We entered the Great Lent. As we know, the Lent is a time of inner cleansing, of purification. I would even call the Lent a time of forgiveness, a time of return, of retrieval. Through fast, we return to God (2nd Chron. 20:3, Isaiah 58:6, Joel 2:12) and through the Sacrament of Holy Confession we receive forgiveness of our sins. But we often mistake the fast for a diet or for the healthiest nutrition possible.
We are not aware of the actual signification of fasting and nor do we think about its consequences.
‘Old people fast, well, why should we do the same? Isn’t youth too beautiful? So many dainties…’ Indeed, when we are young we are tempted by the worldly dainties – and not by the spiritual ones. Can the fast be a path to the heavenly dainties? Yes, it can. When we fast, first of all we fast for Him. He feeds us, we accept his consummate nourishment. The nourishment being God’s Will itself and not our own. Secondly, the fast can also be an act of praise, that is a deed of worship to the Lord, because it is a sacrifice – cause ‘Love is a sacrament that God planted in the human soul, which is based on sacrifice. There is no sacrifice without love and there is no love without sacrifice.’ At the same time it is a voluntary relinquishment of something that is permitted to us – sprung from our love and respect for God – as Father Cleopa used to say.
Why ‘flight of the soul’? Here is what Saint John Chrysostom says: ‘Fasting holds the body under restraint, checks its unruly movements, renders the soul transparent, gives it wings, raises it on high and makes it light.’ What does giving wings to the soul means? For the prayer be able to raise to Heavens, it needs two wings: fasting and alms deeds. Fasting gives our souls wings crowning them with the Real and Eternal Joy. Fasting cannot lack prayer. Likewise, nor prayer without fasting can fly to God.
‘It raises it on high and makes it light’. How wonderful these words are… Just by reading them, we should discover within ourselves the desire to search, to meditate and to prepare unceasingly for fasting. For the ‘raising of our souls’. But for this we need to fast not only with our body, but we also must confess Christ through our deeds, let the work of God be shown through them. How can our deeds be pleasant to God?
Saint John Chrysostom tells us: ‘Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your good deeds. How? If you see a poor man, take pity on him; an enemy, be reconciled to him; a friend receiving honor, don’t envy him; an alluring woman, pass her by. Don’t just fast with your mouth and stomach, but also with your eyes, and your ears, and your feet, and your hands, and all the members of your body. Let the hands fast by being cleansed of plunder and greed. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run to immoral shows. Let the eyes fast by refusing to stare lewdly at lovely faces. The mouth must fast from disgraceful speech and other shameful words.’ Our Saviour says: ‘When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting’ (Matthew 6:16). In the Saviour’s time, there were the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and other people that wanted to be praised for fasting. They used to paint themselves with pitch, to appear thin, sad or miserable. But what do we gain if we follow their example? Shall we receive the unwithering crown if people appreciate us or praise us for fasting? Shall we gain anything if we look sad in front of the others? ‘But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face’; appear joyful to others, so that they can’t know you are fasting.
Therefore, let us rejoice of the Lord’s things serving and thanking Him for the Heavenly Nourishment. Let us give our souls wings through fasting and let the prayer be ‘mother’ to us upon the ladder of salvation.
Translated by Claudia