Fasting is a voluntary act of abandoning worldly life. It is a sign of man’s obedience to, and respect of God’s laws and his observance of God’s offices by his voluntary abstinence from food or drink for a specific period of time, by the end of which he can eat light, small and fat free meals, consisting of cereals, beans fruits and vegetable oils. A fasting person refrains from eating meat and animal products except for fish and all seafood and honey because bees are insects with no fleshly lust.
Scholar Bar Hebraeus (+1286) states: “Fasting has three degrees: General, special and exclusive. One may practice general fasting by refraining completely from eating or drinking during daytime and in the evening one eats cereals and beans or one might practice it by refraining from eating meat and animal products during the day. This type of fasting has its own laws and regulations, for so many people might refrain from eating without the intention of practicing fasting and as such they would not be considered as keeping this office.
Special fasting is that type practiced by recluses. Exclusive fasting is that practiced by the perfect ones, who couple their abstinence from having food and indulgence of senses with purification of soul and by holding themselves back from evil thoughts: The only condition requested for such a type of fasting is the eradication of every mundane thought that might exist deep down one’s heart. Although this grade of fasting is so difficult to attain, yet it can be attained so easily through training as the saying goes:
Of our desires the masters we are. With the least granted, they might be content.
The main objectives of fasting are the weakening of the lust of the flesh, training the will to control whims and giving the spirit the precious opportunity to transcend mundane desires and be elevated above worldly desires into heavenly thoughts for attaining purification, and being cleansed and becoming able to express the spirit’s love of God, Almighty manifesting thus its preference of spiritual life to physical one, making the spirit triumphant over the flesh.
The Apostle Paul says in this context: ” This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would”. (Gal.5: 16,17).
Apostle Paul says also: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. (Rom.8: 13).
The psalmist says: “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13). Humbling the soul is the mourning mentioned by the Lord when defining fasting to the disciples of John saying:
“Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Humbleness and mourning are one and the same thing, which is the evident sign of true Repentance – the ultimate goal of fasting- and one of the conditions of true fasting deemed acceptable to God.
It is not only the body that fasts by abstaining from food or drink or some of it, but the soul as well, which keeps away from sin. Both flesh and soul avoid the motives leading to it.
This can be deduced from the Lord’s command in the month of Prophet Joel who says:
“Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:12).
Written by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas