Life of Jesus
Blessed is the LentMarch,14 2016
Written by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Fasting is a voluntary act of abandoning worldly life. It is a sign of man’s obedience to, and respect of God’s laws and his observance of God’s offices by his voluntary abstinence from food or drink for a specific period of time, by the end of which he can eat light, small and fat free meals, consisting of cereals, beans fruits and vegetable oils. A fasting person refrains from eating meat and animal products except for fish and all seafood and honey because bees are insects with no fleshly lust.
Scholar Mor Gregorios Bar Hebraeus (+1286) states:
“Fasting has three degrees: General, special and exclusive. One may practice general fasting by refraining completely from eating or drinking during daytime and in the evening one eats cereals and beans or one might practice it by refraining from eating meat and animal products during the day. This type of fasting has its own laws and regulations, for so many people might refrain from eating without the intention of practicing fasting and as such they would not be considered as keeping this office.
Special fasting is that type practiced by recluses.
Exclusive fasting is that practiced by the perfect ones, who couple their abstinence from having food and indulgence of senses with purification of soul and by holding themselves back from evil thoughts: The only condition requested for such a type of fasting is the eradication of every mundane thought that might exist deep down one’s heart. Although this grade of fasting is so difficult to attain, yet it can be attained so easily through training as the saying goes:
Of our desires the masters we are. With the least granted, they might be content.
The main objectives of fasting are the weakening of the lust of the flesh, training the will to control whims and giving the spirit the precious opportunity to transcend mundane desires and be elevated above worldly desires into heavenly thoughts for attaining purification, and being cleansed and becoming able to express the spirit’s love of God, Almighty manifesting thus its preference of spiritual life to physical one, making the spirit triumphant over the flesh.
The Apostle Paul says in this context:
" I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish". (Gal.5: 16,17).
Apostle Paul says also.
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”. (Rom.8: 13). The psalmist says:
“I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13). Humbling the soul is the mourning mentioned by the Lord when defining fasting to the disciples of John saying:
“Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Humbleness and mourning are one and the same thing, which is the evident sign of true Repentance – the ultimate goal of fasting- and one of the conditions of true fasting deemed acceptable to God.
It is not only the body that fasts by abstaining from food or drink or some of it, but the soul as well, which keeps away from sin. Both flesh and soul avoid the motives leading to it.
This can be deduced from the Lord’s command in the month of Prophet Joel who says:
“Now, therefore, says the Lord: turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, not your garments; return to the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:12,13).
Exemption from Fasting
Fasting is enjoined on the faithful who are adults and healthy. The elderly, children, babies, sick people, nursing, postpartum and pregnant women are necessarily exempted.
Fasting Helps to Resemble the Angels
According to Mor Gregorios Bar Hebraeus, fasting has a supportive role towards achieving the goals of prayer. It helps the one who prays to elevate him from the animal ranks to the angelic ranks. Bar Hebraeus perceives Man as being created with a rational and mortal life. He ranks higher than the animals, because he is capable of sup pressing his material desires by means of his intellectual faculty of reflection and he ranks lower than the angels, because he is overpowered by desires, and because of his continuous fight and struggle against them. In this way, in as much as he is carried away towards desires, he is thrown down to the lowest rank of the animals, but in as much he can withdraw from passions, he is ele¬vated to the highest rank of the Angels. And because of his proximity to them, he draws near to God's domination. Such proximity is not local, since bodies are tied to a place, and not so spiritual . Therefore, it remains, that the proximity to the Angels is one of some beings that bear a resemblance in matters of perfect qualities.[Ethicon (ed. TEULE), p. 85; Liber Columbae, p. 545; Book of the Dove, p. 27]
Fasting is aimed at this resemblance, because by it the eyes of the soul are purified from the bleariness so that it will see the spiritual beings and their per fection, will long after them and desire to resemble them, and will be saved from the stink of different kinds of food, which by the smoking fume exalted by them darken the visions of the soul and do not allow it to see something spiritual. By fasting, the mirror of the human soul will obtain the aptitude of receiving spiritual images, because acts of impudence are put to an end and fists of lustfulness are appeased by permanent hunger. And it is the use of fasting made known by the learned.[Ethicon (ed. TEULE), pp. 85-86; Liber Columbae, p. 545; Book of the Dove, p. 27]
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