|Volume 16, No. 2
Meditation on Great Lent
Before the Feast of the Lord's Resurrection, the Holy Church has established a period of seven weeks of fasting. What is the meaning of the Fast, and why does the Orthodox Church still preserve this special kind of preparation before our great feasts?
We must remember in the first place that fasting is related to one of God's provisions for mankind. The Holy Fathers say that in Paradise man received the commandment to fast, to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, otherwise he would die. The purpose of the commandment was to protect man from falling away from God, which brings death.
St. Basil the Great says, "Because we did not fast, we left Paradise and were driven out of it." Beginning with the commandment in the Garden of Eden, continuing with the prophets Moses, Elijah, and Daniel, with St. John the Baptist, and then with the Savior Christ Himself, fasting has been a practice respected by all who wished to put aside material things in order to gain spiritual things.
The Savior makes a statement which reveals the profound meaning of fasting: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which comes out of the mouth of God." This shows that fasting does not mean just starving ourselves by abstaining from food, but nourishing ourselves with another kind of food – spiritual food, which is the Word of God. The Savior tells us that man is not made of soul and body, the soul desiring spiritual things and the body desiring material things; but man is soul and body, and spiritual things can be nourishment even for the body.
In fasting we can experience the fact that our body can be nourished also by another kind of food, not only by bread. This is because, as a result of our efforts in fasting, the body begins to let go a little of its attachment to material things and to receive spiritual things more. The very matter with which we are in solidarity through our body begins to be spiritualized through the work of grace, to which is added man's efforts to receive the Word of God. In fasting we begin to understand a certain communion which was established between God and man before the fall of Adam, a communion in which the entire being of man, soul and body, participated. We also begin to understand the communion which exists between us as people, related to our communion with God.
The closer we get to God, the closer we get to our brothers as well. So, we understand the needs of our brothers, those who are suffering, those who are in prison, and those who are alone. In fasting we realize the need of all humanitarian work. Our fasting receives a social and unthinkable dimension.
His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas