Great Lent is one of the four major fasting periods observed in the annual church calendar year
of the Orthodox Church. This is but one of many examples that the Orthodox Church has adhered to this spiritual
discipline more consistently and strongly than any other church in the history of Christianity. Sadly, some today
say that we no longer need to fast. Orthodox Christians know that this is not true. It is a valuable weapon to
have as we wage spiritual warfare in the battle against sin and temptation. Jesus Christ himself fasted for
forty days in the wilderness (Matt.4:1-11). This is the basis for our forty-day Lenten observance. We also know
that Jesus did not say "Do not fast" or even "If you fast." Rather, in his instructions on how to fast, he said
"When you fast...." (Matt.6:17). Christ also spoke of the value of fasting when, after healing a man's epileptic
son, he said after rebuking and casting out the demon, "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
(Matt.17:14-21). Pious Orthodox Christians also know that the church teaches we must also combine almsgiving and
acts of charity with fasting.
Fasting is a tool to acquire self-control and discipline over the flesh and the passions. For excellent
explanations of fasting, including the many reasons for doing so, click on the following links provided by the
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:
The True Nature of Fasting by
Mother Mary & Bishop Kallistos Ware
Fasting From Iniquities and Foods by
Rev. George Mastrantonis
Fasting: Lent and
Easter a printable PDF brochure
But, we must always keep in mind that fasting is a means to an end and never an end unto itself. We should never
take a legalistic approach and feel that we are justified or better than others simply because of how little or
what we do not eat. St. Paul said, "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does
not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him" (Romans:14:3). Moreover, Jesus said, "Not what goes into
the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Mt:15:11).
For a sobering admonition on this topic, read The Value of Fasting, by St. John Chrysostom.
The Value of Fasting
St. John Chrysostom
The value of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in a relinquishment of sinful practices; since
he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is he who especially disparages it. Do you fast?
Give me proof of it by your works. It is said, "by what Works?" If you see an enemy, be reconciled to him! If
you see a friend enjoying honor, envy him not!... For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the
ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the
forbidden spectacles. Let the eyes fast, by being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome
countenances. For looking is the food of the eyes; but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the
fast, and overturns the whole safety of the soul: but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would
be an instance of the highest absurdity to abstain from meats and from lawful food because of the fast, but with
the eyes to feed even on what is forbidden.
Do you not eat flesh? Feed not upon licentiousness by means of the eyes. Let the ears fast also. The fasting of
the ear is not to receive evil speaking and calumnies. "You shall not receive an idle report," it says.
Let the mouth, too, fast from foul words and railing. For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes,
and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eats meat by devouring his brother, and bites the flesh of
his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, "If you bite and devour one another, take heed
that you be not consumed one of another."