Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FASTING (ጾም)

+++ The spiritual definition of fasting will be mentioned later in detail. However, what are the physical aspect of the definition of fasting? Fasting is abstinence from food, for a period, followed by eating food free from animal fat.
Period of abstinence:
A period of abstinence is essential, since we would simply be vegetarians if we ate without observing it from the beginning of the day. The word fasting means abstinence or cessation. It is therefore necessary to refrain from eating for a certain period of time.
The length of abstinence varies from one person to another.
The following outlines some of the reasons for this:

1 People differ in their spirituality. A beginner for example, cannot abstain for a long time when compared with the well trained or the spiritually mature who can abstain for a long time. An anchorite is able to fast for days in the same manner of our fathers the monks, the hermits, and the anchorites.

2 Those who fast differ in age. The ability of a child or a boy to fast differs from that of a young or grown-up man, and is also differs for the elderly.

3 Those who fast also differ in their state of health. A strong person may endure more than the physically weak. Moreover, the sick may require special treatment, and may be exempt from abstinence in accordance with their ailment
and the treatment required.

4 Those who fast also differ in the type of work they do. Some work requires great physical effort, while others work in an office environment sitting down at their desks for a number of hours. The first differs from the latter in their
endurance to abstain from food.

5 Fasting requires a gradual progression. One should fast by gradually increasing the length of abstinence over the period of the fast. The spiritual fathers usually recommend this useful method.
There is however a minimum time of abstinence, which varies depending on the fast. The minimal fast period for Lent should be higher than for the rest of the fasts and the minimum during the Passion Week is higher than that of Lent. Some are able to fast from Monday Thursday up to the Easter Mass and others on the day preceding Christmas or Epiphany. As for the weak, their endurance is limited.

Despite all this, we need to set the following important rule:
The period of abstinence should be under the guidance of
your Father confessor. Excessive periods of fasting may become detrimental to the body and possibly to the soul as it falsely instils the notion of false glory. On the other hand, some may become lax and lose the benefits of fasting. It is best to seek the guidance of your Father confessor on this matter. However from the Church's point of view, on the period of abstinence, we would like to pose the following question: Is there any association between abstinence from eating and the ninth hour? There is in fact some connection, for in the Church rite of the ninth hour prayers, we observe the selection of the Bible chapter, which deals with blessing of food after a period of hunger. (Luke 9:10-17).
 
In the ninth hour prayer, we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Why then is this passage? It appears that abstinence was communally practiced until the ninth hour and thus this passage was suitably placed to allow people to pray then eat their food.Since days of fasting cover the major portion of the year. This bible chapter has remained for all year long to remind us of fasting, even during the days when there is no abstinence to allow us to maintain our daily prayers and remember God's blessing of food before we eat. The ninth hour of the day actually coincides with three o'clock in the afternoon since the first hour of the day corresponds to six o'clock in the morning. In any case, there is no need to elaborate further on this point since the period of abstinence differs from one person to another. The period of abstinence is left up to the Father confessor and to the spiritual condition of the person fasting.

What is important is the spiritual aspect of the period of
abstinence. It is far more important to discuss the method by which man may benefit spiritually from his abstinence than on the formalities and laws that govern the period of abstinence. A person may not benefit spiritually if they follow a non-spiritual method, even if he abstains from food until the ninth hour or even sunset.

What is, therefore, the spiritual way?
1 The period of abstinence must be one of renunciation
and asceticism caring not for the body. You should therefore not think about when and what you will eat while abstaining from food, nor find pleasure in preparing what you will eat. On the contrary, the period of abstinence should be a time when you elevate yourself totally above the levels of eating, materialism, and food.

2 After the period of abstinence, do not eat greedily, for he who abstains from food, then eats what he covets, or chooses certain foods that he enjoys, has not subdued his body, humiliated it, nor rid it of its lusts. This indicates that he has not benefited spiritually from the period of abstinence, a time of renunciation and asceticism if he greedily eats what he lusts for. Look at what the Prophet
Daniel said about his fast: "I ate no pleasant food." (Dan 10:3). It is like he who demolishes what he has built... all in vain!
Fasting is not to build then demolish, and build again only to demolish, without the desire for growth!

3 Do not wait in anticipation for the end of the abstinence
period as to what you will eat.
Do not hasten to eat when the time comes. Try if you can to resist even for a few minutes and wait. When it is time to eat, say to yourself: Let us pray for a while, then eat, or let us read a book and contemplate for some time, then eat.
Do not pounce on food. Let renunciation that you harbored during abstinence continue to be with you after you have eaten, for this is spiritually beneficial and you will be rewarded.
Let the spirit not the hour guide you.
Elevate yourself above food, material things and the body in-order to move forward to the depth of abstinence. As for the period and time of abstinence, it would be beneficial if it led you to the feeling of hunger. Let us here talk to you about the element of hunger in fasting:
The element of hunger:
Many abstain from food, then eat without feeling or enduring hunger. They are without patience to profit from fasting spiritually. The Bible presents to us many examples of hunger during fasting.
Jesus Christ, as well as the Apostles, fasted until they
became hungry.
The bible mentions that after Jesus Christ fasted for forty days that: "afterward He was hungry." (Matt 4:2).
According to the account of Saint Luke: "And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry." (Luke 4:2). Jesus Christ also became hungry on Easter Monday. (Mark 11: 12).
However, some may argue that Christ's fasting is difficult and beyond us. Therefore, let us talk about the fasting of ordinary people who experienced the element of hunger.

It was said about the Apostle St Peter that: "He became very hungry, and would have eaten " (Acts 10:10). In the discourse of St Paul and his companions' service, he said: "In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often..." (2 Cor 11:27). He also said: "learned both to be full and to be hungry." (Phil 4:12).
God blessed the condition of hunger, saying:
"Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled."(Luke 6:11).
If Lazarus's hunger qualified him to embrace our Father Abraham for his share of trouble on earth though it had not been of his own free will, how much more grace will God give to those in eternity who willingly hunger ascetically seeking Him.
God prepared His people in the wilderness through hunger.
He said to those people: "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness...So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." (Dent 8:2,3).
He who escapes from the statement: "He humbled you, allowed you to hunger" will have the statement: "fed you with manna" in the wilderness evade him.
However, the children of Israel perished in the wilderness when they murmured and became hungry.

Fasting acquires its perfection in toleration to hunger.
If you do not become hungry, you will not understand the depth and meaning of fasting, and if you do not prolong or endure your fast and eat directly after your abstinence, you will not be awarded the benefits conveyed by hunger.
What then are the spiritual benefits conveyed by hunger?
He who hungers becomes aware of his weakness. Thus he defeats his sense of self-delusion, from self reliance and excessive self-confidence. Bodily humility and weakness leads him to spiritual submission.
When the body is humbled, the soul is humbled, feeling the need for support and pleads to God for strength, saying: O Lord, support my weakness with Your Godly power for I by myself can do nothing.
Man's prayer is intense when hungry.
Fervent spiritual prayers do not come from a full stomach. That is why prayer and fasting are inseparable. People fast when they seek depth in their prayer. Prayers and bible readings during Passion Week become profound when united by hunger... Easter melody recording during Passion Week exhibits spiritual
depth by he who records it while fasting. A recording of the same melody on other than fasting days, loses its spiritual depth to become in all probability a mere tune.
God desires that through hunger that man may identify his weakness. Prostration is therefore more effective when hungry than with a stomach filled with food.

My advice to you is this: If you feel hungry, resist for a while the temptation to eat so that you may receive the blessing of hunger.
The Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and finally became hungry. When the Devil tempted Christ to eat He refused despite His hunger. In doing so, He taught us a lesson.
Therefore, endure your hunger, and do not avoid it.
Do not escape from the feeling of hunger through idle talk, wasting of time or sleep which you may resort to in order to overcome the period of hunger without feeling it. By escaping from hunger, you forfeit its blessings, spiritual benefits and the virtue of endurance and control over the body. Our aim is to benefit from hunger and not escape from it.
If hunger presses on you, say to yourself that you do not
deserve to eat.
Say to yourself: I do not deserve to eat because of my sins. You become inwardly humble when you are physically fatigued which allows you to pray in humility and help you to relinquish pride, vanity and self-complacency. As for he who stands to pray in might, health and the strength of iron, where will submissiveness come from?
Two minutes prayer whiles hungry are better than hours
when full.
In fact, a hungry person longs for prayer, while he who is full often forgets. That is why most faithful people pray before eating.

Peruse hunger in wisdom when you fast.
Those who have experienced the spiritual benefit arising from hunger tend to prolong its period. However, one must be careful not to exaggerate in utter exhaustion that you end up too frail to stand on your feet to pray. Such a person may opt to pray while prostrating not out of submissiveness but to seek comfort and relaxation for his tired body.
Be wise to train yourself within your body's limit of endurance. However, I have a frank word to say to you:

Do not be afraid of hunger, for it is a passing sensation. The reason is that the more you give your stomach, the more it expands to accommodate more. Moreover, in cases of those who are overweight, the stomach is flabby, its walls are weak, and if you do not fill it, you feel hungry. If you endure your hunger, your stomach will re-condition itself and contract. If you persist, it will no longer be in need for much. Hunger will then not persist since a small quantity will give the stomach a feeling of fullness.
A wise person is one who controls his stomach. He does not eat so much that his stomach becomes flabby, and does not over deprive it of food to make it shrink to a size unfit for the needs of his body.
Moderation in this matter is useful and wise.
Fasting and Wakefulness:
Being filled with food leads to heaviness of the body and consequently to sleep. As for he who fasts, his body is light, his system is not burdened with the processes of digestion, and is able to stay awake until late.
Fasting coupled with watchfulness leads to brightness of
thought.

All the saints who perfected fasting were famous for their vigil. We also see that the disciples' eyes grew heavy in the orchard after the two dinners that they could not sit up with the Lord even for one hour. (Matt 26:40). It is not in your favor my brother that the bridegroom should come at midnight to find you sleeping. The Bible says, "Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find
watching"(Luke 12:37).
Therefore, train yourself to fast in alertness and watchfulness so that you can spend the night in prayer with God.
Kind of Food:
I have talked about hunger and the period of abstinence, what remains is the topic of what are the different types of food appropriate for fasting. It is useful to remember of what the Prophet Daniel said about his fast: "I ate no pleasant food" (Dan 10:3).

Therefore, if you fast but still give your body what it craves for, then in truth you had not fasted. Thus, distance yourself from things that you crave so that you may overcome your body and subject it to your will. Do not seek special food or ask for it to be prepared in the manner that you like. If an item is placed before you which you have not ordered but which you like, do not eat much of it I would like to remind you of our saintly fathers who said, "If food you crave is placed before you, spoil it a little then eat it". By spoiling it, he may have meant, for instance, that you add something to it to alter its taste. At least, do not eat all that is offered to you of the kind of food you crave. As one of the fathers said: "Conclude your meal while you still crave it", meaning that your body wishes to go on eating that kind of food while you try to control yourself and stay away from it. +++



(Source: The Spirituality of Fasting, by H. H. Pope Shenouda III)