In my "former life," fasting was almost a non issue. Although it was talked about from time to time, and even lauded as a worthy pious practice, few, even amongst the pastorate, fasted with any seriousness.
During Lent, for many "fasting" was a "catholic thing." Or it was practiced in name by "giving up something for Lent." Prayer and spiritual discipline were not often attached with fasting. So, for the most part, fasting disappeared from any vocabulary.
However, our Lord and God, Jesus the Christ didn't regard fasting as a "pious option." Leaf through the Gospels and you find that fasting and prayer were staples of the Son of God! In fact, it seems to have been a daily discipline! Before every major event in His life among us, we see Him retiring for a period of fasting and prayer, including the notable forty day fasts.
He passed that discipline on to the Apostles, and they to the Bishops and priests and deacons set in every place: and they in turn passed it on to the people of God in every place. Although it wasn't cast is a legalistic form, it also was not placed as merely an option!
People were admonished to fasting and prayer, while at the same time being warned against such practices done merely to fill an obligation, or done merely for show.
Fasting and Prayer are laudable and necessary in our times, too! In this hectic and fast paces culture, we are constantly bombarded by conflicting images and messages. We are worn down by subliminal advertising to the point where we don't even blink at gross immorality and the evil that surround us. Our senses and thinking are dulled to the point where, although we don't condone this or that, we also no longer are surprised at its occurrence and we sort of shrug it off.
To retreat from feasting to fasting, and to retreat from the world for increased prayer are spiritual disciplines that allow us to once again see the Light of Christ. In the quiet of the icon corner, facing our Lord, our Lady, and surrounded by saints and holy ones of God, we are able to cleanse our souls through meditation, to once again get our bearings, to focus on the one thing needful.
To treat fasting as merely a pious option is to reject a gift from God. It is to turn away from Christ, to reject one more opportunity to be strengthened in our journey.
It isn't easy to limit one's food intake. And it is even more difficult to turn from "normal pursuits" to increased prayer. It isn't easy to forsake things routine to take advantage of the increased services of this time. It is a struggle.
As we journey through Great and Holy Lent to Pascha, we reflect on the profound meaning of that appelation found almost solely in Holy Orthodoxy, "Lover of Mankind." We recall the Lenten journey of our Lord and God, a voluntary journey to the Cross, in order that He might conquer death by death, call Adam and Eve and all mankind home again. We recall the solitary hours He spent, and the times in which everything conspired to get Him to abort His mission. We join Him in fasting and prayer ... and He joins us in our journey, giving us forgiveness, light, life, now and always and to the ages of ages!
Join in the fast! Seek the counsel of our good priest! Teach your children to fast and pray!
Receive the blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!