Every Orthodox Christian knows that fasting is mandated by the Church for our
own good. In no way can we fight passions or any kind of afflictive thoughts
without resorting to fasting. The flame of every passion or sin is extinguished by
proper fasting. If our fasting is out of order or if our fasting habits are not in
accordance with the rules of the Church, we are not even engaged in fighting
against passions, we only live our self-deception thinking that we are righteous in
the eyes of the Lord. Therefore, it is important to know some general rules of
fasting so that we can make our fast pleasing to God:
- We have to understand that fasting is for our benefit and not for our
destruction. The only way we will understand this is if we walk the path of fasting for
many seasons. Someone who never experienced fasting and starts doing it
may feel that it is very hard in the beginning. The same applies to those who
“fast” for many years but they do it according to the desires of their hearts.
Once we start following the path of the Orthodox Church with dedication,
we will see that fasting is everything but toil and bothersome!
- Fasting includes fasting spiritually, not just physically. The goal of physical fasting period is to help us with our spiritual fasting. Fasting spiritually implies that we are trying, as much as we can, to abstain from improper conversations, empty words (which include juicy Serbian swears!), vain desires of our hearts etc. If our fasting is only limited to what we eat or don’t eat, we are simply following a nice dietary regimen which has nothing to do with Orthodox Christian fasting.
- A drop of Milk in your coffee does not mean that the fast is over! It happens sometimes that the faithful get discouraged by accidentally breaking the fast. This may include a drop of olive oil in their salads (if they are following very strict fasting) or a drop of milk in their coffee. For some, this means, that they messed up completely and that they should stop fasting on the spot. This is wrong behavior! We need to give our best to abstain from non-fasting foods when we are fasting. However, if accidentally we mess up and have a drop of milk in our coffee, we should cross ourselves and move on with fasting. Also, we should always remind ourselves that fasting spiritually is what the goal of physical fasting period should be. If you abandon fasting because of drop of milk in your coffee, you will not just reveal your own ego at work but you will also give a lot of joy to the devil.
- Talk to your spiritual father about your fasting. It is imperative to talk to our spiritual fathers about fasting. Very often, the faithful would go from one person to another asking for advice on fasting. This practice can be very damaging spiritually. Our fasting is a blessing of the Church, and as the official representative of the Church, our spiritual father is the only one within the Church congregation who can absolve us from fasting a certain way or for a certain period of time or tell us how we should fast. Remember, every person has different spiritual and physical needs and if you as a lay person talk to someone giving them advice which was tailored by your spiritual father for you only, your brother or sister in Christ may experience spiritual turmoil or quit fasting altogether. If you are not a spiritual father and someone asks you about fasting and how to fast, do them and yourself a favor and redirect them to the spiritual father of the parish.