Fasting is not just a bodily virtue… It is not just abstaining from food for a period of time then not eating food with animal fat. There is a spiritual element in it…
The first spiritual element is controlling the will. With the same will that regulated food, one can command one’s talking by not using unsuitable expressions, as well as controlling thoughts and feelings. Mar Isaac said: “Abstinence of the tongue is better than abstinence of the mouth; and abstinence of the heart is better than both.”
The second element in the spiritual fast is repentance:
In the fasting of Nineveh, we notice that the people did not only abstain from eating but, “everyone turned from his evil way and from the violence that was in his hands.” God looked to the repentance more than the fasting, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” (Jon. 3:8- 10).
So fasting has to be accompanied by humility and contrition in front of God as it was clear in the fasting of the people of
Nineveh. They also covered themselves with sackcloth and sat in ashes. It is also clear in Joel, “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, 0 Lord… ‘ ” (Joel 2:15-17).
Fasting does not mean just depriving the body of its food, but there must be a positive side, which is the feeding of the spirit.
Therefore, fasting is connected with prayer as in the Church’s prayers and as it happened in all the well known fasts in the Bible such as that of Nehemiah, Ezra, Daniel and the people of Nineveh.
This is evident in the saying, “call a sacred assembly… ”
It is a spiritual opportunity to mortify the body in order to elevate the spirit:
Mortifying the body is just a means, but the aim is to elevate the spirit through prayers, meditation, readings and all the means of grace, far from bodily hindrances…