Please also see: Lessons from the Fathers on Fasting
Fast and freedom
What can be more absurd than the fast, in a religion which boasts of having given the man the freedom? How can you name yourself free, when you have to refrain from the things you like, when you must do what you don’t want! The fast is the abstinence not only from the food, but also from the bodily pleasures. How not to see in this an outrage to the noblest instinct that the man has – the freedom?
If the fast is an obligation, than the Gospel is a masterpiece of the absurd’s literature. Understanding this, the Protestants decided to renounce the fast. However, despite the number of quotations brought from the apostle Paul or from the words of the Saviour Himself, the spur to fasting is like a thorn in the flesh of that who at least scarcely knows the Holy Scriptures.
All righteous before Christ fastened. The fast was precursory to the meeting with God or to a revelation. Moses climbed up the mountain after forty days of non-eating and thus spoke with God. The New Testament is not at all different, it begins with a fastener – John the Baptist. Christ Himself had fastened before having begun to preach. Thus, we cannot leave away the fast, departing from some biblical verses, when even those who pronounced them were great fasteners; it seems to me it is more decent to doubt our understanding ability of those verses.
Christ was once asked why his disciples don’t fast (Matthew 9, 14). From this many have understood that the disciples and the Saviour Himself were gluttons (Matthew 11, 19). But this event, actually, discloses us the fact that the disciples and the Saviour were all the time starving. This can be also seen very well from the conflict that they had with the Jews, because the disciples ate some ears on Saturday. The disciples were so busy with the preaching that they used to forget to eat and the fact that they picked ears, shows how hungry they were and that they were wont to eat here and there. The Saviour however did not eat with them, the reproach being only for the disciples; He was the model of fasting.
The fact that the disciples used to eat little, is emerging from the scene of multiplying the bread, where we find out that they had only five loaves of bread and two fish. Although they were far away from the locality, in an impossibility to buy food, they are ready to give this little to the crowd (without knowing that it will be multiplied), which reveal us that they were accustomed with the hunger more than the ordinary men. Hence, the Saviour and the disciples fastened, but they did not count the days as the Pharisees did. To their question though, Christ, tell them “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast” (Luke 5, 34-35). “Those” days when the bridegroom was taken away, are Wednesday, the day of betrayal and Friday, the day of crucifixion. In the year 50, the apostles convoked a synod in Jerusalem, where they established for the believers the fast in these days.
Thus, the Protestants have understood well that the fast is not an obligation. The forced fast, has no motivation as any gratuitous and meaningless thing. This is not, however, a reason to blame the fast. The fast should be understood in all its nobility, as it is the supreme manifestation of the human freedom. In such a way the first Christians understood the fast, a meaning that is lost nowadays. “To eat – writes St. Ephrem the Syrian in the IV century– belongs to the laws of the nature, but to fast belongs to the freedom”. Who can boast that he is eating only because “he wants this”? No, you eat because you need to eat, a results from the natural instinct, not from freedom. Of course there is neither an evil in this, nor a sin, but there is also no virtue. The virtue is only the fruit of the freedom. “Any labour which is not from a perfect freedom – farther Sofronie Saharov (+ 1993) said – can not have an eternal value”. The fasting is the man’s free choice of a nobler life, which has something in it from the realities of eternal life, where there is no corruption anymore.
See also why in the Orthodox Church the two Holy Apostles Peter and Paul are equals and celebrated together at: Why I abandoned Papism