Fasting as a Spiritual Practice

“One of the longest established discipline of the human body is that of fasting. Among pagan religions, Judaism and Christianity fasting is considered an important element in religious practices. Fasting (equivalent to the Greek word nesteia and Latin words jejunium,abstinentia) literally means a total abstention from food for a certain period of time. It also means abstention from such pleasures as celebrations of birthdays and marriages and, as developed later in the Christian era, even church festivals. The origin of fasting as a moral discipline is obscured. There is no clue to the original purposes of fasting. The meaning of fasting among the Jewish people developed around the selection of certain foods and the duration of abstention from them. Fasting appears early as an act of devotion among the Jewish people, but without the formalized rules developed later. Even in the early Christian Church fasting was practiced among many, but not according to rules. Fasting generally was considered “a work of reverence toward God.”
The New Testament does not record the special dates and days of fasting nor specific methods of fasting. It is true that among the Jewish people there were certain days observed by the people, but it seems they were free to chose the duration of the fast as well as the selection of foods. However, there were extraordinary days in which fasting was kept by all, such as during famine, catastrophe, etc. The Jewish people could fast on Monday and Thursday, but it was not compulsory. However, the zealots kept these fastings strictly. The first Christians instituted feasts and fastings after Jewish patterns, but the interpretation of their fastings was different.
The origin of fasting in the Christian Church is to be found in many sources. The first Christians inherited the practice of fasting from the Jews. Fasting also has pagan origins. The Church usually tried to replace pagan fastings and feasts by giving Christian meaning to those observances through worship in the True God, moral uprightness, fasting, prayer and repentance. Fasting was developed as a meritorious work before God. Fasting became an obligatory practice among monks and nuns, who kept strict fastings in the assumption that their fastings would support their concept of virginity. Fasting was included in the vows of the first Christian monks.”
From: Rev. George Mastrantonis “Fasting from Iniquities and Foods”
Orthodox fasting
“Fasting is not at all an act of mortification for mortification’s sake. It is not a “little suffering” which is somehow pleasing to God. It is not a punishment which is to be sorrowfully endured in payment for sins. On the contrary, fasting for a Christian, should be a joyful experience, because fasting is a self-discipline which we voluntarily impose upon ourselves in order to become better persons and better Christians.
The sin of not fasting is the sin of failing to employ a practice which is absolutely necessary to a sinful person in his struggle to overcome his sins and to gain the love and communion of God.
Fasting is an art fully mastered by the Saints. These holy men and women, who have taken their religion and fasting seriously, can be of great help to us. They offer a number of recommendations for fasting.”
From Fr. Milan Savich “The Meaning of Fasting in the Orthodox Church”
A helpful guide, with links, to on-line Orthodox sources on fasting:
Spirituality of Fasting
Charles M. Murphy “The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice” [Ave Maria Press, 2010]
For his 2009 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI chose”the value and meaning of fasting” as the theme, observing that “this practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day.” In timely response, “The Spirituality of Fasting” draws on sources ancient and current–from Augustine to Michael Pollan–to consider anew how fasting informs the relationships between creator/creature, body/soul, and rich/poor. Murphy’s extensive theological background, pastoral experience, and personal devotion to his topic come through, inspiring readers to explore what it means to be fully engaged in worship through fasting.
Fasting Ryan
Rev. Thomas Ryan “The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice” (The Art of Spiritual Living) [SkyLight Paths, 2005]
Fasting as a religious act increases our sensitivity to that mystery always and everywhere present to us…. It is an invitation to awareness, a call to compassion for the needy, a cry of distress, and a song of joy. It is a discipline of self-restraint, a ritual of purification, and a sanctuary for offerings of atonement. It is a wellspring for the spiritually dry, a compass for the spiritually lost, and inner nourishment for the spiritually hungry.
—from chapter 9
Though fasting is practiced in some form by nearly every faith tradition throughout the world, it is often seen as scary or something only for monastic life. But fasting doesn’t have to be intimidating. And it doesn’t have to mean going weeks without food.
The Sacred Art of Fasting invites you to explore the practical approaches, spiritual motivations, and physical benefits of this ancient practice by looking at the ways it is observed in several faith traditions. Inspiring personal reflections, helpful advice, and encouragement from people who practice fasting answer your questions, allay your fears, and reveal how you too can safely incorporate fasting into your spiritual life.
To Love Fasting
Adalbert De Vogue “To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience” [Saint Bede’s Publications, 1993]
Fasting has just about disappeared from religious and spiritual life. Adalbert de Vogue, a Benedictine monk turned hermit, decided to try the old schedule for meals given by St. Benedict in his Rule. He found it pleasant and easy to eat only once at the end of the day. This book describes this “regular fast,” so-called because it is observed as a rule of daily life.
Chritian Fasting
Kent D. Berghuis “Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach” [Biblical Studies Press, 2013]
Based on Kent D. Berghuis “Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach” [Ph.D. Dissertation, Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois] – available on-line at:
“This dissertation develops an integrative theology of fasting from an evangelical Christian perspective. The progress of revelation is seen as centering on the work of Jesus Christ in a canonical theology. Two chapters have been devoted to studying the references to fasting in scripture, one each on the Old and New Testaments. This reflection is also done in conversation with the Christian community, both in its historical trajectories as well as contemporary forms. A chapter has been devoted to the extensive discussion of fasting in the patristic era, as well as another chapter that traces the history of fasting practices through monasticism, the Reformation, and into their decline in the modern era. In the fifth chapter of the body of the dissertation, the contemporary reawakening to fasting in Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical traditions is examined.”


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