FASTING and PRAYER – Say ‘NO’ to pleasures and ‘YES’ to our Lord’s companionship
When we go down through the annals of history, we find that many religions had fasts with fervent prayers to attain the graces and blessings from Almighty God. Fasting and prayers are observed to enable the weak and the sinful, to prepare and present themselves unto the Mighty, Divine presence and Holiness of the Almighty God.
Feeding or let me put it, as feasting is essential for the sustenance and growth of the body. But God created man much more than a body. Man is body, mind and soul. Fasting prepares our body, disciplines our mind and frees our soul to rise in prayer. Fasts are not mere abstinence from food and drink only. They have to observed with frequent prayers and sacrifices of comforts. It is an occasion of intensified prayer and self-discipline. Fasting without prayer is worthless, as fasting bears fruits through prayers. It is through prayers we communicate and commune with God. We can grow spiritually only when we can keep constant relationship with God, through prayer.
The Literary meaning of the word ‘Fast’ is to abstain or to be strict. So, fasting is a period of discipline and abstaining from food and drink for spiritual purposes. However, scriptures refer to fasting as a voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of increased spiritual activity. Fasting is the earliest commandment known to mankind, for God commanded our first parents Adam and Eve, to refrain from eating a certain fruit from a certain tree (Gen 2: 16, 17) but allowed him to eat from the rest. Thus, God set for the body, certain limits beyond which it should not go. God did not give man did not have absolute freedom to take whatever he laid eyes on and whatever he desired, but had to abstain from certain things and control his inclination towards them. Thus, since the very beginning, man has had to control his body. A tree may be “good for food and … pleasant to the eyes” (Gen 3: 6) and yet one must turn away from it. “Because man did not fast, they were exiled from Paradise. So, let us fast now, so we can enter back into Paradise and regain it” — St. John Chrysostom
Moses spent forty days and forty nights, on two occasions, in the glorious presence of the Lord (Ex 34:28; Deut. 9:9-18). He neither ate bread nor drank water. He came down the Mount Sinai holding the two tablets of the “Ten Commandments”, given by the Heavenly Father. His face was radiant because of the communion with God. It is through fasting and prayer we can climb the heights of holiness and see God. We are removed of all impurities and we become radiant.
Prophet Elijah fasted forty days and forty nights and came into the Lord’s presence on Mount Horeb. Yes! We too can fast and pray, make our body and mind fit for prayer and meditation and walk into the Lord’s presence.
The Holy Bible is bubbling with many examples of fasting and Prayer. David, the King – spent seven days in repentance, fasting, weeping and lying on the ground and crying to the Lord (2 Sam 12:16-22). Esther, the Queen – including her people fasted for three days and three nights without food and drink to find answer for their problems (Esther 4:16). Daniel, the seer, aged and weak, fasted for three weeks, ate no choice food, no meat, drank no wine and used lotions to attain the fulfillment of God’s promise and deliverance of His people (Dan 10:2-3). His fast led him to the glorious presence of the Son of God and also revealed the hidden mysteries of the king’s dreams. Jonah, the fleeing prophet – including the people of Nineveh observed a total fast which averted destruction of their city when God’s anger turned into compassion. (Jonah 3:6, 7, 10). Nehemiah, the cupbearer – fasted, prayed, mourned and confessed the sins of his people that fetched God’s mercy on his city and his people (Neh 1:4-11). Anna, the prophetess – fasted and prayed all her life (Lk 2:37). St. Paul, the Apostle – was engaged in fasting very often (II Cor 11:27). The apostolic band, at Antioch – worshipped and fasted to know the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3).
Our Lord Jesus Christ, fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights, was led by the holy Spirit, into the wilderness and destroyed the formidable Satan. Fasting during the lent enables us to control our emotions and bodily desires. We become vigilant and watchful against the evil, that we may gain strength to defeat the evil.
All these and many more examples from the Holy Bible speak volumes about fasting. Fasting should forever center on God. It must be God initiated and God obtained. It should be accompanied by worshipping the Lord. (Acts 13: 2; Lk 2: 37). Fasting and prayer, should be used to transform us into a true image of Jesus Christ. Pride, anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear etc. should all be surfaced and done away with during fasting. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps 69: 10). It is a time of intensified prayer, self-discipline, meditation and abstinence. We should give special efforts to guard our mind from the temptation of evil. It means to develop a sense of detachment and personal self-discipline. Say NO to pleasures and YES to Lord’s companionship. This will help us to grow in the spiritual dimensions of life. We should fast from food and comforts, feast on the word of God and every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).
The Great and Holy Lent in Orthodox Church is the divine process of self purification and repentance with humility, kindness and love through almsgiving, thereby moving closer and closer to God. “Prayer is good with fasting and alms and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with unrighteousness. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold” (Tobit 12; 8). Lent is a period of fasting and prayer prescribed by the Church, so that we enter into the Kingdom of God.
Let us all observe the Lent of our Church. Let us all fast with spirit of humility, acts of love, discipline of mind and strengthened by prayers, so that we can walk towards our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wishing you all a blessed and prayerful Lenten Season and may God bless you all in abundance with thy grace.