The Orthodox Church teaches that fasting was instituted by God Himself. It dates back to the beginning of humanity, when God gave the commandment of fasting to Adam and Eve, asking them not to eat the forbidden fruit. They chose to disobey Him, and thus were excluded from Paradise. If the believer wants to regain Paradise, s/he must fix their broken state, the one introduced by Adam and Eve, by demonstrating obedience to all of God’s commandments; so s/he should also respect and abide by the commandment of fasting.
Let us strive hunger for Christ during the period of Great Lent and Pascha Week:
- Increase in the three Christian duties outlined by Christ in Matthew chapter 6: Charitable giving, Prayer, and Fasting. Fasting should always be accompanied by prayer.
- Seek to weed out every immoral practice we have in our lives so that the grace of God may grow within us and work within us.
- Spend more spiritual time with family: pray more, spend more quality time with family interacting, praying together, talking about the faith, do family bible readings/study, readings books or listening to more things on faith, attending extra church services together. Play edifying games and engage in common activities also that involve physical activity as well.
- Aim to minimize or completely abstain from any habit that is not spiritually profitable (video games, some form of social media, etc.), and instead do things to help your neighborhood, projects that you have let sit around the house, look to help out a church, etc.
- Attend Church weekly on Sunday, and when possible midweek services, be engaged in the prayers at Liturgy and other services, praying from the heart, realizing we are working together with God offering the sacrificial Liturgy for the life of the world.
- Monday-Friday read the daily Lenten readings and say the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria: “Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of laziness, despair, lust for power, and idle talk. Give, rather, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to me, your servant. Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for you are blessed to the ages of ages. ”
- In Orthodox practice, traditionally Great Lent excludes secular music and secular entertainment, parties (birthday parties and all other celebrations are moved to Saturday or Sunday as the two festive days of the week), and all other distractions from spiritual life and spiritual growth, and above all from repentance. We are to replace them with listening to spiritual music, reading or listening to Scripture and other edifying books, exchanging youtube videos on secular matters with ones on matters of faith, etc. Buy some new spiritual books to read. If you will not do this on all days, then do it at least on Wednesdays and Fridays (when Christ was betrayed and when Christ was crucified).
- Prepare for and go to a meaningful and well-prepared Confession at least once during the 40 day fast of Great Lent (i.e. before Holy Week). Why before Holy Week? Great Lent and Holy Week are distinct from one another and have different purposes. Think of it this way: For the 40 day fast, Jesus gives each of us “me” time to work out our own salvation. So Great Lent is “us time”, but Holy Week is “Jesus time.” In other words, the Church gives us 40 days to deal with our “own issues” and sins, and get them out of the way so that we can at least give one week (Pascha Week) focusing solely on Christ. We should have already laid our sins at Christ’s feet before Holy Week, during the Great Fast itself, so we are ready for Pascha Week when it gets here!
- In addition to abstaining from foods that come from animals, choose a Fasting Plan that works for you during Great Lent and Holy Week with the guidance of your spiritual father. Many want to fast, but cannot do the strictest levels of fasting for various reasons. Do not “just give up” and do nothing! As St. Isaac of Syria teaches us: “If you cannot fast for two days at a time, at least fast till evening. And if you cannot fast until evening, then at least keep yourself from eating too much.” Monday-Friday of Great Lent we restrict not only the kind of food that we eat but also the amount of food. But there is no restriction of the amount of food eaten on Saturdays and Sundays as we still have abstention from certain kinds of foods, that there is no limitation on the amount of food that you can eat since they are feast days within the fast. However it is important to avoid over eating and falling into gluttony.
Sayings of the Church Fathers
“Fasting was ordained in Paradise. The first injunction was delivered to Adam, ‘Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’ ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence.” The general argument is rather against excess than in support of ceremonial abstinence. In Paradise there was no wine, no butchery of beasts, no eating of flesh. Wine came in after the flood. Noah became drunk because wine was new to him. So fasting is older than drunkenness. Esau was defiled, and made his brother’s slave, for the sake of a single meal. It was fasting and prayer which gave Samuel to Hannah. Fasting brought forth Samson. Fasting begets prophets, strengthens strong men. Fasting makes lawgivers wise, is the soul’s safeguard, the body’s trusty comrade, the armor of the champion, the training of the athlete. ” St. Basil, in his homilies on the Holy Spirit
“There is both a physical and a spiritual fast. In the physical fast the body abstains from food and drink. In the spiritual fast, the faster abstains from evil intentions, words and deeds. One who truly fasts abstains from anger, rage, malice, and vengeance. One who truly fasts abstains from idle and foul talk, empty rhetoric, slander, condemnation, flattery, lying and all manner of spiteful talk. In a word, a real faster is one who withdraws from all evil.” St. Basil the Great
“As much as you subtract from the body, so much will you add to the strength of the soul.” St. Basil the Great
“Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.” St. John Chrysostom
“Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” St. John Chrysostom
“This fasting… is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed… First of all, be on your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. And you will do also as follows. Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord.” Shepherd of Hermas, Book 3, Similitude 5, Chapter 3
“If you, O man, do not forgive everyone who has sinned against you, then do not trouble yourself with fasting. If you do not forgive the debt of your brother, with whom you are angry for some reason, then you fast in vain and God will not accept you. Fasting will not help you, until you become immersed in love and in the hope of faith. Whoever fasts and becomes angry, and harbors enmity in his heart, such a one hates God and salvation is far from him.” St. Ephraim the Syrian
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies.
“Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow men. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.” St John Cassian
“It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine their conscience, to put their mind to the test, and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourself in the present week. This is true fasting.” St. John Chrysostom
“See what fasting does: it heals illnesses, drives out demons, removes wicked thoughts, makes the heart pure. If someone has even been seized by an impure spirit, let them know that this kind, according to the word of the Lord, ‘goes not out but by prayer and fasting'” (Matthew 17:21). St. Athanasius the Great
“By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” St. Basil the Great
“Whoever wants to return again to Paradise does so in no other way but by fasting.” St. John Climacus
“Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself” The Dessert Fathers