks
during which one may gradually advance in degree of his
asceticism and abstention from food.
Self-control also includes eating in moderation before
beginning of a fast and on feast days. Eating on these days
should not be gluttonous and uncontrolled. Self-control
also includes the element of hunger.
Drills may embrace virtues accompanying fasting.
In this way they include the spiritual aspects of fasting such
as self-control in areas outside the scope of eating such as
control of the body, abstention from bodily lusts and all
sensuous luxuries, spiritual vigils and keeping away from
There are also drills that pertain to what fasting including
humiliation and penitence before God and gradual growth
2. Drills pertaining to repentance:
Since fasting is a period of repentance, and repentance
drills are numerous, let me mention the following:
(a) Concentration on a point of weakness or a favourite
Each person knows perfectly well which sin he easily falls
into and which sin he repeatedly commits and repeatedly
referred to in his confessions. Try to discard on of these
sins while fasting. In this way, your fast indeed becomes
(b) Train yourself to quit a certain habit while fasting.
An example of this is a smoker who trains himself while
fasting to quit smoking. Likewise he who is addicted to
drinking coffee or tea and cannot rid himself of this habit.
Likewise the person who is addicted by to watching
television, wasting his time, discharging himself of his
The period of fasting is an opportunity for to all of them to
quit their habits.
(c)Fasting could be a period of quitting a sin of anger
or judgement of others.
Many people fall into this well-known sin. Drills may deal
with eliminating a number of verbal sins that one may have
become accustomed to saying. In fasting, he may train
himself in elimination them one by one.
(d) How easy it is for man to condemn his sinful actions
by using verses from the bible:
For instance, if he slips into the sin of anger, he reminds
himself of the Bible verse: "For the wrath of man does not
produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:20). He
should repeat this verse often every day especially in
situations where anger wars upon him. He should rebuke
himself saying: What benefit is my fast if I anger and do not
do the will of God?
If he slips into any of the spoken sins, he puts the following
words of the Bible before his eyes: "Every idle word men
may speak, they will give account of it in the day of
judgment." (Matt 12:36). He then says to himself in
reproach: To what benefit is my fast in self-control but can
not control my tongue saying to my brother: "You fool"
thus deserving of "hell fire?" (Matt 5:22).
(e)Whenever you feel hungry and covet food, rebuke
Say to yourself: When you give up this sin, I shall allow
you to eat, for the Bible says: "If anyone will not work,
neither shall he eat." (2 Thess 3:10), and you have not
repented in a way befitting the fast or befitting a heart that
is the residence of God.
Rebuke yourself, and say to it: What is the use of me
shunning food if I have not yet given up the sin that
separates me from God and that makes all my fast of no
(f) Take your point of weakness and make it the topic
of your prayers and the target of your efforts during
Concentrate fully to be careful and exacting and in resisting
Pour yourself before God, and say to Him: Save me,
O'Lord, from this sin. I admit my weakness in this
particular case and will not conquer it without Your help.
Have mercy, O'Lord, on my weakness and helplessness. I
do not want to conclude this fast before this sin is
eradicated from my life.
Collect Bible verses that deal with this sin. Place them
before you so that you may read them constantly.
Let fasting be a period of struggle with God so that he may
grant you fortitude to conquer your sins. Train yourself
while fasting in this kind of struggle, and say: Since,
according to the Lord's words, fasting exorcises the evil
ones, may it exorcise the devils that wars within me with
the sins with which I am weak. May it exorcise my sins as it
exorcised devils when coupled with prayer.
3. Solitude and silence drills
The Bible states: "Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred
assembly." (Joel 1:14). Place this verse before you and
train yourself in solitude.
What is meant by solitude is being in seclusion with
God, for there are those who isolate themselves at home
doing in no spiritual work and concentrate on the radio,
television, or magazines, or delve into conversation with
others at home! Or they may indulge in sinful thoughts!
Seclusion should actually be indulgence in spiritual work
that you do with your bedroom door closed between you
You seclude yourself with the Bible, with the biographies
of saints, with prostration, and with prayer.
If you have a spiritual agenda you will love seclusion.
If you benefit by your seclusion in a spiritual way, you will
pursue it and feel that it is a blessing from God.
Therefore, set a schedule, devote yourself to implement it.
Try to free yourself during this period from your friends
and recreations, for God will become your true friend in
this period, and train yourself to do without useless talk
and idle chatter. You will then be able to seclude yourself
and labour with God.
If you cannot be in seclusion throughout the fast, then try
Use the drill of "Some closed days."
This means that you specify certain days during which you
do not leave home. You should organise your business,
concerns and visits in such a way as to enable you to
seclude yourself on these closed days. You may begin with
one day a week, then two, then more.
However, what should you do if you cannot seclude
yourself with God?
If you cannot close your doors during a fast, then at
least secure your mouth against sinful words.
How easy it is for our conversation with people to hamper
our discourse with God. As one of the Fathers said: "He
who talks much is empty from the inside and is void of
neither prayer, contemplation, nor spiritual recitations or
spiritual work inside the heart.
Training in seclusion and retreat helps you remain silent,
and silence rids you of the spoken mistakes and gives you
the opportunity for internal growth which is the work of
Nevertheless, what full seclusion is not possible, what then?
There is another drill, which is:
4. Avoiding lost time:
There are one who wastes time. To him, time is trivial,
wasted without benefit. This is his primary sin. He thus,
neither prays, reads, nor has any spiritual contemplation.
Consequently, spiritual laxity, and perhaps slipping into sin
Such a person may say to himself: While fasting, I want to
train myself to resist wasting my time and to make use of it.
How can this be done?
Salvage the time lost in talking with people, in meetings,
visitations, in useless discussions and in reading magazines
and newspapers and expressing your view on their
contents. The time wasted in listening in to the radio,
watching television, and doing other dispensable and
recreational things, should be used to do spiritual work for
We all know how we waste time, and therefore can best
determine how best to save it as an integral part of his life.
Let this then train ourselves on this point while we fast,
This drill helps us another way in fasting of the tongue.
Saint Isaac said that to fast the tongue is better than to fast
the mouth. If you realise this, you will train yourself to
remain silent as long as you can. If you are unable to do so,
then use the following three exercises:
(a) Do not initiate a conversation except when necessary.
(b) Give short answers.
(c) Occupy your mind with some spiritual thought that will
help you keep silent.
5. Penitence and self-abasement drills:
Fasting days are ones of penitence and self-abasement
before God. Therefore, train yourself in them until you
humble yourself down to the level of dust and ashes. This
can be accomplished through the following exercises:
(a) Shun the love of praise, boastful talk, and self praise.
(b)Use penitent words in your prayers. For instance, repeat
the words of the Psalm: "O Lord, do not rebuke me in
Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure." (Ps
(c) If you feel hungry or sit down to eat, say to yourself: "I
do not deserve this food because of my sins, because I have
done so and so. I do not fast out of holiness but out of my
internal humility." He who attains penitence feels no desire
for food no matter how appetising it is when laid before
him. If hunger presses on him, he says to himself: "Repent
first, then eat." If he still finds himself fallen into sin, he
scolds himself, saying: "Is this a fast acceptable to God?
Does this sanctify my fast?"
(d) Days of fasting are a good opportunity for confession
and self-reproach inside oneself before God and before
your Father confessor.
It is a period to be honest with oneself, holding yourself
accountable and for rebuke and discipline. Remember not
to justify yourself by finding excuses however trivial these
(e) Train yourself in labour of humility which are numerous
and about which we shall write a book for you, God
6. Memorisation drills:
You may also take the period of fasting as a time for
biblical verse memorisation of Psalms, chapters from the
Bible, and church melodies and hymns.
(a) Take for instance the memorisation of the 111 verses of
the Sermon on Mount. If you memorise three verses a day,
you will finish with them in 37 days.
(B) Memorise for example, the passages of the prayers of
the Agbia hours that are 36 in number. If you memorise
one passage a day you will complete them in 36 days.
(c) Memorise the 8 hourly absolutions, as well as the
common prayers like the Introductory prayer, thanksgiving
prayer, psalm 50 and concluding prayer, as well as some
passages that are unique in the morning or the evening
(d) Memorise as many of the hourly psalms as you can,
beginning with the short ones.
(e) Memorise selected Bible verses, preferably with their
references. If you memorise three verses a day, you will
have managed to memorise 150 new verses every year
during Lent alone.
(f) You can memorise verses that begin with the letters of
the alphabet. You may also memorise verses that carry
certain meanings, or refer to the Church Sacraments or to
certain parts of the creed, or those relating to every virtue.
(g) During a fast, you may memorise well known chapter of
the Holy Bible such as (1 Cor 13), which is devoted to
love; (Rom 12), which is a set of golden verses referring to
several virtues; (1 Thess 5:12-23); (Eph 6:10-18) which are
devoted to spiritual warfare and struggle (Phil 3:7-14), and
the like from selected Bible chapters.
(h) Use the verses you memorised for spiritual meditation
and nourishment during your fast and use them for practical
(i) Always recite the prayers and Psalms you have
memorised in order to add them to your daily prayers.
(j) In the same way, set yourself a schedule for the
memorisation of Church melodies and hymns.
Setting up a spiritual schedule, will make you realise the
importance and value of this time of fasting, and will
therefore treasure for use to your benefit.
7. Prayer drills:
Make it your aim throughout the days of fasting to increase
your prayer. Do not fall short in your Agbia or your normal
prayers. We place before you, the following drills which
your should try to perform to the best of your ability.
(1) Prayer drill while travelling:
While on your way, use the psalms, short or special prayers
to occupy and lift up your heart to God. You may say:
Forgive me my God and do not take my sins into account.
Have mercy on me, You the all merciful God. Save me,
O'Lord, from my weaknesses and strengthen me. Bless
O'Lord these sacred days, and bless these days of fasting.
Allow me, O'Lord, to spend a period of time with Your.
Unite my heart to You, O'Lord and fill me with love. Grant
me your blessings, O'Lord and assist me. Bestow upon me
a blessed and a pure heart. Wash me, and make me whiter
than snow. Purify me and save me O'Lord. Protect me
from all evil. Partake in this work with me. Let it be
according to Your mercy and not according to my sins.
Train yourself in these and other similar types of prayers
while on the road travelling. What is important is to keep
your heart occupied always with God.
(2) Train yourself to pray in the midst of others:
Whether you are in a meeting, with friends or relations, or
in the midst of people anywhere, lift up your heart in
silence to God. In this way, you keep quiet while your heart
is busy conversing with the Holy Spirit. For a silent person
is a store of God's secrets. As the Spiritual man says,
"Silence your tongue so that your heart may speak".
(3) Learn to pray while working:
Manual labour can easily be intermingled with prayer. It
was thus with our forefathers, but may be different to the
work performed by people living in the world. Even if your
work requires mental concentration, try to lift up your heart
to God from time to time with a very short prayer, saying:
"I long for You, O'Lord. I do not want to stay for long
away from You. Make me work be dedicated for You.
Bless all that I do. I love You, O Lord from all my heart
and I long for You. I praise Your Holy Name while I work.
Your Name is sweet and blessed in the mouths of Your
saints. I thank You, O'Lord, from all my heart. Be with me.
Collaborate with me in my work. Do not let work detach
me from my fellowship with You. Nothing takes me away
from loving Jesus Christ.
(4) Train yourself in contemplation during prayer:
Take for example, the prayers of the psalms and the hourly
Agbia prayers as a mean for spiritual contemplation. When
you pray in this way by reciting them, you do so
profoundly. Do the same with the Mass prayers and the
church hymns so that they may influence your heart when
you hear them.
(5) Train yourself to remain in pray:
Train yourself to prolong your prayer whenever you find
that prayer is about to come to an end, even for two
minutes longer. It is important is that you do not hasten to
conclude it and leave the presence of God. Resist and
continue even for a very short time. Then take your
permission from God and end your prayer.
(6) Practice purity and spirituality in prayer:
These drills are numerous. They include prayers performed
with understanding, depth, warmth, humility, and penitence
as well as without folly and distraction. If you are unable,
then carry out the following drill.
(7) Train your self to pray for the sake of praying:
Saint Isaac was asked: "How do we learn to pray?" and he
answered: "By praying."
There is no doubt that prayer, like any spiritual activity,
"comes down from the Father of lights." (James 1:17).
Seek it as did the disciples who said: "Lord, teach us to
pray." (Luke 11:1).
Say to Him: Allow me, O'Lord, to pray, and the sweet
seclusion to be with You. Give me the words that I should
say and grant me the desire to pray. Grant me love with
which to love You and which makes me pray. Grant me
warmth in prayer, tears and submission. I do not know how
to pray, O'Lord, so teach me how. Grant me the
appropriate feelings for prayer. Speak to me, O'Lord, that I
may speak with You.
(8) Train yourself to pray for others:
Do not only pray for yourself when you fast, but also pray
for others. How many people have asked you to pray for
them and you did not? Try to remember during your fast,
those whom you feel are in need of prayer because of a
problem, hardship, sickness or in need of it for their
spiritual life. Pray for them as well as for those who have
Pray for the Church, for the safety of the country, for the
general welfare, for those who do not know God, for the
heretics, the reckless, and the infidels, and for God's
Kingdom on earth.
It is a good opportunity that you pray for others, especially
for the following:
(9) Pray for your offenders:
This is more of a divine order than instructions. Thus, the
Lord says: "Pray for those who spitefully use you and
persecute you." (Matt 5:44). It is an opportunity for you to
train yourself in carrying out this commandment while you
Pray that God may forgive your offenders and save them.
Pray for their love to you and your love for them so that
your heart may not change towards them because of their
offence. Wish them well and pray to God to have Him
spare you from condemning them in thought or before
It is natural that you pray for those whom you love but it is
much more pleasant to pray for those who have offend you.
Say to Him: O'Lord protect, rescue and forgive them.
Grant me a blessing in their eyes. Make me to love them as
much as I love those who are dear to me. Make my heart
pure towards them.
(10) Other drills for prayer:
(a) Train yourself to pray early in the morning and to have
God as the first one to talk, even for a short prayer every
day saying to him, Thank You, O'Lord and bless this day.
And grant me a sacred day that I may please You.
(b) Train yourself in repeating prayers of saints. Look for
them and use them in praying. (The prayers of Prophets are
found in the bible and in the Church book of the Joyous
(c) Read spiritual books that bear spiritual warmth that help
you pray in earnest.
(d) Pray before doing any work, and before every visit and
Other spiritual drills:
Train yourself in spiritual readings:
Religious readings are numerous and limitless. However,
sacred fasting days, should not be used to read books that
increase your knowledge as much as the ones of worship.
Concentrate on spiritual books that inflame your heart with
God's love, stimulate you, leading you to prayer, and urge
you to repent and lead a life of purity. Such should be your
reading material to stimulate you in a spiritual way. As for
other religious books, I do not forbid you to use them.
However, they come second in a fast, while spiritual books
and biographies of saints take priority.
Train yourself in church hymns and melodies:
This is especially so in hymns and melodies that have the
spirit of prayer, in which you feel you are communicating
with God, which you recite from the heart and the soul, and
which touch your emotions and affect your heart.
Try to memorise the hymns that move you and repeat them
c. Train yourself also in prostration:
If you neglect it at other times, be careful to observe it
Drills in certain virtues:
It is possible to benefit by profound spiritual feelings that
you may experiences while fasting. This may allow a person
to gain any virtue that his heart longs for. This may include
tolerance, forbearance, calmness, meekness, being cautious,
respect for others, generosity, honesty in work,
righteousness, discipline, etc.
If you came out of every fast well versed in one virtue, it
would be of great spiritual gain for you.
Table of Contents
THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING
FASTING AND THE BODY
SANCTIFY YE A FAST
VIRTUES AND FEELINGS THAT ACCOMPANY FASTING
DRILLS WHILE FASTING
- BACK TO MAIN MENU
- THE SPIRITUALITY OF FASTING
- CHAPTER ONE: THE IMPORTANCE OF FASTING
- ON THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
- Fasting the earliest commandment
- Prophets fasted
- The Apostles also fasted
- Fasting of the whole nations
- Nations also fasted
- Fasting is a gift
- Fasting also precedes service
- Through fasting, God intervenes
- Joy of Fasting
- Fasting and Martyrdom
- CHAPTER TWO: FASTING AND THE BODY
- Definition of fasting
- Period of abstinence
- The element of hunger
- Fasting and Wakefulness
- Kind of Food
- Vegetarian Food
- The benefits of fasting to the Body
- Fasting is not a mere bodily virtue
- CHAPTER THREE:CONSECRATE A FAST
- The meaning of ¨Consecrate a fastˇ
- Is the Lord the aim of your fast?
- Erroneous and rejected fasts:
- What is the relationship between God and your fast?
- CHAPTER FOUR:VIRTUES AND FEELINGS THAT ACCOMPANY FASTING
- Virtues accompany fasting
- Fasting accompanies repentance
- prayer and worship
- self-abasement and weeping
- seclusion and stillness
- Fasting of the tongue, thought, and heart
- Vanquishing the body:
- CHAPTER FIVE:DRILLS WHILE FASTING
- What are these drills?
- Drills pertaining to fasting:
- Drills pertaining to repentance:
- Solitude and silence drills
- Avoiding lost time:
- Penitence and self-abasement drills:
- Memorisation drills:
- Prayer drills:
- Other spiritual drills:
- Drills in certain virtues: