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Ask Fr. John: A lesson on why people choose to fast

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Why do we fast? — G.

Part one
Your question is timely since we are currently in the Nativity Fast.
Two overly simplified answers are: because the Lord Himself Who is God fasted and because Christ said “when you fast ...” Mt. 6:16.
We know that fasting was practiced in the ancient church.
The Apostles prescribed the weekly fasts on Wednesday and Friday in the ancient Apostolic text, “The Didache.” See the church website for Ancient Christian texts.
However, this is not the main reason for fasting.
There are several reasons why we fast. One is found where Paul says that Christ God emptied himself when he became incarnate. Ph 2:7.
As imitators of Christ, we believe that Christ emptied himself, not so that we don’t have to, but so that we could do it too, with him. Thus, we believe that life in Christ involves our own “self-emptying” (Gk. kenosis.) Self-emptying implies a conscious act of self-denial in some way and delayed gratification.
Bear in mind that this self-denial is not about masochism, self-hate, self-pity or guilt; or that by some “thing” we do we win or change God’s mind.
No. Self-emptying is about choosing to know God more than any other thing. It is a tool by which we become truly free of worldly things, come to know God and learn to love.
Clearly, the term self-emptying suggests that we are emptying a space that is already full. The point is to fill that empty space within us with God. Fasting is a specific discipline that assists in self-emptying and filling.
Next time we will see how in an age of instant gratification and materialism we find freedom from “the stuff,” and deeper relationship with God through fasting.
          
Send questions for this column to monkjohn@gmail.com. Fr. John is pastor of St. Dimitri Orthodox Church in Los Alamos. Visit stdimitri.org for more information.