Why is fasting essential?

February 14, 2017

Why is fasting essential?

In the Coptic Orthodox reality, the Church asks her believers to fast almost 2/3 of the year.  If we count the weekly fasts of Wednesday and Fridays, the days before the minor and major feasts, personal fasting where you withhold yourself from breaking your fast in the morning up to a certain point, these add up to almost 200 days of the year, maybe more.  Knowing this we need to ask why is fasting essential in our church?

To answer that question we need to know how is our fasting different from fasting in other religions?

Some fast to be able to reconcile with God, others fast for the simple reason to build up their spirit and their spiritual life and others fast to be able to relate to the rest of humanity. 

Our answer however has to be different, in order to demonstrate that the fasting of a Christian is a greater than any other type seen in the world.   

Fasting is essential, simply because of the fact that we see it happen in the perfect human being, the Word incarnate, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

In the Gospel of Mathew 4:1-2 we see the Lord Jesus Christ right before He begins His ministry, the evangelist Mathew says:  “And then Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and He fasted 40 days and 40 nights and afterwards He was hungry”.   We see after that how He overcame the temptation by the devil. 

This could show us that one reason to fast is to overcome temptation as clearly shown in the gospel.

 However did Christ need to fast or was there a greater reason as to why He did so?

We know that Jesus Christ is perfectly divine and perfectly human and we know that the nature He has taken is one where His humanity and His divinity were not mingled nor confused. Nonetheless, He has taken on our human nature.

St Augustine teaches us that, in the Word of God incarnate Jesus Christ, the Church was hidden in Him.  This means that our Lord didn’t need to fast. In reality He was capable of overcoming everything and anything simply because He was the perfect human being and perfectly divine.  However, because the Church was hidden in Him, this means that the Church (You and I) were already in His form because He became like us and because He became like us, WE needed victory as WE were broken and surrounded by death.

To raise us He did what we need to learn to do which is fasting.   He took something which is divine like fasting and He attributed it to something that the human being can say through it that I’m not tempted by this world or subdued by it.  If God can do it then we can do it as He took our form. 

The victory that we have received in Christ is not something we can take lightly.  When we say we want to be part of Christ and members of Him (i.e.: Through the Church) this is not symbolic – it is reality.  He fasted in order for all his members to be edified through that fasting. We fast because we see that He has overcome the world and death through His fasting. 

Fasting is a call that can raise us to the level to be like our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s is not merely something for moral standards or just simply to raise our spiritual life, but rather because we are called to be like Him.  Therefore we understand that fasting is like a weapon that allows us to conquer the spiritual warfare around us.

Christ in the gospel of St John 16:33 tells His disciples to “Be of good cheer I have overcome the world”

St Cyril the Great (of Alexandria) comments on that chapter and says: “For He is to us the second Adam come from heaven according to the scripture and just as then we have born the image of the earthly according to its likeness falling under the yolk of sin, so likewise also shall we bear the image of the heavenly that is Christ overcoming the power of sin and triumphing over all the tribulation of the world for Christ has overcome the world”

We are called to be like Christ because in Him He has conquered and He has conquered through everything He has shown us. 

Hence our fasting is not merely a notion of avoiding certain foods but rather our fasting is to be able to say I choose to be like Christ and my Christ has died and has risen and overcame  the world so I can also rise again through my fasting in Him and through Him. 


Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith


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