Fasting is clearly not optional, as Christ said, regarding fasting, “When you fast…” (Matt. 6:16), rather than If you fast. The Lord, when speaking of His disciples, said that when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, they shall fast. Christ also said that we can overcome the devil only through prayer and fasting.
When His disciples reported to Him that they had been unable to cast out a demon, the Lord explained to them that this kind of demon could not be moved without prayer and fasting.
Apostolic Fathers clearly made it known that fasting was an important part of our Christian living, even linking prayer and fasting as part of Christian marriage. The Church has even established fasting periods that actually total up to about half of the year, averaging about 180 days, when added together.
All of the major feasts of the Church are preceded by periods of fasting, with the Nativity Fast coming before our celebration of the Nativity of Christ, the Apostles Fast coming before the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and the Dormition Fast preceding the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. And, of course, the Wednesday and Friday fasts, which require that we abstain from all meat, dairy, and fish. Additionally, the first three days of the Lenten Fast, referred to as Clean Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, ask that we abstain from any cooked foods, limiting our intake to raw vegetables.
Additionally, we have individual special fast days connected with feasts, such as the Eve of Theophany, the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, and the Elevation of the Holy Cross. But perhaps the most important fast of them all, is the Great and Holy Lenten Fast, in which we abstain from all meat, dairy, and fish, as we prepare our hearts and souls for the celebration of Holy Pascha (the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead).
Not only are these fast periods occasions for spiritual discipline, but they are also very healthy for our bodies, as nutritionists teach us. These fast periods help us reduce reduce weight, keep our cholesterol levels down, and ultimately help us live longer.
Everyone should avoid meat and dairy products, two days per week, in order to help keep animal fats and related cholesterol problems under control. Contemporary physicians are making no great discovery, since the Church has known the importance of fasting for thousands of years. The original commandment that God gave to our ancestors Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a fasting commandment: eat of the fruit of all the trees but this one. If the fall of mankind and the loss of paradise were the result of breaking a fasting commandment, we should probably not ignore the fasts.
May this Great and Holy Lenten fast be to all of us a great blessing, and may our Lenten journey into the heart of God be one of sorrowful joy, where we experience the true meaning of what it means to be One Body in Christ Jesus.
With love in Christ,