What to Remember During the 'Forgotten Fast'
Since Orthodox Christians fast for about half of the year, it's handy to know why we do it
Open most newsstand magazines or watch any TV talk show and you will discover yet another diet plan. From August 1-15, Orthodox Christians observe the Dormition fast. As during other times of the year, they follow the most highly rated and successful diet plan of all time--God's. His method is fasting. And the goal is not to shed weight, but to shed sins.
What Is Fasting, Really?
At Holy Baptism, we are cleansed of our sins and joined to Christ. Sadly, most of us--well, make that all of us--don't stop sinning at this point. In fact, we tend to struggle with the same sins over and over again.
So what was Christ getting at when he commanded us, "You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)? Happily, in His next breath, He lays out three spiritual disciplines that will help us toward perfection--almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-4), prayer (v.5-15), and fasting (v.16-18). Fasting, especially, is the key to self-control and conforming our will to that of God. In short, fasting is a spiritual tool to make us stronger to resist sinning.
How Does Fasting Make a Difference?
Fasting strengthens our will in general, so that we may more powerfully and effectively resist the sins that plague us. When we deny ourselves certain foods and creature comforts, our spirit--or our will--is telling our flesh, "No!" Our stomach growls with hunger, but we say, "I've decided to skip lunch today." We get a late-night craving for a bowl of ice cream, but we say, "I am not eating dairy products during the Fast." It's the night of our favorite TV program, but we say, "I made a commitment to skip this show until the Fast ends, and I'm sticking to it."
As we consistently and repeatedly deny ourselves relatively simple fleshly pleasures (things which in and of themselves are good), over time we teach our will to say "no." When we exercise our will, it grows stronger, and our "no" becomes more and more emphatic. Eventually, we find ourselves saying "no" to our sinful passions as well. Training our will to deny relatively mild passions causes it to grow stronger so as to resist the stronger temptations to sin.