As a priest, I am often asked what the purpose of the Great Lenten period is, or how should I fast during Lent. First and foremost, we must understand fasting is a conditioning of both the soul and the body. God created us as both physical and spiritual beings. We are created in the image and likeness of our Lord. Therefore, Lent offers us the opportunity to exercise, and condition, both our soul and body. Before looking at fasting guidelines and to better understand what fasting is about; let us see what the Fathers and Scripture have to say about fasting.
St. John Chrysostom on Fasting:
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fish but bite and devour our brothers? May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us!
Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:
Lord and Master of my life, take away from me the will to be lazy and to be sad; the desire to get ahead of other people and to boast and brag. Give me instead a pure and humble spirit, the will to be patient with other people and to love them. Let me realize my own mistakes and keep me from judging the things other people do. For you are blessed now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Instructions on Fasting:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things. Come and abide in us. Cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.
Guidelines for fasting for the forty Days of Lent
I offer the following guidelines to be considered first prayerfully and also in consideration of any medical conditions or dietary restrictions one may have:
No meat, Fish, Milk, Dairy Products, Oil, or Oil products
Fish, Oil & Wine permitted
Feast of the Annunciation/March 25th
Fish, Oil & Wine permitted
Shellfish permitted throughout Great Lent
Remember, Lent is a time of discipline and conditioning for both our bodies and souls. As the Fathers of the Church remind us, when we fast, what comes out of our mouth is greater than what goes in! May we be strengthened and grow closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through prayer and fasting this Lenten period. I humbly remind you: a forty day fast without prayer and discipline is only a forty day diet!