The Great Canon of St. Andrew says, “When the Lord had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, He at last became hungry, showing His human nature. Do not be despondent, my soul, if the enemy attacks you, but let him be beaten off by prayer and fasting.” [Matthew 4:1-11; 17:21; Mark 9:29]
Prayer and fasting, along with repentance, are the foundations of our Orthodox Christian faith. These tools allow us to connect with God, our neighbors, and ourselves spiritually. Prayer and fasting merely go hand-in-hand, allowing one in his or her physical nature to connect with the spiritual realm. Fasting is a discipline that must be developed to strengthen the soul and release it from the negative energy that abides in us. Non-Lenten foods we take in produce more energy and strength, allowing one to sin more easily and frequently.
Once we begin to excuse ourselves from meat and dairy products, we learn to discipline ourselves and sacrifice what we long for in order to nourish ourselves physically, mentally, and most importantly, spiritually. However, it is important to note that by simply fasting, one will not be sin-free. Rather, one must encompass his or her own free will, through the grace of God, to learn to say no to certain actions, thoughts, and words which would be displeasing to Him. Further, fasting is not simply food-based, but also involves our relationship with God and our neighbors. While we enlighten ourselves spiritually, we must allow touch to those who are close to us.
The Role of Prayer
Fasting must be tied in with prayer, which is the fuel for the soul and the nous. Just as we eat to fuel our body, prayer is the nourishment for the soul. Prayer gives us strength to endure the fast and to repel sinful ways. It delivers us from the evil one who tries to attack with grievous thoughts. As the apostle St. Paul says, we should pray unceasingly, this way we become united with God. Alongside prayer comes repentance, which allows one to develop humility.
Fasting is not only abstinence from certain foods. It is a practice that simply teaches us discipline and humility and allows us to understand that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.” (Matthew 4:4)
Prayer gives us the guidance and the focus to pursue and to unite with God, to become more Christ-like individuals. With true fasting and prayer comes repentance and humility, and with this we can truly learn how to love our neighbors and God whole-heartedly. If we open our hearts and ourselves and fully commit to the power of prayer and fasting, Christ will reveal Himself to us and enter into our hearts.
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