A Reflection on Why We Fast

A Reflection on Why We Fast


Sermon published with permission of student author. 

This past Saturday, our class had a night out for pizza.  For those who were able to make it, we enjoyed a variety of pizzas.  We ordered a sausage pizza, a buffalo chicken pizza, and there was one we ordered custom… with just about every kind of meat topping you could imagine…there had to be at least eight different toppings on it, you could barely pick it up… I won’t say whose idea it was…

-I bring up this topic of food, since we approach the beginning of Lent this Monday, and the reality of the fast begins to set into our minds.  No more gyros, no more buffalo chicken pizza…

-As I was thinking about this, being my final Lent here at Holy Cross, I couldn’t help but reflect on what Saint Basil the Great admonishes us in his homily on Fasting, he says to all of us, “You do not devour meat, but you devour your brother.”

When I think about the past several years here at the school, I recall that:

-I fasted from food, and yet, when other students did not have the same experience as I did at my church back home, I judged them.

-I fasted from food, and yet, as altar captain, when someone in my group asked why we do something a certain way, I shut down the conversation, instead of taking time to explain things after the service.

-I fasted from food, and yet, when mistakes were made at the chant-stands, I got upset, as if I could do better.

-I fasted from food, and yet, when a service ended up being a reader’s service, I contemplated leaving, instead of staying to pray for the School in hopes that the problem would be resolved.

-I fasted from food, and yet, I allowed myself to get into arguments with others about petty things.

-I fasted from food, and yet, the moment I fell into judging someone else, I became no better than the Pharisee which we read about two weeks ago…

-I fasted from food, and yet, I forgot… to love those around me.

  • Think about it, Hunger, is that state in which we realize we are dependent upon something else. When we urgently realize we need food…  kind of like, every time I say the word “pizza”, my classmates want to go out to get some that much more…
  • When we are hungry, it is the time when we face the ultimate question, what does my life depend on?

– Adam and Eve chose a life that did not depend on God alone but they chose to live on “bread alone” 

They were given the commandment to fast from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they chose to eat from it.

-As a result of not fasting, they lost paradise and their communion with God.

The hymnology this upcoming weekend focuses on the exile of Adam and Eve from paradise.  The hymns are mixed with both great lament having lost paradise, and crying out to God for mercy.

  • Some of the hymns also take on a celebratory nature, one of excitement for the “race” that is the fast. One of the hymns of the Orthros chanted in a victorious plagal 1st melody this Sunday says: “The stadium of virtue is now open; those who wish to compete, enter therein, girded for the good contest of Lent”…..wait a minute, the hymns before and after this one are speaking of Adam’s lament for having lost paradise… so there is lament, celebration, lament in that order… How does the Church group together exile from paradise and the excitement for a race??
  • Father Alexander Schmemann writes that it is exactly this, χαρμολύπη —“Sad Brightness” – is the sadness of our exile, of the waste I have made of my life and at the same time: the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness.”
  • So it is with this in mind that when we fast, we fast for God’s sake, asking for His help.
  • We make our fasting God-centered, not self-centered.
  • To make fasting God-centered means that it is not simply the abstaining from certain foods, but also the abstaining from judging others, anger, gossip, and so on
  • God-centered fasting means we are careful of not only what we abstain from, but also what we add to our lives…
  • As we fast, church services during the week, we add on personal prayer, when we learn of an event, like the high school shooting in Florida that occured just two hours ago…we remember to stop. And pray for those people…
  • We add on reading of scripture and the lives of the saints
  • We add on taking the time to love one another and the patience to help each-other
  • As we abstain from food and vices, we remember to continuously “put on Christ.”
  • Why do we fast? Because it is a very strong physical reminder for us to make God a priority in our lives.
  • Why do we fast? Because our relationship with God is renewed
  • Why do we fast? Because our relationships with other people are deepened by our renewed commitment to God.
  • Why do we fast? Because in following the example given to us by Christ, we participate in fulfilling God’s commandment, all the way back in the Garden of Eden…
  • When the time comes this Lent that our fasting is being challenged, not just with food but by our relationship with God and everyone around us, let us remember to call out to God in prayer, as the Doxastikon of this Sunday says: “Lord, through fasting make us worthy to worship Your Passion and Your Holy Resurrection.”

We fast, so that by God’s grace we may be made worthy to worship Christ’s Passion, and be able to glorify His Resurrection.

Photo Credit: Barnes & Noble


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About author

Matthew Jouthas

Matthew Jouthas is in his final semester at Holy Cross, completing his Master of Divinity in May 2018. He transferred into Hellenic College in his junior year and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies. Coming from California, Matthew has enjoyed his time at HCHC surrounded by everything Boston has to offer and is looking forward to continuing to serve the Church.