Great Lent: What is the true purpose of the Fast?
My Dear Spiritual Ohana,
We find ourselves in the midst of Great Lent for the entire month of March. I pray that all of you are having a most spiritually fruitful, fulfilling and meaningful one.
In my experience, I found that the true meaning of “fasting” is often lost to following rules of what we ought and ought not eat for the duration of Great Lent. When I first came to Orthodoxy as a teenager, I can attest to my own shortcomings for this. I would often miss the point of fasting by thinking of all the delicious foods, on the one hand, and also being legalistic in that I would read every label of all the ingredients in any given processed food product.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann most beautifully stated the following about the true meaning for the practice of fasting: “Ultimately, to fast means only one thing: to be hungry—to go that limit of human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state that is in its last reality hunger for God.”
That being said, the ultimate purpose of the Fast is to come to the realization of our true spiritual hunger, which is the longing for the Presence of God in our lives. God is the only entity we ever needed and he provides for the sustenance needed to sustain our spiritual and physical needs.
The Fast is meant for us to be master and controller over the demands of the body and its passions, rather than the body to take control through its own impulses. Fasting is a spiritual tool to combat our own desires as well as to defeat the many temptations brought on by the evil one.
Let us not confuse “appetite” with “hunger.” According to an article on fasting from Mystagogy, the following was written: “A dietician commenting on various ‘weight-loss recipes’ by which we could ‘lose weight through eating,’ noted the dangers of confusing appetite with hunger. For many appetite is when we think we are hungry, which is why when we do not satisfy our appetite, we are depriving our body of the food it desperately needs.”
During this period of intense fasting and for our entire lifespan, let us hunger for the “Bread of Life,” the “Living Water,” the “Life and the Resurrection,” the “Light of the world,” and the “Way” which is none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Who is glorified with His Father Who is from everlasting and His All-Holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit. For in Him we find the true essence of life, because He is life itself.
May we come to our senses, during this opportune time of Great Lent, so that when we collectively approach and come to Holy Week and Pascha in April, we may truly and personally experience the Love of God for us and the Victory He fulfills in us through His Sufferings, Death, Descent into Hades, and His Holy Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,