I’m an Orthodox Christian. We fast like it’s going out of style. In a former life, for almost 20 years, I was an Evangelical Protestant of the Word of Faith persuasion. We fasted like… never.
Back then the churches I attended did not encourage fasting, still I was always dabbling with it from time to time. I was always amazed at how sensitive my whole being became to the spirit after fasting. One summer after my first year in college I spent 9 days in the forest alone fasting and praying. It was the toughest yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Ever! I think it was then that I learned why Christians fast, why they’ve always fasted from the beginning, and why we should still fast today.
In as few words possible here it is: Christians should fast not to earn favor with God, but to earn sensitivity to the spirit. Christians should fast in order to uproot the flesh, with its desires which trap and imprison the soul, from its seat of power and plant the spirit in it’s place.
Fasting allows one to become sensitive to the movement of the spirit like nothing else. In truth, no other appetite of the flesh is active on an empty stomach; not until the belly has had its fill do all the other appetites kick in. Prayer mixed with fasting tells the body that the spirit is in charge and is no longer a prisoner of the flesh, obeying its every craving.
In the words of St. Diadochos of Photiki, “Fasting… is simply a tool for training those who desire self-restraint. The ascetic should not feel proud because he fasts… no artist ever boasts that his accomplishment is simply due to his tools; but he waits for the work itself to give proof of his skill.”
Think of how the Lord Himself used fasting in spiritual warfare. Christ won the victory over Satan during His temptation in the wilderness precisely where Adam failed: He won through fasting. This is an example for all believers for all time.
Regardless of Christ’s example many believers choose to exempt fasting from their spiritual life believing it’s a dead work of the old law. Though some can certainly turn fasting into that, this excuse is nonsense. If one needs to hear it from the NT before giving it proper attention just look to the apostle Paul who records in various places that he and the early Christians made a habit of fasting (1 Cor 7:5, 2 Cor 6:5). And who doesn’t know the story of Christ casting out a demon from a young boy and telling His disciples, “this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt 17:21)? This means that there are particular demonic powers that cannot be overcome by any other means. I’m sure these demons get together on a regular basis to give each other high-fives in honor of all the Christians who abandon prayer and fasting. Just sayin.
And who could begin to list all the passages written by the Church Fathers on fasting? The list would be endless. Fasting has been a cornerstone in the Christian life from its beginning. The renowned ascetic St. Hesychios the Priest (cir. 9th century) taught that it is impossible to retain the type of watchfulness necessary to gain victory over sin and temptation without the discipline of prayer and fasting.
Thanks for reading.