Orthodox Fasting


Originally broadcast April 8, 2005

JACK HINTON (Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC): In general, the purpose of fasting is preparation for an important event that takes place at the end of the fast, and this is true not only of Great Lent, but of the other fasting periods as well.

The very cause of the fall of man was an act of disobedient eating.

Fasting is voluntary, but it’s expected unless you’re physically unable to. What I hope to achieve is weakening myself physically so that it’s easier for me to remember that I depend for my very existence and for my daily sustenance on my Creator. I want to deemphasize the day-to-day material world and I want to emphasize spirituality.

There’s a strict fast, which means abstain from everything for, obviously, short periods of time, and this applies to the preparation for every Holy Communion.

The basic fast is abstain from meat, and meat includes fish with backbone, dairy products, animal byproducts, oil, and wine.

It affects my daily life, there’s no question. When you reduce the amount of food you’re eating, and your blood sugar drops, and you become a little bit lightheaded, you are very much prone to lower concentration. There is a spiritual and a physical dimension to the fast. It doesn’t do you any good to not have the kinds of food that are prohibited and forgo the period of introspection and deep contemplation of your own spiritual state.

Theosis is what happens to those who run the earthly course successfully and are given their salvation at the end of this life. Fasting plays a role in theosis. It is the process by which we are perfected and made divine. We all become little “anointed ones,” little Christs.

  • Michael Riggs

    I’m not a believer in any faith tradition, but I find it interesting that for Christians fasting is about making oneself feel small in relation to their God. Islam, one the other hand, has a much more useful purpose for fasting. Muslims fast in connection with alms giving to remind themselves of how the poor feel when hungry.

  • Darren


    Actually, in the Christian tradition, a key component of fasting is to join it with both prayer and giving to the poor. The money a Christian saves by denying himself during a fast is meant to be given to those in need. And while I agree that sharing to those in need should be a part of everyone’s life, I’m not sure I’d call that part of ascetics “more useful.” Christian fasting, when practiced with the proper goal in sight, leads to a greater love of God, which leads directly to a greater love of people. A true love for God increases one’s love of all people.

  • sueann

    To be sure, our major goal in fasting is to become one with our Creator and to see our ‘middle man’ (heart, mind, soul, intellect, will, intuition, etc.) become in Him and He in us. When our spirit-man is born again or made one with God through faith and grace in Jesus Christ the Redeemer, we become through this reality, connected to the heavenly realm through our spirit. Our new spirit or new man, one with God (echad), is now the Kingdom of God within us. Then, we desire that as much as is possible, the holy would enter our ‘middle man’ fully and grant love for ourselves, our neighbors, and so completely for God, that we might know Him and do much good in our little world.