The True Meaning of Fasting in the Orthodox ChurchPhilip Kariatlis
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University
When we think of fasting in the Orthodox Church today, our mind almost immediately goes to certain rules relating to what we can and cannot eat. Moreover, this practice is especially associated with Great and Holy Lent. And so, when it comes to this “forty-day” fast, there are some who will almost exclusively focus all their attention on familiarizing themselves with all of the Church’s prescriptions regarding when they need to abstain from particular foods. Then, there are some who might go to great lengths, meticulously checking all ingredients of certain food items in supermarkets for example, in order to ensure that there are no traces of foods which they know are not permitted during fasting periods, also rejoicing with delight when they happen to find substitutes to their favorite food. What necessarily results from such an understanding of fasting, amongst its practitioners, is a belief that if they have been “successful” in this effort, they are then prepared to receive the risen Lord on Easter night.
A question which justifiably arises, however, is whether this in fact is what fasting is all about. If Great Lent is a preparatory time within the Church’s liturgical year meant as a means for preparing the faithful to encounter the risen Christ on the day of Easter, how does such an understanding of fasting assist in this “spiritual” journey? Is this the true meaning of fasting? Or, have we reduced it merely to rules about what foods are permitted and what are not?
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