Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward He was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2
Good morning Prayer Team!
When you ask many people what is the first thing that comes to mind when they think about Lent, their answer is “fasting.” It’s almost sad, in a way, that people don’t think about spiritual growth, repentance and renewal first. They think about deprivation, specifically from food. Fasting, however, is not about deprivation, but about discipline.
“Passions” are things we are drawn to. I have a passion for writing, as an example. And that’s a good thing. Others have passions for drawing, or sports, or cooking. These are all good things. There are also passions we all have that are not good. We have a passion for getting angry, greedy, boastful, lustful, and egotistical. These are not good passions. When we hear in Lent and at other times, about the battle to control the passions, this refers to these bad and sinful passions that we all have.
The most basic of all passions is hunger. Because I can go a day without writing. I can go a day without getting angry. But I can’t go more than a few hours without getting hungry. This is the most basic of all the passions. Part of the reason we fast is to get control of our passions for bad things by taming our passion to eat. We abstain from certain kinds of food and by taming our bodies to go without certain foods, we hope to tame our souls and minds to go without certain kinds of thoughts.
The foods from which we traditionally abstain are foods that have blood in them—meat, fish, dairy products (which come from animals so they have traces of blood in them), wine and oil (which were once stored in skins of animals). Shellfish is allowed, such as crab, lobster, and shrimp. Because Christ shed His blood for us, we don’t comingle our blood with any other blood during fast periods. Throughout the year, it is a tradition to fast on Wednesdays (in honor of the betrayal of Christ) and Fridays (in honor of His crucifixion). We fast for forty days before the Nativity, for the first fourteen days of August (before the Dormition of the Virgin Mary) and during the Holy Apostles Fast after Pentecost. And we fast for forty days of Great Lent plus Holy Week.
Fasting should be part of our Lenten plan, though I would argue that it is not as important as worship, going to confession, reading the Bible and praying. By the way, fasting without praying is dieting. For fasting to be effective, it has to be done in conjunction with prayer and Scripture reading, worship and confession.
With a few days left before Lent begins, set a goal for fasting. If you’ve never fasted, try fasting from meat only, and do it on Wednesdays and Fridays and Holy Week. If you’ve mastered this, try going without meat the first week of Lent. If you’ve mastered that, try going with meat the whole Lent. If you’ve mastered that, eliminate fish, and so on. Make a fasting plan that is challenging but not impossible.
The other reason we fast is that we follow Jesus’ example of fasting. In the verse above, Jesus went forty days without any food to prepare Himself for His ministry, to prepare Himself to fight a spiritual war against the Devil who was coming to tempt Him. In the same say, we prepare ourselves for spiritual warfare against the Devil and temptation to fall to the sinful passions by fasting.
Lord, thank You for the abundance of food that I enjoy. As we prepare for Lent, help me to make a plan to abstain from certain kinds of food, so that I can gain control of not only my passion for hunger, but that I may gain control of other passions—the temptation to be angry or greedy, lustful or egotistical. Help me purify both my body and soul in this upcoming season and give me the strength and discipline to keep the fast. Help me also to grow through prayer, worship, Scripture reading and charity this Lent. Amen.
Fasting is not about deprivation, but about spiritual discipline. Make a plan to fast today!
Photo credit: found online, from an unknown Church in Greece
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