The Fast: Ten Beneficial Things

by Fr. Andrei Efanov

goodOf course, abstinence is fine and good – but only if done for some purpose. Therefore, it is worth thinking not only about what one needs to give up, but more generally about what one should pay more attention to when fasting. 

1. Prayer. Without any doubt, there is nothing more important during the fast than strengthened prayer. It is prayer and abstinence that strengthen faith; therefore, it would be good to add one or two canons or several additional prayers to one’s prayer rule. Reading the Psalter is very beneficial. We should also strengthen our prayer for our neighbors, since they are no less needful than we are – and sometimes more needful – of prayerful support.

2. Confession and Communion. Be sure to have Confession and Communion several times – or, at the very least, once – during the fast. Nothing is better for the discipline of the soul than having a thorough and sincere Confession; and nothing nourishes the soul as does the Bread of Life.

3. Acts of charity. St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us: “True fasting does not consist simply in exhausting the flesh, but in taking that very piece of bread you had wanted to eat yourself and giving it to a hungry person.” Therefore, diligently helping your neighbor should be an important part of the fast. Let us not forget that, by helping our neighbors, we are above all helping Christ Himself.

4. The Jesus Prayer. It is worth giving special attention to the Jesus Prayer. The Apostle exhorts us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Although even outside the fast no small amount of time in a Christian’s life should be devoted to acquiring the Jesus Prayer, the best time for laboring in this field is the fast. By devoting all our free time to the Jesus Prayer, we will undoubtedly gain profit for our souls during the fast.

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5. Spiritual Reading. One chapter of the Gospel and two chapters from the other books of the New Testament should be required reading for everyone who is fasting. The Bible is an inexhaustible source of divine wisdom, a gift of God that should never be neglected. The neophyte should certainly consult a commentary at least once, to which he can return as questions arise. It is difficult to offer general advice about reading other spiritual literature, but, as a general rule, one could read the sayings of the Desert Fathers and the lives of saints, as well as the works of the Optina Elders, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), and St. Theophan the Recluse. Creating a list of books for everyone, however, would be difficult. It is important that spiritual literature be for edification, leading one to a state of spiritual vigor, and not for amusement.

7. Pilgrimage. This has already been mentioned above, but it is worth adding that disheartened souls in need of comfort and reinforcement would do well to have recourse to going on a pilgrimage.

8. Sleep. It is a marvelous thing to spend part of the night in prayer. But not everyone is capable of this. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that nighttime prayer harmonizes the condition of one’s soul, bringing into it peace and tranquility and strengthening it in its fight against temptation.

9. Humility. Let us not forget that humility is not a matter of prideful self-derision. The recognition of our spiritual infirmity and our incapability of doing anything without God’s help – and, consequently, of asking for God’s blessing for every activity and of praying during these activities – should be the norm for Christians. Such a condition is the easiest to acquire during the fast.

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10. Love. We live in a time when love has grown almost entirely cold. Therefore, let us ask the Lord for love towards everyone without exception. The Lord will, of course, send us this love – we simply need to learn how to accept it. By observing the rules above – and especially by recognizing our own unworthiness – we will gradually become vessels capable of holding the wine of God’s love. But without love it will all come to nothing. A fast without love will bring us only harm.

That is everything I had wanted to say at the beginning of this fast. Times are not easy for either the Church as a whole or for each one of us Christians. Therefore, let us accept the duration of the Apostles’ Fast that lies before us as a gift towards living in abstinence and spiritual perfection.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).

Beloved brothers and sisters, I greet you with the beginning of the fast!

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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